Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sex Education in Illinois Schools

A few days ago I was reflecting on abstinence-only sex education programs and wondering what was happening in the Illinois schools and my local school district. I haven't found out a whole lot since, but what I know is disheartening.

My anecdotal evidence is that in high school health class, my children were taught about pregnancy, how it happened, and how to prevent it. As I was helping them to study for the tests, I don't remember inaccurate information and I know that abstinence was not taught as the only option. Of course, my kids have been out of high school for 6 and 4 years respectively and I'm pretty sure they took that class as sophomores. So all kinds of things could have happened since then.

And, as I say about 10 times a day, the plural of anecdote is not data. What's happening more generally is really the question. Currently, Illinois schools are not required to include sex education in the curriculum and, thus, no state funding is available to help the districts purchase materials or to train teachers in sex ed. Another obvious consequence is that there are no state guidelines as to what is taught in sex education classes. 93% of Illinois schools do offer it, though, but only an average of 12 hours per year is spent on the subject. (How much would be adequate? I really don't know. I doubt they spend 12 hours on the fall of the Roman Empire.)

Only 40% of the teachers of sex education teach about contraception, abortion, or sexual orientation. I'd love to see how that question was worded in the inventory, though. That's too many variables in one question.) 33% of the teachers teach abstinence only. 15% report not teaching the basics of pregnancy, conception, and childbirth. What, pray tell, are they teaching? These statistics are reported by or derived from statistics reported by NORC.

There was a proposal in the 94th General Assembly to fund and regulate sex education. It looked pretty conservative to me, requiring that abstinence be taught as one of the options, but the actual conservatives were up in arms about it and it failed to pass in the Senate, the chamber of origin. So... still nothing.

And all of this begs the question of whether or not it's a good idea to turn schools into instruments of social service delivery. I'm of two minds on this. We do have a captive audience. Pardon the tragic metaphor there, but the students really mostly are there and must be there. So service delivery is expedited. The whole person sitting in the classroom is more than his or her brain, just sitting there waiting to be fed. Each student comes with special needs, gifts and circumstances. On the one extreme, every single student could have an IEP and structure an educational program that maximizes his or her potential. Well, theoretically that could happen, anyway. Or.... a more classical approach is that the schools are there to teach academic subjects. We know that students get to college with fairly alarming math skills and writing skills and limited exposure to other languages, just to name a few issues. I'm not really a "back to basics" sort of girl, but I do have a great fondness for classical education. But I also know that only half of an age cohort intends to go to college, so preparing people in different ways makes sense. And the circle in my mind starts anew....

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