The Clark County School Board is considering changes to its sex education curriculum, including the possibility of teaching five to eight year old children that “touching and rubbing one’s genitals to feel good is called masturbation.” You can read articles about it here and here.
A proposal like this provides evidence in support of the commonplace complaint of conservative parents that supposedly “value neutral” sex education is not in fact value neutral. Parents opposed to this curriculum will object that the school is going to teach little children to masturbate, or that masturbation is OK. The school will respond that it is not teaching any such thing, but only teaching children the facts about masturbation. It’s value neutral.
But such a claim is necessarily unconvincing. To teach anybody–especially a child–that some activity “feels good” and then to provide no other standard of judgment is in effect to encourage the activity. The school might respond that it leaves the parents free to teach whatever they want about the morality of masturbation, and that it is not actively undermining it, since it says nothing one way or the other about the morality of the issue. But this, too, is unconvincing. Since the school is one of the authorities in the child’s life, a curriculum that gives him an amoral account of masturbation is implicitly challenging the moral education that his parents are trying to give him.
To see that this is the case, it might be helpful to consider an analogy. Hardly anybody would approve of an elementary school curriculum–or high school curriculum, for that matter–that said that “drug use” is “taking medicines that make you feel good.” Everybody would agree that framing it this way is morally dangerous precisely because it would encourage the young to take drugs because it “feels good” without giving them the moral guidance about the other consequences of the act.
By the way, the drug analogy illustrates a certain inconsistency in the thinking of America’s educational elites. I have seen advertisements admonishing parents to assert their authority to forbid their children from using illegal drugs. Yet the same establishment that approves those public service announcements tends to say that social authority is powerless to get children to abstain from sexual intercourse.
This story is also a sobering reminder that some of what passes for education is really an attack on the innocence of children. If somebody says that they need to know this kind of thing at this age because of the character of our culture, then one would have to conclude that much of our culture is an assault on the innocence of children.