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Judgmental, moralistic sex education has no place in schools May 25, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Education, Liberalism v Conservativism, Singapore.
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Imagine that the Association of Wellness, Obesity and Nutrition Knowledge (AWONK) runs a course on diet and nutrition in schools. It teaches children about the nutritional values of certain foods, the negative implications of nutrition related diseases, and the importance of making healthy choices. It also teaches that some people have diet restrictions for moral or religious reasons, but does not pass judgment on this.

 Inexplicably, there is a backlash from parents. Angry parents have written to the newspapers about AWONK’s neutral stance on eating meat; after all, everyone knows that meat is murder and immoral. Other parents have complained that by teaching kids that meats such as pork and shellfish contain nutrients, we are promoting their consumption and blatantly going against the word of God in Leviticus 11:7 and 11:10-12. One parent piped up, “My child mentioned that he happened to learn about the consumption of horse or whale meat in other countries. You are supposed to condemn these actions because it does not reflect our social norms! How could you treat it in a neutral light when it would surely lead to the decline of our traditional values?” After much pressure from parents, the education ministry finally suspended AWONK’s program.

 Utterly ridiculous, you say? Well it is precisely this ridiculousness which is occurring in Singapore right now with MOE’s decision to stop Aware’s sexuality education program on the basis of it not reflecting society’s norms. This issue goes far beyond sex education. With one single action, MOE has made its stance clear: pacifying parents and maintaining social norms are more important than teaching students unbiased, scientific facts. Never mind the fact that these norms justify intolerance and discrimination, or the many studies that have shown that such approaches to sexuality education cause worrying increases in the suicide rates of gay teenagers. No, no. Preserving the status quo is more important than that.

 Preserving the Status Quo as an End in Itself

 The question we should ask those who justify judgmental views towards homophobia or premarital sex based on the preservation of social norms is this: is the preservation of traditional norms and values a good thing in itself, or is there some sort of benefit achieved from this judgmental approach?

 Many conservatives view the preservation of the status quo as a good thing in itself. This is perplexing to me because there is nothing inherently good about something just because it used to be practiced in the past. In fact, societies have abolished many things that the conservatives of their time would have militantly defended on the basis of “traditional values”, yet even many conservatives of today would regard as morally abhorrent: slavery, bans on interracial marriage, the denial of the right of women and blacks to vote… Conservatives seem to have forgotten that society has always been changing, and find it difficult to accept that it will always change.

It is incoherent to defend the perpetuation of such judgmental viewpoints on the basis that they represent traditional (and therefore moral) values. Such is the fallacy of the appeal to tradition, where it is assumed that something is better simply because it is older, traditional, or “it has always been done”.

 If there is indeed something beneficial about labeling homosexuality and premarital sex as wrong, conservatives are welcome to state their reasoning and evidence. Numerous studies have already indicated that abstinence-only education not only is not effective in reducing the cases of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, it in fact results in a higher rates of pregnancy and STDs when compared to safe sex approaches to sexuality education. As mentioned before, a negative approach to teaching about homosexuality results in a higher rate of suicide in gay teens. Opponents to unbiased sexuality education should be able to provide evidence for their cause instead of relying on emotive, dogmatic “reasoning”.

 Non-Universal Morality

 Some actions are universally immoral, such as murder and theft. But other actions are not universally regarded as immoral across all religions, cultures and times, especially actions pertaining to sex. By implementing courses that portray homosexuality and premarital sex as wrong, policy makers and educators are alienating the families and parents who do not share these views. It is blatantly ignoring the existence of parents with more progressive beliefs. How’s that for a “pluralistic” society?

 Simply by the fact that there is much disagreement over the morality over such issues, it is the most fair to maintain a neutral stance in schools, and allow the moral judgment to take its more appropriate place at home or in religious institutions. In this way, MOE’s action does not merely reflect social norms; it alienates liberals with its conservative bias.

 Respect

 Ultimately, it’s all about respect. Not just respect for others and their lifestyles and choices, but also respect for your own children. Do you aspire for your children to grow up to simply dogmatically inherit all your beliefs, your values, your ideologies? Or do you respect your children enough to want them to receive all the unbiased information they can so that they can think critically to make their own choices and become mature, self-actualized individuals?

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