Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Harsh Rhetoric Tempts Bad Law

The governor of Utah recently vetoed a law that would have banned schools from teaching contraception in sex education classes in the state. I have mixed feelings, both about the veto and the proposed law. As a conservative, I dislike the idea of passing laws that reduce free speech and the flow of information in the classroom. At the same time, as an advocate of a parent’s right to govern the education of their children, I can understand the frustration that makes such a law tempting in the first place.

All things being equal, I would desire decisions about teaching policy at individual schools to be made at the lowest possible level, with the greatest possible deference given to the parents unless some truly indispensable knowledge is at stake. The history of court decisions in this country, most notably in the 9th Circuit, tells a far different story. Parents are increasingly feeling left out of decisions that affect their ability to educate, discipline, or even raise their children without some form of government interference. The spirit of this problem is reflected in the statement of one of the comments of one critic of the proposed laws:

Is it not categorically absurd to think that if we don’t teach our children about it, they will operate effectively from a paradigm of ignorance and make good decisions?”
It would indeed be absurd were that what was actually being proposed. It is not. The statement assumes that only the public school system is willing and qualified to provide children and adolescents with a reasonable level of knowledge pertaining to sex. The history of public schools, particularly in recent decades, hardly shows them to be the last bastion of capable instruction. Indeed, parents teaching students at home have begun to show that parents are quite capable of instructing students better than teaching professionals when available. This is not to denigrate the work of teachers. This simply recognizes that public school settings can seldom match the attention and motivation that parents are able to give their own children. To insist that they are incapable of educating their children with regards to some of the most important decisions they will make in life is arrogant and presumptuous, and does nothing to promote the kind of partnership between parents and teachers that would truly benefit everyone.

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