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.