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Sex Education in Public Schools


MONG the many good lessons taught by the Great War are those relating to the problem of physical fitness during times of peace. One startling fact uncovered by the draft examinations was that over one-fourth of the men of the United States wereand are unfit to fight. No figures are available referring to women on this same subject, but from the universality of the causes enumerated for this condition, it is quite probable that the same ratio holds good for either sex. Citizens who are physically unfit for the sacrifices of war are even less able to efficiently carry on the work demanded in times of peace, and this state of degeneracy bodes much evil not only for the future of our nation but also for the very existence of the race.

What is the main cause of so much disability, degeneracy, and deformity? According to Surgeon General Gorgas of the Army, the greatest cause of disability in military life has been the venereal diseases. Furthermore, he states that five out of every six cases discovered in the army were contracted before entrance into military service. What more is needed to show that this is a peace-time problem, and not primarily one of war? While our loss of man-power is thus tabulated, who is able to tell of the loss caused by suffering, death, shame, and broken social ties? Who can estimate the number of innocent lives rendered shameful and useless by the grasp of that octopus, venereal disease? Each year the courts grind forth their hideous grist of criminal degenerates. Each year the hospitals see their vast quota of innocent women and children come to suffer the mutilation of necessary operations which have had their causative factor in shameful disease. Each year perceives its thousands of blind, dead, or deformed babiesinnocent victims of a giant crime. Are these things a menace to our national life? Who can doubt it?

What is the deep, the underlying cause of so much misery and disgrace? Ignorance! Medical men who have made a study of this matter among army men report a gross ignorance and miseducation concerning sex facts, unbelieveable in members of so enlightened a nation as ours. Lack of information, and mis-information, have led thousands to believe that sex relations are necessary to health, or that venereal diseases are "no worse than a bad cold," or dozens of other fallacies and evasions. Not long ago these men were boys, innocent and curious-susceptable to helpful teaching. Now the lives of many of them are blasted and their hopes of happiness shattered. Nor does the evil end here. What of their families and those with whom they must come in daily contact? Can the mingling of so much black pigment in white lead escape having a darkening effect upon the whole?

The time to have corrected this evil was when these men were still young boys. "Children are naturally curious regarding the facts of reproduction," says a pamphlet put out for teachers by the United States Public health Service upon this subject. "Only an abnormally dull child can grow up without a vivid interest in the wonderful drama of the renewal of life he sees about him, and without experiencing the natural impulses and emotions of adolescence." If wholesome teachings are not given, "ignorant nurses, hearsay and unreliable gossip of companions, advertisements of quack doctors and patent medicines, lurid motion pictures, and personal adventures" become his teachers.

The same authority, using material gotten from M. J. Exner's study of 948 college men regarding their sex experiences in boyhood, reveals the following facts:

"1. A large majority of boys get their first permanent impressions about sex from improper sources before the age of 12." "2. The ideas received from improper sources have often led to some form of sexual practice, most often between the ages of 12 and 15 years."

"3. Instruction in the past has generally been from four to six years too late. When it has been given at all by parent or teacher, it has been helpful, even though crude and meager."

It is quite evident from these reports and similar ones that failure to give sound instruction to young children often results in sex practices which undermine the health, both moral and physical, of the victim, and may even lead to a career of immorality and disease. It is also evident that our long-kept taboo on sex discussion, the product of an outgrown prudery which teaches that the younth must be kept in profound ignorance of the ways of reproduction, is a hideous mistake, and a crime not only against the child, but against the race as well. Most boys and girls are clean in mind and body. The natural instinct of youth gives them this advantage. If they are dealt with honestly and intelligently, so that they may not only be able to tell right from wrong but to know the reason for the differentiation, there is no doubt that cleaner, better lives will be the result.

