Against Sex Education—A Letter to The Humanist


4244 Ridge Lea Rd.
Amherst, NY 14226


The view of sex education presented in the interview with Mary Calderone (your issue of May/June 1973) is, to say the least, rather familiar to your readers. I wonder if you would permit me to offer a contrasting opinion, also from a humanist standpoint?

The position I want to set forth is that sex education in tax-supported government schools should not be allowed under present conditions, even where a majority of parents in a school district may favor it. The arguments I will use in no way depend on Biblical or supernatural support, nor do they point to the notion that sex is sinful, Man depraved, etc., etc. This deserves comment.

One of the major reasons for the success of the sex education idea in recent years is that its proponents have been able to stereotype the enemies of sex education in the public schools in a way very flattering and reassuring to their own liberal self-image. These enemies are invariably seen as John Birchers (p. 8 of Dr. Calderone's interview), hopelessly sexually repressed, perhaps the victims of incipient mental illness (cf. her reference to "paranoia"). In supporting sex education, one certifies one's own relatively emancipated attitudes towards sex and one's own mental health in comparison to these pretty sick types.

Of course the Birchers and their allies are against sex education; of course there are attacks on it (such as the ones reviewed by Lester A. Kirkendall in the same issue) published in places like Nashville, Tennessee and Fullerton, California. But how is it that Kirkendall neglected to mention a much more significant attack, OH! SEX EDUCATION!, by Mary Breasted, a graduate of Radcliffe and the Columbia School of Journalism and a writer for THE VILLAGE VOICE? Focussing on the right-wing opponents (really, why bother using up a third of a page listing them?) is a propaganda trick (highly effective, it turns out), neatly defining any possible "left-wing" opposition out of existence. And yet I recall Paul Goodman's reply when I asked him what he thought of the issue (this was on the one occasion I was lucky enough to meet that beautiful man): that there shouldn't be sex education in the schools, there should be sex! Why is it so difficult for the average educated person to realize that it is possible to direct an attack on Calderone's views from a libertarian and anarchist position, seeing them as one more dreary and dangerous try at social engineering on the part of bureaucratic liberals? Let me attempt to show that that is in fact what it is.

We should be grateful to Dr. Calderone for admitting that in her conception sex education is to be a part of moral education, that schools "must deal with moral values—it's immoral not to!" (p. 10.) Too often this issue is brushed aside with the claim that what is to be imparted are solely "the facts," on the basis of which children and older students will make their own decisions. But if there is to be a ."moral education…in which sex education is but a part," obviously the question comes up: Whose moral principles will be promoted here? Evidently, they will not be the principles of the majority of Americans, as witness the following:

Kurtz: Who really needs sexual education?
Calderone: The adults.
Kurtz: Who in particular?
Calderone: Well, really everybody. [p. 10.]

Well, whose values then? In the interview, the idea is put forward that it will be the students' own principles that will be discovered and creatively developed in the course of sex education:

Kurtz: How do we cope with [the problem of talking about moral values in the context of sex education] ?
Calderone: I think that Lawrence Kohlberg's method is pretty good—the Socratic method of dialogue…
Kurtz: This would eliminate the problem of the teacher imposing his own moral standards…[p. 9.]

(Incidentally, am I the only one who noticed the rich irony here? Has either Kurtz or Calderone ever read a Socratic dialogue? It is fairly obvious, in those "rap-sessions," who it is who decides what conclusions are going to be arrived at!) But, in point of fact, Dr. Calderone has a particular ethic of her own which she believes will typically be realized through "The Socratic method"; to Kurtz's question, "But is the task of sexual education for adults to…develop some responsibility or some restraint which is self-imposed?" she replies:

Certainly, You have to. You can't go around sleeping with everybody. [Note the phrase; she repeats it a little later on: "people sleeping around all over the place…"]…You see, the beautiful thing about having a group of 15-year-olds in a room rapping about something is that there will always be a proponent of sexual freedom and there will also be a conservative.…But then there is that larger group that begins to swing with the thinking process [sic!] and identifies some of the absurdities, inequities, inconsistencies, and hypocrisies of the whole adult world and, of course, of either extreme. And so there is safety in this, a balance wheel. [p. 12.]

