WASHINGTON Four leading education organizations have released national sex-ed standards that encourage fifth-graders to be taught about sexual orientation and eighth-graders to learn about gender identity and the morning-after pill, but many say the recommendations infringe on parental rights.
The non-binding standards by the National Education Association and three other groups are billed as the "first-ever national standards" for sex-ed in schools, and they provide detailed suggestions for what students should learn by the second, fifth, eighth and 12th grades. From a social conservative's standpoint, nearly every page of the recommendations has something controversial.
By the second grade, students are to learn the "proper names for body parts, including male and female anatomy." By the fifth grade, they should learn that sexual orientation is the "romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same gender or a different gender." By the end of the eighth grade, students should be able to "differentiate between gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation" and learn about the morning-after pill, which can cause abortions. They also should know how to use a condom, the standards say. Gender identity is a term that refers to men and women who, in essence, believe they were born the wrong sex. Both gender identity and gender expression encompass cross-dressers and transgendereds.
Although the recommendations are non-binding, the NEA and the other groups hope they catch on with schools. Others, though, are hoping schools simply ignore them.
"In a society where adults are sharply divided on how to address these issues, it makes no sense whatsoever for groups like the NEA to tell our children how they should think," said Bob Stith, the Southern Baptist national strategist for gender issues and representative of the convention's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.
"The reality is that it has the potential to create serious conflicts between parents and children. If children are taught values that are in direct opposition to the biblical values of their parents, those parents would be put in an adversarial position with their own children. This is just simply not a healthy approach," added Stith.
According to CitizenLink Education Analyst, Candi Cushman, it's important for parents to understand that this is a public relations effort for activist groups and private associations. "This is not a government mandate," Cushman said. "Schools are under no obligation to carry out these so-called standards.
Cushman believes that these new guidelines may be used by some schools as leverage to "undermine parental rights and expose children to controversial sexual teaching against their parents' will."
Among other recommendations, the standards say by the fifth grade, children should be able to:
• "Identify medically accurate information about female and male reproductive anatomy.
• "Define HIV and identify some age appropriate methods of transmission, as well as ways to prevent transmission.
• "Define sexual harassment and sexual abuse."
By the eighth grade, the standards say students should be able to:
• "Analyze external influences that have an impact on one's attitudes about gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
• "Access accurate information about gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
• "Communicate respectfully with and about people of all gender identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations.
• "Describe the steps to using a condom correctly."
The standards say that by the 12th grade, students should be able to:
• "Compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of abstinence and other contraceptive methods, including condoms.
• "Differentiate between biological sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
• "Distinguish between sexual orientation, sexual behavior and sexual identity."
Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) described the standards as full of "special-interest agendas."
"When we set standards, we should communicate the ideal, the best message to achieve optimal health," Huber said. "When a set of guidelines fails to provide any meaningful emphasis on optimal health but instead gives priority to 'condom negotiation' skills, we have not set standards; we have lowered them and put our children at increased risk."
The other organizations involved in writing the standards were the American Association of Health Education, the American School Health Association and the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education.