Parents generally enroll their children in public schools in order for them to obtain a well rounded academic education. In recent years, sex education has attracted considerable attention from educators and some within the medical community. But should that interest extend to supplying children with condoms?
Several points argue against expanding the role of elementary, junior high and high schools in the United States into part-time condom distribution centers. These include: parental and societal expectations about the role of education and sex, the freedom of parents to establish moral guidelines for their own youngsters, and the problem of a “subculture” of peer-driven expectations.
The issue of expectations
Traditionally, public schools in the USA have centered around the provision of academic instruction to children. While numerous teachers demonstrate concern for their pupils as individuals by also facilitating athletic events, fun outings and other extra-curricular social activities, these professionals do not usually seek to extend their role into a personal supervision capacity.
For example, most of classroom teachers do not baby sit their students after hours, or perform maternal or paternal roles in the daily lives of the youngsters.(Except under extraordinary circumstances, such as actually being the biological or adoptive parent of one of the pupils.)
Requiring educational institutions to play a significantly expanded function in directing the sexual behavior of students strikes many Americans as outrageous. Yes, supplying condoms through a school nurse’s office or a sex education center might reduce the likelihood of a young person developing a sexually transmitted disease- but serving as condom distributors goes far, far, far beyond the societal role communities in the United States have traditionally accorded to educational institutions.
What’s next? Offering birth control pills or other forms of contraception?
While many sex education instructors no doubt sincerely hope to improve the health and safety of their students’ lives, they should not exceed the scope of their authority by intruding into the personal lives of pupils in such an invasive manner. Just as there is a difference between studying civics and actually campaigning for office, young people compelled to attend public school as a matter of law should not become the classroom laboratory subjects of social reformers. Parents do not expect teachers to perform that role.
Parents assume the responsibility of raising children for many different reasons. Yet for centuries, courts in many parts of the world (including the United States) have recognized the principle of “in loco parentis” (literally translated as “in the capacity of parents”) when addressing the needs of minor children.
This issue appears quite clear with respect to the issue of whether or not a minor should obtain access to a condom.
Society as a whole expects that parents will provide for their children materially, and in many other important intangible ways as well. Parents sometimes functions as guides, role models, friends, mentors and moral advisers. Most of them expect to play a significant part in shaping the attitudes and conduct of their offspring.
Indeed, societies which attempt to produce an artificial, non-household primary caretakers for children often encounter serious problems. Just consider the efforts of some totalitarian regimes to usurp the role of parents- horror stories about, and clearly, government offers a poor substitute for a real human being.
Probably Hitler Youth leaders would have distributed condoms to young people at a public school if Nazi policies had demanded that course of action – but would that fact make such an action proper, or beneficial to the child? No. Parents who genuinely love and care for their youngsters remain the best qualified individuals to ascertain whether or not a particular teenager would derive any benefit from being granted permission to use condoms or not.
The problem of peer-driven subcultures
And yet a third, very significant, problem exists with the notion that public schools should dispense condoms to children. The availability of the product in an educational setting implies to young people that some peers engage in sexual activity. Handing a condom to a youth may be tantamount to granting casual permission for another person’s child to engage in sexual behavior.
Consequently, even young people without any interest in premarital sex might feel pressure to abandon abstinence from other, sexually promiscuous youngsters. Teenagers notoriously view sex in a juvenile manner. They are not adults. And many of them simply want “to fit in” at all costs.
This fact sometimes renders them vulnerable to mistreatment by others. A few sexually active young people in that setting might exert a negative peer influence upon other, more responsible youths.
Paradoxically, educators hoping to curb rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases might actually increase out of wedlock births (and other social ills) by promoting condoms on school grounds. Parents- not educators or state governments- should determine when and if their youngsters obtain access to condoms.