Schools, Sex, and the War that Isn’t

Sex in our Public Schools is in the news again.  How about this for a headline: “No One Cares”?

It doesn’t promise to get a lot of readers.  But it seems the closest to the truth in this case.

Here’s the story: Thirteen public high schools in New York City will now dispense free contraceptives to high-school students, including the morning-after “Plan B.” As reported by the New York Times and the New York Post, the pilot program, Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health, or CATCH, will supply students with free condoms, birth-control pills, and/or the morning-after pill.

According to the NYT, the new program has not caused any of the traditional controversy.  Only 1-2% of parents returned an opt-out form.  Yet the headlines from more conservative media have emphasized the outrageousness of the new program.  Glenn Beck’s The Blaze declared, “File this one under ‘controversial.'” Fox News’ headline announced, “Parents not told NYC schools dispensing morning-after pill.”

But is a program controversial if it doesn’t raise any controversy?  We are remined of Ben Justice’s terrific 2005 book The War That Wasn’t.  Justice examined nineteenth-century discussions in New York about religion and culture in public schools.  In most cases, Justice argued, “the warfare thesis” does not explain the way schools really work (9).  People usually resolve their disputes about schooling peacefully and even amicably.

That might be the case here.  However, simply because only a small minority of parents have opted out does not mean that most parents support the program.  It might simply mean that parents are not aware of the program.  Or that parents are not aware of their opt-out option.

After all, the fact that very few families complained about prayer and Bible reading in 1960s schools does not prove that such policies were uncontroversial.  It simply means that school policies often fly under the radar until enough parents and activists complain.  In this case, we might still get a public debate over the propriety of issuing birth-control pills to high-school students.  This certainly seems to be the hope of editors at The Blaze and Fox News.

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NEW TOPIC: Family & Sexuality

What makes up a family?  What is the right way to have sex?  Fundamentalist America has strong feelings about these questions.  For many outsiders like me, conservative opinion on these issues is truly perplexing.  If it is “conservative” to want a smaller government, for instance, why is it also “conservative” to regulate all the sexual behavior in all the bedrooms in the country?  If Fundamentalist America wants strong families, why do they deny same-sex partners the rights to marry and raise healthy, happy children?  Even more foundationally, why does Fundamentalist America even care if people are gay, straight, or otherwise curved?  How does it stop a conservative Christian from following her religion if other people have sex in ways she doesn’t like?

For the next several weeks, ILYBYGTH will explore these questions.  Posts will fall into three basic categories:

  • The fights against same-sex marriage;
  • Notions of sexuality; and
  • Contraception.

Just as we’ve done with the topics of creationism, traditionalist education, and the Bible, our goal will be to present the best possible arguments from Fundamentalist America.  Our goal as outsiders will be to understand conservative thinking on these issues, not to attack or defend it.

This will certainly be tricky.  It is much easier to speak calmly and dispassionately about such things as evolution, John Dewey, and Bible apocalypses than the intimate relationships that make up family life.  Attacks on homosexuality, for example, come much closer to home for many people on both sides of the issue than, say, denunciations of evolution.

One more reminder: when we talk about “Fundamentalist America” here at ILYBYGTH, we mean something wider than simply those very conservative evangelical Protestants who might call themselves small-f fundamentalists.  We are talking here about a broad conservative, traditionalist impulse, shared among many different types of conservative people.  Conservative Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims may all be part of this sweeping interpretation of FA.  Indeed, even mainly secular people who favor traditional society may include themselves as part of this coalition.

The purpose of ILYBYGTH is to understand the ideas of this deeply conservative tradition in America.  You can help.  Share your experiences, comment on posts, ask questions.  Even with this intensely personal and highly emotional topic, we’ll resolve to talk calmly, respectfully, and with a sincere desire to understand, even if we can’t agree.