World War I changed sex in America. Young soldiers were away from home, working and fighting long hours, and had no “parental supervision.” In many aspects of their lives, they were expected to be adults. They were given personal weapons (both hand guns and rifles), control over large weapons, placed behind the yokes of bombers, and behind the wheels of military vehicles. Their superior officers pointed them at the enemy and told them to kill or be killed. They watched their closest friends die. They sometimes looked into the eyes of men that looked like their schoolmates and violently took their lives.
Hopped up on a mix of adrenaline and testosterone, these men would seek out the relief provided by destitute women and profiteering men in the form of prostitution. They knew nothing about STDs then. They had no idea that their night of release had stayed with them. They had no idea they were passing that on to their wives, girlfriends, and eventually their children when they finally came home.
The military leadership had to do something. Those who survived their tour of service were devastated by the disease they had brought home. The answer was education.
It took rampant STDs during WWI to get the federal government involved in sex ed. In 1918, Congress passed The Chamberlain-Kahn Act, which allocated money to educate soldiers about syphilis and gonorrhea. During this time, Americans began to view sex ed as a public-health issue. The American Hygiene Association, founded in 1914 as part of the Progressive-era social purity movement, helped teach soldiers about sexual hygiene throughout the war. Instructors used a machine called the stereomotorgraph to show soldiers microscopic slides of syphilis and gonorrhea organisms, as well as symptoms of the diseases on the body of an actual soldier.
It wasn’t long before the American education system realized that there was a need to adapt this education model for the school system. During the 1920s the school systems began to introduce sex education in public schools.
Sex ed exploded over the next three decades. In the 1930s, the U.S. Office of Education began to publish materials and train teachers. In the 1940s and ’50s, courses in human sexuality began to appear on college campuses. In 1964, Mary Calderone, a physician who had been the medical director at Planned Parenthood, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). SIECUS was created in part to challenge the hegemony of the American Social Hygiene Association, which then dominated sex-education curriculum development. In 1968, The U.S. Office of Education gave New York University a grant to develop graduate programs for training sex-education teachers.
It didn’t take long for this sex education to meet with resistance. The Catholic Church was the first to mount a campaign against sex ed in schools, but soon more conservative Christians joined the fight claiming that teaching students about sex would only lead to students wanting to have sex.
The fight was on. It became political. Candidates chose sides and built political platforms on the issues. Organizations were formed on each side to strengthen the fight. Those opposed to sex ed in public schools accused educators of stripping down and having sex in front of classrooms of students. Supporters called the opposition ignorant for thinking that abstinence was a legitimate means of controlling the sexual behavior of students.
1916- Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York, providing family planning education, counseling, and imported diaphragms. She is arrested and jailed on obscenity charges. Sex Education by Maurice Bigelow is the first major publication on sexuality education and public schools. It stays in print for over 30 years
I went to high school during the 80’s in a small conservative town. We were enamored by the stories of schools in the big city passing out condoms and birth-control pills! There were even stories of teachers demonstrating the proper installation of a condom using a banana! The idea was supposed to be repulsive to me, but in truth it was a little exciting.
So, where do I personally fall in this whole sex-ed debate? Actually, somewhere in the middle. I believe that the best place for sexual education and discussion is in the home. Parents are best equipped to discuss this sensitive subject with their kids. My wife and I did this with our kids. It was easy with our son. Both of us were A/V nerds. He would hang out with me while I worked. He learned by observation that there were different types of A/V connections – Male and Female. As he and I were working along one day he asked, “Dad, why are some connectors called Male and others called Female?” Suddenly the door was open. I didn’t have to awkwardly find a way to start the sex conversation with him. It naturally came up. Using a matching pair of ¼” connectors, I walked him through the basic sexual equipment and how it was used. No giggling, no shuffling feet, just an attentive boy receiving the answer to his question.
Since the question had been asked and answered so comfortably, the stage had been set. Sex was not taboo. When he had a question about sex, he asked. When I needed to tell him something about sex, I told him. No big deal. My wife had a bigger challenge with our ultra-modest daughter, but the same principles were employed. Don’t make sex taboo. Keep it in context and make sure the topic can always be approached naturally.
Our kids didn’t really need sex-ed in school, but they weren’t freaked out by it either. Since we had dealt with it at home, we weren’t worried about what was being taught at school. We were out in front of the subject. If the school confused the subject or added something we missed, our kids knew they could ask us about it and we would deal straight with them on it.
The problem is that most parents don’t deal with sex in the home. There’s plenty of sex happening, but no one is dealing with it. This happens in two extremes.
On one end, you have some conservatives who feel that sex is Taboo! Just don’t talk about it and it will go away! (Spoiler Alert: That doesn’t work.) I think that some of this is generational. Their parents didn’t talk to them about sex. They were expected to avoid it at all cost and then magically on their wedding night it would all work out. The only conversation about sex in this household is, “Don’t do it!”
On the other end you might see parents who just let their kids figure it out. I think they figure that kids talk to each other and it all eventually comes out. Some parents even discretely leave pornography where their kids can find it. Voila! Problem solved. Anything else will come up in Health class at school. No worries.
In my opinion, these two extremes make sex-ed in schools necessary. Unfortunately, discussions about sex in a classroom setting are a poor substitute for a healthy open dialog between parents & kids at home. However, it’s better than nothing. In a properly taught sex-ed class students get the basic mechanics, some information about safe sex, and the drawbacks of ignoring safe-sex practices (including graphic photos of STDs).
