Contraceptive Comparison Shopping in NYC Schools

It’s not unusual for teachers to incorporate role-playing into their lessons—asking students to re-enact a famous trial, for example.

But what about a role-playing activity called “not without a condom?”

In New York City schools, at least, that particular—ah—activity may not be unusual at all within a few short months.

On Aug. 9, the city of New York issued a mandate requiring all public schools to offer mandatory sex education. Included in the curriculum:

  • Requiring students to visit a store and survey the contraceptive products available.
  • Assigning students to visit or call local clinics to find out what services are offered, how much they cost, and what languages are spoken there.
  • Watching a teacher put a condom on a model penis.

“A reasonable person can find this offensive,” says Greg Pfundstein, an active member of the NYC Parents’ Choice Coalition. “You don’t have to be a Bible-thumper or rosary-toting Catholic.”

The father of a two-year-old daughter (and expectant father of a not-yet-arrived baby), Pfundstein is years away from having to worry about the direct impact of this mandate on his family (the required classes are to be offered twice—once during the middle school years, and once in high school). But when news of the mandate broke, he was not alone in feeling the immediate need to take a stand against it.

The Parents’ Choice Coalition quickly formed. Over the past several weeks, the organization has held press conferences to raise awareness of the mandated classes and, even more importantly, to engage people in fighting for a choice of what their children are exposed to inside the classroom.

“We’re under no illusion we’re going to get the city to stop this,” Pfundstein explains. “All we’re asking is for the right to opt out of the program [and enroll in an alternative program,] an abstinence program … or something else.”

The mandate impacts only public schools, but Pfundstein notes that even kids in private schools will not be immured from its effects.  “It will have an effect on the neighborhood,” he says simply. “Even if your kid’s in Catholic school, someone could say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go do homework,’ and then they’re looking at condoms at the corner store.”

While the so-called homework assignments may be the most shocking aspects of the curriculum, it is the classroom instruction and ensuing discussion that will have the greatest opportunity to undermine any teachings about sexuality and family life that have been offered to these adolescents at home. Abstaining from sex outside marriage—and indeed, the concept of a family being centered on a marriage between a man and a woman—is presented as a mere option on a continuum of choice.

“Parents want their teenagers to be taught to abstain from sexual activity,” writes Miriam Grossman, MD, in “New York City Sexual Education Report.” “The wishes of these parents are undermined when children are taught that sexuality is a natural part of adolescence; the very idea is counterproductive to the Department of Education’s goal to promote abstinence.”

Grossman goes on to note borderline schizophrenic aspects of the program, which does gently touch on the value of abstinence—before rushing headlong into “but only you can decide what’s right for you.”

The curriculum teaches that sexuality is a natural, integral part of the human experience, with many positive effects. Little perspective is offered on the situations in which sexual experiences really are healthy and positive, leading teens to believe that whenever they feel they are ready for sex, having it is the right choice.

“The message is ambivalent at best,” Grossman writes. “Abstinence is ideal, students learn, but, well, it may not be ideal for them.”

New York City schools won’t be the first ones mandated to offer sex ed of this type. Nearly two dozen states already have mandates of some form or other in place, Pfundstein notes, and other school districts are considering enacting similar mandates. He recommends that people inform themselves about the state of their local school districts.

“We’re convinced that our request is very reasonable: please offer an alternative that won’t be offensive to a substantial number of parents,” he says.

“[Kids] may have authority figures in their lives, like teachers, who are telling them only you can decide when you’re ready for sex. They need to have other figures in their lives, like parents, telling them a different message.”

Learn more about the NYC Parents’ Choice Coalition—and sign its petition—here. You can also check out their Facebook page.

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