Misinformation campaign over sex ed carries on | Editorial

Published: Aug. 25, 2022

Schools open in two weeks, and a group of Republican state senators are using this occasion to misrepresent the sex education curriculum and vilify educators because they believe it’s a political winner.

The four senators held a two-hour virtual hearing Tuesday about sex education, and the lingering impression is that they would prefer to leave school kids purposefully ignorant -- which any expert will tell you is the reason why some young people are vulnerable to the “grooming” and the abuse that these adults claim to challenge.

The curriculum for 2nd, 5th, and 8th graders are designed to be taught in an age-appropriate way, and at the discretion of each district. That means parents must have their own concerns addressed, but they are too often ill-served by politicians who have hijacked the narrative.

 

For example: Parents are allowed to opt out of the curriculum if they don’t approve of it – that’s been true in New Jersey since 1980. But Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris) insisted just the opposite.

Indeed, the hearing was barely two minutes old when Pennacchio declared that “under the guise of diversity, inclusion and equality, we have seen what I view as a sexual indoctrination of children as young as 4 and 5 years old.”

The earliest curriculum has nothing to do with indoctrination. The standards state that by 2nd grade, teachers can “discuss the range of ways people express their gender and how gender-role stereotypes may limit behavior.” That means kids should not be pushed into specific interests based on their gender.

A pediatrician featured in the hearing also objected that “you’re introducing concepts around gender and gender identity that are …. traumatizing to a child. It makes the child doubt their ability to reason and this sticks with them for life.”

Dr. Laura Lindberg of the Rutgers School of Public Health, an expert on sexual education and its consequences, called that “utterly ridiculous. Every time we tell kindergarteners to line up in boys and girls lines down the hall, that’s gender at play.

“Clearly, sexual education is being weaponized for political purposes -- despite the fact that polls show that most parents support comprehensive sex education. It’s the voice of the few that drowns out substantial scientific and medical evidence.”

Senate Education chairman Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) reminds us that his bill requiring districts to post their sex ed curriculum was blocked by Republicans, even though it echoed legislation pushed by that party’s lawmakers for years.

“These are politicians trying to mislead parents, and win votes with fear,” Gopal said. “To this day, they haven’t pointed to a single one of our 600-plus districts teaching inappropriate material to school age children, and they continue to attack the teaching profession as a whole -- advocating cameras in classrooms, using loaded terms like ‘groomers.’ They are playing a dangerous game.”

Elected officials genuinely care about children, but some have been co-opted by a cynical political movement that believes the protection of a child is best achieved by banning books and not guns.

Their culture war, however, doesn’t factor in the potential damage to kids, and it ignores the evidence that we actually need more expansive sex education in New Jersey’s schools, not less.

For example: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 20 sexual health topics – including healthy relationships, sexual abstinence, contraception, gender identity, and sexual orientation – that should be taught in middle schools. But only 24% of New Jersey’s middle schools report teaching all of them.

Only 87% of our high schools teach all 20 topics – which sounds better, “but in some cases it’s too little and too late,” Lindberg points out.

Here’s why that is inadequate: By the time they get to high school, 10% of New Jersey students didn’t use contraception when they had sex, 20% of girls report experiences of sexual violence in the last 12 months, and 30% of LGBT students report being bullied at school in the last 12 months.

To summarize: “Not getting students the instruction before high school exposes them to risks in high school,” Dr. Lindberg said.

“New Jersey standards can help ensure young people get the age-appropriate information they need to stay safe and healthy,” she added. “Because if schools can’t meet their needs for information, they’ll turn to less trustworthy and less accurate sources. We need to create more trusted adults in their lives.”

Some adults need not apply – especially those who cannot open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge, and those who distort the facts for political gain.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-08-26 02:21:39 -0700