In today's schools, sex education focuses on family values and decisionmaking
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Some sex-education teachers feel that the schools must distance themselves from the much-publicized problem of teen-age pregnancy. ''We should not see sex education in the classroom as preventing teen-age pregnancy,'' says Martha Roper , who has been teaching sex education for 10 years at the University City School District outside St. Louis. ''We did not cause that problem in the schools, and it's not going to be solved there.''Skip to next paragraph
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Notes Mr. Thompson, ''Attitudes about premarital sex are set by society at large. We can't expect schools to profoundly affect the posture of the general culture on these questions.''
Research generally shows that sex education has little influence on teen-agers' decisions to initiate sexual activity. But a number of studies indicate that it can reduce the number of pregnancies among sexually active adolescents. And there is some evidence that sex education can help the muddled adolescent solidify his conviction that sex is not right for him - especially when parents are involved in the discussion.
Yet in spite of clear indications from both parents and children that parents should be the primary providers of sex education, many parents remain reluctant. For this reason, some schools have begun bringing parents into their sex education curriculums. Konstance McCaffree, a sex education teacher at Council Rock High School in Newtown, Pa., says she spends 12 to 14 hours with the parents of students taking her classes.
''They have a lot of anxiety built up, much of it from the media,'' she says, describing the parents in a typical course. ''First I just get them talking with other parents. Then we cover general awareness of the teen-ager's world. And there's always homework, often involving the kids, so there'll be communication. That's the key.''
Ms. Roper follows a different approach. She holds an evening session to discuss with parents what their children will be learning in her class. ''We want the family to see us as promoting positive family relationships, as transmitting the moral values of the family and child.'' Ms. Roper outlines for parents four basic moral values that are promoted in her classes: love and caring for all humanity; respect for the family and religious values; responsibility for one's actions; and the idea that ''no one has the right to exploit another person.''
After realizing that information-giving courses are not enough, educators have placed greater emphasis on such topics as decisionmaking and aspirations. Increasingly they are finding that adolescents need to develop the ability to see themselves in real life - as opposed to the ''unreality'' of television, movies, and music lyrics - and to think seriously about the future and the consequences of their actions.
Joy Dryfoos, an associate professor at the Columbia University School of Public Health and noted researcher of teen-age pregnancy, says her work, especially among poor minority youth, has convinced her that a completed education and a broadening of economic options are keys to reducing teen-age pregnancies.
Today there are about 600,000 families with children five years old or younger headed by mothers under 26 years old. A 1975 study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute showed these families receiving about half of the year's $9 .4 billion in federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children. About two-thirds of them live below the US government's official poverty line.
Writing in Impact '84, the annual publication of the Institute for Family Research and Education at Syracuse University, Ms. Dryfoos says: ''If these children can be assisted to stay in school, learn to read and write, develop vocational goals . . . perhaps they will enjoy higher self-esteem, higher aspiration, and greater achievement such as advantaged children enjoy. . . .If these changes take place and a sense of future is engendered, the option of child-bearing will seem less acceptable.''