You may now be asking, “So, what does this have to do with guns?”
Ah! I’m glad you asked!
If you believe what you hear in the mainstream media right now, we have an “epidemic of gun violence!” FBI statistics show a different story, but since that is the narrative let’s run with it. What should we do in our schools about this epidemic?
Right now, we are doing with guns what was done with sex for decades – Nothing. As a matter of fact, guns are banned from most schools. We even hear stories of students being kicked out of school for wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a gun on it, possessing a ¾” piece of plastic shaped like a gun, chewing their breakfast pastry into the shape of a hand gun, or pointing a pencil at another student and saying, “Pew, pew.”
What does this do in the mind of a school child? How do kids feel about guns when they are saturated with this mindset? What is a kid likely to do when he/she encounters a gun?
In my experience, it has a polarizing effect. With guns, sex, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco I have seen about a 50/50 split. About half of kids respond to the presence of a taboo object by avoiding it while the other half are enamored by it. That’s the normal effect of taboo across most ages.
That’s not a good result with guns. If the prevailing message about guns is, “Guns are bad!” and that is successful in keeping about half of kids away from guns, what about the other half?
A local TV station in Waterloo, Iowa decided to look into this subject. It was an unscientific experiment, but very revealing. Working with the local police department they placed a disabled gun in the crease of a couch in a conference room. They rigged the room with hidden microphones & cameras. The kids were left in the room unsupervised while the parents were stationed in another room with TV monitors to watch what would unfold.
The results were terrifying! They found the gun almost immediately. There was no hesitation about playing with it. Several kids pointed the gun at other kids. If the gun had been loaded it would have been tragic!
Did you watch to the end? If not, you missed the most important point in the video experiment. There were only 2 kids in the experiment who did not play with the gun. They were the only kids in the group who had guns in their homes and had been taught by their parents that guns were not toys.
You will see in the video one mother crying and telling her child that they should have told a parent about the gun. This is one of the households with a gun. That tells me that while the child was taught gun safety, he/she was not properly taught what to do when a gun is found.
I’ll say it again; this experiment was not done scientifically. It was just a simple set-up. It actually flies in the face of my experience that taboo tends to create a 50/50 split. In this situation all of the kids with no gun exposure gravitated to the gun.
Earlier in this post I mentioned that many religious organizations opposed sex-ed in schools. They based that objection on Biblical teaching that forbids sex outside of marriage. Their fear was (and in many cases still is) that exposure to sex education would intrigue the students and make them want to have sex. Their Biblical point of view is that abstinence is best. Their preference is to keep sex as a taboo. This is a mechanism often used by Christians. Man-made legalism is easier to enforce than the respectful behavior brought on by relationship.
Things seem to have flip-flopped from sex to guns. It seems that conservatives and Christians tend to make up the majority of gun advocates while the more liberal class tend toward anti-gun sentiments. The “why” of that situation deserves its own blog post, but I want to look at how it impacts the possibility of gun education.
I think the first problem is nomenclature. My grandpa always said, “Satan likes to change the names of sins in order to make them more tasteful to us.” I think he’s right. In this case, people who are in favor of Gun Control prefer to call it Gun Safety. It’s more palatable to the masses. After all, who wouldn’t be in favor of gun safety, right? I’m all for gun safety. That’s the reason for this post. The problem is they aren’t really for gun safety. They’re for a re-branded version of Gun Control.
The self-proclaimed Gun Safety Advocates end up showing their hypocrisy when they oppose actual gun safety being taught in schools. Why, if they are advocates of gun safety, would they oppose the teaching of gun safety to the most vulnerable among us.
Look back at the video. Imagine that the kids had found a cigarette. In school they teach that age kid that cigarettes are as bad as drugs. They cause cancer. They are to be avoided. I can’t even enjoy my pipe on the front porch without my daughter nagging me about the dangers of cancer. If those kids had found a cigarette instead of a gun it would have been a different story. They would have recoiled from it. It’s gross! Don’t touch it! It’s dangerous!
I believe if the schools invested the same amount of resources into actual gun safety training as they do in sex-ed we would see a drastic reduction in accidental gun deaths among children. As with sex education, if parents taught gun safety in the home there would be no need for gun safety to be taught in school.
I am a member of the National Rifle Association. I have a good friend who calls himself a “Liberal who loves guns.” He feels that the NRA is one of the greatest evils in the United States (again, there’s a whole blog post to be written about that). I recommended to him that he check out www.eddieeagle.com for help with teaching his young son gun safety. At first he flat out refused because of his feelings about the NRA. I explained to him that while Eddie is an NRA program, they are very careful to keep the NRA and politics out of the program. They have one basic message, “Stop! Don’t touch. Run away. Tell a grown-up.” I don’t know if he ever even looked at it. I hope he did. It’s a great program.
I bring up Eddie Eagle because it is a fully developed successful program. Police departments and military groups have used it for years to help with their child gun safety programs. It would be an excellent way to bring gun safety education into the schools. It doesn’t promote guns. It doesn’t introduce the politics of guns. It doesn’t bring in the Second Amendment. It simply lets kids know that guns aren’t toys and should be left alone.
So, here’s my message to the self-proclaimed “Gun Safety Advocates” out there: Prove it! If you are truly interested in “Gun Safety,” work with us to put true gun safety education in our schools. If you are afraid that Eddie Eagle is the devil himself, then develop an effective alternative! Let’s start working together to save lives!