By John Richard Schrock
March 17, 2006
The Wichita Eagle, Page 9A
When it approved the state's health education standards this week, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 to use "opt-in" for human sexuality lessons. This means that Kansas teachers delivering sex education will need to secure a parent-signed note for every student that remains in the class.
The earlier sex-ed mandate of 1987 required "opt-out" notification, a process where parents had to send back the signed note if they wanted their child out of the class. The contrast between opt-in and opt-out centers on the "I’m-too-busy" or "I-don't-care" parents who make up the middle group that would not send in permission slips in either case. With opt-out, their children would remain in the sexuality class; with the newly approved opt-in, they would be excluded. The size of the this middle group is unknown and undoubtedly varies among rural and urban schools. But the effect on teachers is known: If the number of students who have to be accommodated with alternative lessons becomes very big, a
teacher will just skip the sex-ed lessons and cover other topics. Simply, opt-in sex education could translate into no sex education.
A second problem centers on whether this opt-in notification will cover just health classes where sexuality education addresses dating and behaviors, or whether it will also apply to biology.
Every student is a future patient, and biology teachers usually try to cover a minimum of human anatomy and physiology, system-by-system. Teachers know that young students want to learn about the uterus in the same way they want to learn how the stomach works.
The controversial aspect of sex education is behavioral: abstinence, decisions to use birth control, abortion, gender identity and homosexuality. Sex education in biology isn't behavioral; it covers factual anatomy that is not in dispute, nor is it controversial.
For instance, 1 in 7 couples are infertile, so in-vitro fertilization will become important to some students in every class. Pap smears detect cervical cancer
early so they are life-saving. Ovarian cancer is more likely to be fatal. Of the boys, 1 in 5 will have prostate problems after they are 50—why? And what are fibroids, ectopic pregnancies, etc.?
Those who seek to limit sex education often say that parents are the best source of information. But unless a parent is a medical doctor specializing in reproductive medicine, parents simply don't know this biology.
As with a wide range of science concepts, the next generation of Kansans need to know a lot more than the last generation learned. Ignorance of the biological facts will not only lead to poor life decisions and awkwardness for individuals, but higher medical insurance rates for us all.
The failure to define sexuality education and to put a firewall around factual biology lessons will teach fig leaf anatomy to many future Kansas students.
John Richard Schrock, who lives in Emporia, trains biology teachers.