Friday, September 12, 2008

ACS Releases Issue Brief on Sex Stereotypes in Abstinence-Only Education Programs

Acs The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy has released Lesson One:  Your Gender is Your Destiny — The Constitutionality of Teaching Sex Stereotypes  in Abstinence-Only Programs, by Bonnie Scott Jones and Michelle Movahed.  Here is the summary:

In this Issue Brief, Jones and Movahed describe and analyze an aspect of abstinence-only sex education programs taught in U.S. schools that has been little noticed: their reliance on and perpetuation of gender stereotypes. The authors assert that numerous other flaws in these programs have been documented—showing, for example, that they are ineffective, give students misinformation, and propagate religious values—but that the teaching of stereotypes about boys and girls in these programs also deserves attention because of its harmful effects. For example, according to Jones and Movahed, some abstinence-only curricula teach that there are inherent differences between boys’ and girls’ emotional makeup, relationships and sexual behavior, and these curricula thereby place pressure on adolescents to conform themselves to these stereotypes and do harm to their psychological well-being and sexual behavior. Against this backdrop, the authors lay out a detailed argument that although the Supreme Court has not yet explicitly addressed the constitutionality of government-sponsored teaching of gender stereotypes, the Court’s sex discrimination precedents readily support the conclusion that such teachings run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The authors conclude by offering suggested reforms for policymakers and educators. First, they urge that legislators cease funding abstinence-only programs in favor of non-discriminatory, comprehensive sex education programs. Failing that, they argue, the teaching of sex stereotypes in school programs that receive public funding should be expressly prohibited, and educators should take responsibility for ensuring that their curricula do not adopt or perpetuate sex stereotypes. These steps are needed, they contend, to “prevent further violation of our children’s right to a public education free of the lesson that their gender is their destiny.”

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