In recent weeks there has been coverage on government proposals regarding sex and relationship education. I have done a fair bit of reading on the subject and noted different perspectives (see here, here and here, for example). Rather than go into detail as to what is being proposed, I would want to use this opportunity to give my views on this aspect of education, knowing full well that many Christians of the more conservative ilk will have concerns and me being of a similar ilk will share many of those concerns.
The subject of what gets taught in schools is a biggie and where a debate is still needed. But we are where we are. Some discretion is allowed for parents to choose the school their child attends and if unhappy with what is on offer they can home school their child, although realistically that option is not available to most. Up to now parents have been able to opt out of certain lessons that might be in conflict with their beliefs, although this is now being contended. While what should be on the curriculum and the exam and utilitarian focus are issues we can argue over, most parents are okish about much that is taught, starting with the three ‘r’s and recognizing there are good cases for the many subjects now on offer.
Where the problem arises with conservative Christian types is when values are taught that are not what the parent believes to be right or material is covered that is deemed inappropriate e.g. pertaining to sex for young children (I believe that children’s innocence should be preserved as long as possible, although I also recognize that such is the world we live in where some matters should be covered). I would much rather that the ultimate decision of whether to allow one’s children to attend sex and relationship education classed remain with the parent and, while I recognize that some parents are negligent in these areas and outside forces like the Internet unduly influence, I see it as my duty as a parent to teach such things.
It seems to me almost inevitable and arguably laudable that government should be concerned that sex and relationships should be taught in a meaningful way in government controlled schools, although some of this depends on what set of values this is based on, and for some including me, the fear is it is the wrong set. I would also argue that outside this, e.g. faith schools, it is taught according to the ethos of the school that while reflecting the schools understanding of what is right in these matters, it also recognizes that there are other views and the job of the school ought to be to educate and not indoctrinate. It is a fine balance but I based my own approach on “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom”.
I raise this matter after reflecting on what my own child was subject to in his own school journey, a Christian faith school and a fairly conservative grammar school. While I had some qualms, I was pleased the school did a more than acceptable job teaching both non-controversial and potentially controversial stuff. I recognize the school paradigm is different now, compared with my own schooling (in the 1950’s and 60’s). Then traditional Christian values influenced much of what the schools I attended taught, and other than getting mentioned in passing sex and relationships were hardly covered. Nowadays, traditional Christianity has to compete with secular humanism and other religions, with pressure on the curriculum to cover sex and relationships, including LBGT, sex outside of marriage, love, pornography and contraception.
My concern is not so much there are good arguments why the subject should be covered in the school curriculum or that there has been a paradigm shift in values deemed as particularly important by the schools (e.g. in my day it was things like duty and diligence and these days it might be tolerance and self actualization) but just maybe there is a measure of indoctrination and, while I am all for critical thinking and children being alerted to things that they will likely encounter outside of school, this is unlikely to be a doctrine I would want my child to be subject to. It occurred to me this may be the case when looking at some handouts my son received in context with his religious studies GCSE. In my days RS was mainly to do with the teaching of the Christian religion from a biblical perspective. Now it seems to be about situation ethics and philosophy, drawing upon various religious and ideological traditions deemed to be ok by those who control the curriculum, and one where the child is encouraged to come to a view based on his / her opinion. It seems that the notion we ought to be acting according to ideas found in Christianity has now been replaced by one of moral relativism, where anything goes providing one is sincere and aligns with stuff in line with what society deems to be broadly acceptable, which itself raises many concerns.
That to me is unacceptable and represents brain washing of the worse sort. As many who read my blogs know, a theme I frequently return to is “culture wars” and, whilst I offer a view that we should respect what others believe in what has indisputably become a multi-cultural society as opposed to a monolithic one, I do not believe moral relativism, multi-culturalism and secular humanism is what should be subtly or otherwise imposed on the children attending our schools and is why I look on the changes the government are looking to introduce with both interest and alarm.
One thought on “Sex and relationship education”
John, in your blog you write ‘In my days RS was mainly to do with the teaching of the Christian religion from a biblical perspective. Now it seems to be about situation ethics and philosophy, drawing upon various religious traditions, where the child is encouraged to come to a view based on his / her opinion. ‘ Later on you call this modern approach ‘brainwashing’. Really? Where the child is encouraged to come to a view based on his/her opinion after reading or hearing about different viewpoints? This sounds like the very opposite of brainwashing, unlike when you and I were at school where we were subjected to one point of view, i.e. Christianity and that was presented as’the truth’ with no discussion or dissension. That sounds much more like brainwashing to me…