Sex and the public school

Mona Charen

March 01, 1993|By Mona Charen

JOSEPH Fernandez, the super-liberal schools chancellor in New York City, has lost his job. That's the good news. He was defeated by a coalition of ordinary parents fed up with the imposition of a politically correct agenda on their children. That's the better news. But the great unanswered question remains this: Why don't more average parents stand up, as the mothers and fathers in Queens did, and say, "Enough"?

To be sure, the provocation endured by the New York parents was extreme but, unfortunately, not beyond the experience of many big cities. Joseph Fernandez's first act as chancellor was to institute a condom distribution program in the city's public schools.

Liberals pride themselves on their practicality, reasoning that while you can preach at kids all you want about abstinence, "they're going to do it anyway," so we might as well make sure they're safe. This is disingenuous nonsense.

We do not take that attitude toward drugs. If we did, there would be clean needle distribution programs in the public schools. But to the contrary, we do everything possible to "scare kids straight" about drugs. School kids hear from former junkies (some might even say they are "preached to"), they hear from the local police, they are shown horrifying movies about drug overdoses, and they are told by their teachers, their parents and now even by Hollywood that taking drugs is not cool. The unequivocal message is (with a bow to Nancy Reagan): "Just say no."

Not so with sex. Writing in Commentary magazine, Midge Decter excerpts some of the guidelines offered to teachers in New York's "Children of the Rainbow" curriculum. In the name of AIDS education, 11-year-olds were to be instructed in the use of "barriers and contraceptive creams." A pamphlet called "Teens Have the Right . . ." produced by the New York City Department of Health for distribution in high schools recommends: "Use a latex condom for any sex where the penis enters an other person's body. That means vaginal sex (penis into a woman's vagina), oral sex (penis into the mouth) and anal sex (penis into the butt). Use a dental dam" on a woman. And so on.

While the curriculum made references to abstinence as the only sure way to avoid contracting AIDS, the message was lost in the welter of conflicting messages about how wonderful (and morally equivalent) all forms of sex are. The most inflammatory part of the curriculum recommended the book "Heather Has Two Mommies" for 6-year-olds.

Even leaving aside moral objections to such indoctrination, it defies logic and common sense that messages like these should be purveyed to children in the age of AIDS. If anything should have brought the sexual revolution to a screaming halt, the advent of an inevitably fatal sexually transmitted disease should have done it. But instead, liberals are focusing all of their energy on fighting prejudice toward people with AIDS and placing their faith (and making children's lives depend) on a thin sheath of latex.

Well, the parents of Queens, N.Y., found the courage to object. They would not, they informed the schools chancellor, use the "Children of the Rainbow" curriculum in their classrooms. Dr. Fernandez retaliated by attempting to have all the members of District School Board 24 dismissed. It backfired. In due course, it was Dr. Fernandez who was fired. Dr. Fernandez was supported by New York's elites, including media stars like Peter Jennings (who made the chancellor his "person of the week" for showing such courage in the fight over the curriculum). Yet when a handful of parents stood up to him and to the establishment, they achieved broad support.

The schools continue to be the favored experimental garden of liberalism: busing, new math, values clarification, multiculturalism and now sexual politics. Meanwhile, many graduates are lucky if they can read and figure well enough to get an entry-level position at Pizza Hut. We need more parents like the brave people of Queens.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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