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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: What Rights Do Children Have? Part III of IV

Thursday, July 28, 2005

What Rights Do Children Have? Part III of IV

Education (A Right to Know)
Social conservatives often complain that schools do not focus enough on the 3 R’s. They contend that schools spend too much time teaching other subjects. While I would say the most important skills for an individual to learn is literacy and mathematics and would agree that schools are not doing a very good job teaching these vital subjects, education must not end with literacy and mathematics. Education must adapt to the new challenges of the 21st Century world in which we live. Behind literacy and mathematics, every student should learn how to reason and think for themselves (critical thinking). Once a child has a basis for these three very basic skills, he or she can then learn about health, science, history, technology, etc.

So what does education have to do with a child’s rights? Very simply the fact that an undereducated child usually grows up to be a burden on society and has very little chance to pursue the American dream. While I would prefer that government get out of the education business altogether, if the choice is between thirteen plus years of education or a lifetime of welfare, I would prefer the first choice. Obviously, we have more choices than that but one way or another, a child must be educated to have any chance in life though being educated in the public school system (or any school system) is by no means a guarantee that the child will go on to live a fruitful life. In other words, every person has a right to know.

Caught in the Crossfire
Unfortunately, not everyone believes that children should have the right to know about the world around them. The schools are ground zero in the so-called culture wars as the battle for the young minds of this country continues. Every special interest group under the sun wants its agenda to find its way in to the curriculum. Rather than give the students the critical thinking tools every person should have, the schools give in to the outside pressures or worse, push their own agenda.

Surely children deserve better than this. Surely we can trust that students can handle the facts and learn how to distinguish between fact and opinion if we train them to be critical (or at least logical) thinkers. It is this unwillingness to allow students to think for themselves which causes some of the controversial subjects to be, well…controversial.

The Right to Know About One’s Body (Human Sexuality)
There are many examples I could use to illustrate the various controversial topics taught in the classroom. Perhaps the most controversial subject taught in schools is sex education. There seems to be at least 2 extremes in the approach to teaching teenagers about human sexuality. The first extreme is this ‘Abstinence Only’ approach (putting parents’ heads in the sand and hope for the best); the second approach is ‘Let’s pass out condoms!’ Neither of these approaches is acceptable for teens who would just like to have the truth.

Proponents of Abstinence Only Sex Education say that abstinence works every time it’s tried. There is no disputing that. The dispute is whether or not the Abstinence Only Sex Education works every time it’s tried (I doubt this approach works half the time its tried). There has to be more to the message than “just don’t do it.” Just don’t do it for how long? Until college? The student’s 30th birthday? This message assumes that all the students will “wait until marriage.” What about those who do not ever want to get married? Not every person is the marrying type; I don’t think it is fair to ask anyone to be celibate for his or her entire life on the basis of whether or not he or she ever wants to get married. I wonder how many young adults have rushed to the alter in the name of purity only to discover later they married the wrong person as a result of lust rather than love? After all, Abstinence Only students wouldn’t want to break their pledge they were coerced into signing to remain a virgin until marriage!

The second more liberal approach is somewhat on the right track but goes a little too far. Sex education should be more than just plumbing, contraception, and STDs. While these should be part of the class, it seems that the psychological consequences of sex should be taught as well. Most teenagers are not emotionally prepared for this level of intimacy with another person (though most every teenager thinks he or she is). A person’s first sexual experience should not be one he or she regrets.

So how do we find that balance? It seems to me that both approaches have some value and therefore, students should hear both approaches (as all rational thinkers should be exposed to all sides of any issue). Most parents want their teenagers to wait at least until adulthood to have sex. Pretending that your children will never have the natural desire to be sexual beings will not change that fact if the schools do not teach it. Whether we like it or not, our children will be educated about sex. Sexuality is a big part of our culture. It’s on television, the radio, the movies, the news and in advertisements ranging from tooth brushes to real estate. Teenagers get their information from their friends and other very unreliable sources. Teenagers are looking for the straight answers. Who is going to give it to them? Does a minor have a right to know about his or her body regardless of whether his or her parents approve? If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is a resounding yes.

Next: Part IV of this series I will be asking the question: Where Do We Draw the Line?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And so the obvious answer, to you, is the implementation of a state bureaucracy which will determine what each child shall know. The common mass of humanity shall be required to pay for said system of schools, but shall be denied a substantive voice in them lest they impose an agenda (other than yours) on the system of education. And at the top shall be a philosopher-king -- let's call him the Education Czar -- who agrees with you in every respect, and who will therefore be unswayed by such irrelevant individuals as parents or taxpayers.

There is a name for such a statist system -- and it isn't Libertarianism or Objectivism. I'll let you decide whether it is Fascism or Communism.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stephen, I would counter argue that the only rights that children have are the same as every other human, the inherent rights of life, liberty and property. And those are bounded by their ability to responsibly function within society.

Neither adults nor children have a "right" to healthcare, or education, for example. Those are privileges. One of the biggest problems in our society today is that we have decided that privileges should become legal entitlements and then extended that to make them mandated entitlements.

I'll wait for the conclusion of the series before I make up my mind completely, but, to this point anyhow, I can't agree with the foundational argument.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the easy thing to do would be to have the god fearing parents sign a permission slip to let their High School children be taught about...S E X.
Many of these parents aren't teaching their kids about it, so it is left in the hands of the schools. I was taught in High School about diseases, all the ways you can get them, parts of the body, how they function, how and male and female function together...yes, we talked about sex, and oh no, masturbation. We were even shown how to properly roll a condom onto a cucumber. Girls and boys were shown how big a condom could be blown up so that a girl knows better when the guy says he can't fit into one. Girls were taught not to be ashamed to carry condoms themselves, not to rely on the guy to have it. We learned about all types of birth control, pregnancy, rape, molestation, abuse, the list goes on and on.
I didn't end up a teen age mother because of what I learned. These things being taught are facts, and a part of human nature, I don't understand why so many parents are against it. My parents weren't the type to talk about these things with me, kids need another outlet to get the facts, because friends are not a good source.
I'm glad that my school was smart enough to teach us all sides, I wasn't taught a bunch of fluff about abstinence only and that kissing can make you pregnant.
I very much agree with your article, teach both, don't rely on just one method or the other. The same could be said when it comes to teaching students about creationism and evolution. But that's another whole can of worms...

12:52 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I’m just chiming in to say that I’ll hold my fire until the series is complete…just wanted to let you know that I’m up to speed. ;-)

6:13 PM  

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