While sex ed often leads to controversy, the latest incident is rather interesting. Wisconsin recently passed a new law that requires teachers to educate kids how to use contraceptives. In response, Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth sent a memo to schools warning that teachers who follow this law could be arrested.
It is illegal for minors to have sex in Wisconsin, but he law requires teachers to show minors how to use contraception. So, according to Southworth, the law requires teachers to encourage kids to “engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender.” This would, he reasons, make the teachers liable because they would be endorsing illegal behavior. Southwort goes on to use an analogy: “it is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks.” Not surprisingly, the main alternative being proposed to the new law is sex ed that focuses on abstinence.
If Southworth is right, then the teachers would be in a bit of a dilemma: if they follow the sex ed law, then they could be arrested for encouraging the delinquency of a minor. If they do not follow the sex ed law, then they would be breaking that law. Of course, this assumes that Southworth is correct.
An important issue here is whether or not teaching minors to use contraception encourages them to engage in sexual activity. Another important issue with whether or not teachers should be held accountable for the actions of the minors should they engage in sex.
In regards to the first issue, it could be argued that learning about sex and how to use contraceptives could encourage sexual behavior. To use an analogy to advertising, when people are exposed to information about a product and shown how to use it, they would be more inclined to buy and use that product. Sex ed of this sort could be seen as an infomercial that will lead minors towards sexual activity.
The analogy does, however, break down a bit. After all, an infomercial is explicitly trying to push a product whereas sex ed is presumably not aimed at getting minors to have sex.
However, it could be argued that merely learning about sex and how to use contraception will motivate minors to have sex. However, I suspect that biology provides considerable motivation-far more than what a sex ed class would provide. Also, minors are no doubt getting information about sex outside of school, such as via the internet. Finally, minors were having sex long before this law was passed. As such, it seems unlikely that this sort of sex ed would be a significant causal factor in leading minors to have sex.
Even if sex ed does encourage sexual behavior, this should be weighed against the benefits of such education. If minors will have sex anyway (which they clearly will), it seems preferable that they know how to use contraceptives and the consequences of not using them (as well as the consequences of sex). Such knowledge would most likely reduce the number of pregnancies and the spread of STDs. While it would be better for minors to wait until adulthood before having sex, if they do not it is better that they do not get (or get someone else) pregnant or catch an STD.
As far as abstinence based education goes, it is reasonable to educate students about the value of abstinence. However, to rely primarily on preaching abstinence as a problem solver would be a serious mistake. After all, it tends to be rather ineffective.
In regards to the second issue, it does make some sense that teachers would be accountable to a degree. To use another analogy, if a teacher shows students how to make pipe bombs and some students blow themselves up while trying to make them, then the student would have some responsibility for this.
This can, however, be countered by another analogy. Consider, if you will, a drivers’ ed class taught in school to minors. Obviously enough, this class teaches people how to drive and these people cannot legally drive on their own. Using Southworth’s logic, the drivers’ ed teachers would be responsible if one of the students jumped behind the wheel of the family car, took it for a spin, and got arrested. As such, driver’s ed should be changed from showing people how to drive to focusing on telling minors why they should practice automotive abstinence.