This is entirely in keeping with Ms. Breasted's finding, that Dr. Calderone "advocated a sex education that was basically a form of moral indoctrination," and that in practice, in the Anaheim, California Family Life program, for example, such education was almost entirely "devoted to lessons in problem solving within the context of the conventional morality."

Thus, Calderone's values are, to my mind, only very superficially "liberated." Yes, yes, she condemns the sex attitudes of St. Paul and St. Augustine—as if these were really significant for the present and future (when, I wonder, are you going to publish a scathing denunciation of the absolutely crucial doctrine of infant damnation?); for the rest, however, her values are conventional-liberal ones. She lets the mask slip revealingly far on occasion, as when she speaks of "…if a girl gets raped or if a child has a homosexual experience. People survive these things very well" (p. 12, emphasis added), giving us a good idea of where she is at by her equation of the two; or when she states, of laws regarding consensual relations among adults: "This is ridiculous because many of the churches approve of oral-genital sex between consenting adults" (p. 12, emphasis added). She is against "sleeping around" and "exploitation" in sex (both undefined), and in favor of more "research" and more "knowledge," to be contributed by various "experts," including clergymen and theologians (I personally find her assumption that there is something "exciting" about the new recognition of sex on the part of the United Methodist Church or the United Presbyterian Church repulsive). She is for the proliferation of "professionals" whose job will be to "capacitate" the sex drive of other people. All in all, a program for a liberal-positivist-bureaucratic remolding of American sexual and social values.

But even this is describing it too favorably, if we consider what sex education is likely to be in actual practice. It will, in most cases, be carried out by the graduates of our state teachers colleges, middle- and lower middle-class types, with their own distinctive values, fears, etc., on the subject. If you want to see what sort of people will be in reality undertaking to shape the sexual attitudes of the young, go to Buffalo State or Fredonia (or, as Ms. Breasted did, to Long Beach State). Dr. Calderone's reply would probably be: But these people will in turn be educated, their sexual hang-ups resolved, etc., before they are turned loose on American children. In my view, such a response would betray again the liberal's wild over-estimation of the effect of "education" in comparison to life. The public school teachers, after all their college English courses, have succeeded in making poetry an object of hatred and disgust to millions of their subjects; why should they now be allowed to have a go at sex?

Furthermore, there are political reasons why sex education should not be permitted in the public schools, based on the existence of compulsory school attendance laws and use of tax money (by definition, money taken by force). In the present circumstances, a sex education program would be an imposition upon a captive audience of a process designed either to change or to reinforce certain sexual values, the whole thing being paid for by money taken also from those who disapprove of those values. Pending the abolition of the government's quasi-monopoly of primary and secondary education (through something like Milton Friedman's voucher plan) and the repeal of compulsory school attendance laws, sex education courses in the public schools are a totalitarian infrigement of individual rights. Such programs should be dismantled or not allowed to come into effect. Let kids find out about sex to the degree they individually wish from books, but best of all at parties, in bars, in johns, when their parents are out, in cars, at the beach under the boardwalk, from older women and men, and even in the liberals' version of hell, "the gutter."

Last of all, let me put in a good word for the Birchers. I share very few values with them and I look on a society controlled by them with almost as much alarm as the much more probable one of the future, where the likes of Dr. Calderone and her "experts" will call the tune. But, when all is said and done, they are aware of something which Calderone refuses to acknowledge and on account of which she hints at their mental illness: just as these same sorts, when they talk of "Rockefeller control" of American foreign policy, see something the liberals don't, so they are by no means utterly unrealistic when they shriek that there is a plot afoot to take their children away from them and remake them in an image which they hate. Why, on top of it all, they should be forced to fund this plan, is best known to those whose whole social art consists in coercing and manipulating people into doing what they don't want to do.

Ralph Raico is a history professor at the State University College in Buffalo. He did his undergraduate work at the City College of New York and received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. While at Chicago he was editor-in-chief of NEW INDIVIDUALIST REVIEW.