Sex education aims at vastly more than the mere elimination of venereal diseases. They are merely the prominent index of moral turpitude, and serve as a warning to those of us who are smugly satisfied in the old mistake of silence concerning these things. To abolish entirely the evils of wrong sex practices, and to spread the light of helpful education into all these dark corners of ignorance is an extremely difficult task, almost an impossible one; but so important is the work that every effort is being made by Federal and state health authorities to bring it before the public in the proper light.

To aid in this work, what can we teachers do? It is the business of parents to instruct their children in the mysteries of sex. We have neither the close personal contact nor the mental equipment and method training necessary to give such information and still be sure of a right influence. If we should attempt any such thing, would not our patrons rise up in indigation and banish us from the country?

Too often these objections are true. It is the duty of the parent to instruct his child, but how many of them do? In many homes such a condition of ignorance and neglect exists in the parents themselves as to make this source one of bad instead of good influence. In others the parents do not seem to feel the need or

are naturally hesitant to speak on this delicate subject, seeming rather to prefer that their children brave the dangers of ignorance than to risk a mistake or to overcome their inbred repugnance of a subject which, instead of being disgaceful as they imagine, is one of the most wonderful and interesting facts of biology. Further, we must not forget the large numbers of orphaned children who have no one very near of kin who can or is willing to impart the necessary information.

In the absence of home education are we teachers to let this thing slide along; are we to stand by and see wrong committed through the ignorance of those children in whose futures we are so interested? No! Something can be done, and we must do it.

The giving of efficient sex education becomes a rather easy matter in high school or college, where a number of courses are especially fitted for its introduction. Biology, zoology, advanced physiology, anatomy, all these give an excellent chance for the introduction of sex knowledge in a natural and helpful manner. Even botany may be made to yield a chance for the discussion of reproduction in both plants and animals, and the instruction thus afforded may be doubly helpful in that it is not pointedly directed at the human system, although the chance should not be passed for showing that application may be made here also. The supervisor of physical education is perhaps the one who comes closest into contact with the youngsters in a physical way, and while he is showing them the advantages of clean living as regards food, exercise, and personal cleanliness, might he not also give instruction in the importance of sexual health?

But it must be remembered that all teachers are not capable of giving this instruction. The task is an extremely delicate one, and not only requires a good understanding and proper subjects but also a sympathetic personality and special methods. The attitude of the teacher should be taken into serious consideration. He must not be flippant or have his main interest in the abnormalties of sex. He must not become easily excited in discussing it or be soured and pessimistic in his views. His personal integrity and sincerity must be above reproach, and he must not

possess any dangerous or radical views concerning sex not founded upon a thorough background of theory and experience. Above all, he should have permission to take up the work from his principal or school board, and, if possible, from the patrons.

Teachers, even in high schools, should be very cautious in taking up the subject, lest wrong impressions be given. Rarely or never should a teacher attempt to give information to one of the opposite sex or to groups of greatly varying age. Often it is best to treat the pupils individually, and the mode of instruction allowed to vary to fit the case at hand.

While sex education may be profitably given with comparative ease in the advanced school, the fact remains as shown by Dr. Exner, that this vital information is badly needed long before either boys and girls attain the eminence of high school. This means that some sort of sex education must be given during the grammar school age. But here, especially, the caution applies concerning the fitness of the teacher to do the work. Again quoting our pamphlet, we find that "most grade school teachers in the schools today are not in position to undertake such work." The first step in such a case, then is for the teacher, whether school instruction. is given or not, to attempt to get the parents to instruct their own children.

There are two subjects in the grade school which might be successfully used in the introduction of sex instruction: nature study and physical education. But even here the attempt should not be made by a teacher who does not thoroughly understand her subject and who has not had some special training in methods of introducing the subject. Furthermore, she should do nothing unless she is sure of the support of her community.

Thus it is seen that the average grade school teacher is much hampered in this work, and if much care is not used, an attempt to forward it in her classroom may be disastrous. The crying need is now for teachers who are trained in this work as in other branches-a thing which our normal schools have largely neglected. Until such training is not only secured but securable many of our children will grow up in the sexual ignorance which

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