The drive to influence the moral education of children

The boxes, furniture and essential knick-knacks were packed in the rental. We were ready to make the short journey from our old living quarters to a new apartment, and the moving plan was set. I would drive the truck with our belongings and my wife Elaine and daughter Miriam would follow in our car.

Midway through the trek, Elaine began to wonder. Why are we going this way? The rental van ahead angled down a side street and Elaine kept close tail. Is this the back way to go? Maybe he’s lost? Then the truck pulled over and parked in front of a house, not the one Elaine expected, on a street far from our new apartment. Was there something wrong with the truck? Elaine steered to the curb just behind and waited to find out.

The door in the vehicle in front of her opened slowly and out came ... a stranger.

Meanwhile, I had reached our destination and tried to figure out where I had lost Elaine. This was during our family’s “B.C.” era (“Before Cellphones”), so it was only later when Elaine finally showed up at the right place that we pieced together the puzzle.

Somewhere en route, perhaps when Elaine was momentarily distracted, maybe by a back-seat question from Miriam, then about 6 years old, an identical rental truck had moved into the path between the one I was maneuvering and the car Elaine was driving. She began following the unwitting intervener without noticing the switch and was led off in the different direction that the new driver had taken. We still laugh about this bewildering experience every time we recall it.

Today, in the education arena, whose truck will we be following? There is now in progress a switch in vehicles, with all the same surface markings, but not with the same driver and certainly not the same payload. I mean to refer by this analogy to the legislative changes being proposed with regard to mandatory health education in the state’s public schools. Unfortunately, this development is not so funny.

As has been reported in the secular and Catholic press, efforts by a statewide coalition called “Care for Youth” have stalled temporarily in the state Legislature, due to the tremendous outcry from Catholics and other citizens. This coalition backs a bill that would require local school districts to introduce health education from kindergarten to graduation.

The bill was sent to study committee recently, a serious but not final setback for its sponsors. Supporters now are working to add language to the state budget to move the issue along.

Coalition materials tout “An Act Relative to Health Education” (which has been filed in the Senate as S. 288 and in the House as H. 597) as the means to give all children the same opportunity to learn about good nutrition, the benefits of exercise, and other non-controversial subjects.

However, you can’t judge a truck by the ads on its sides. You have to see who is driving it. Nearly half of the groups in the coalition are promoters and enablers of abortion, birth control, gay and lesbian sex, sex outside of marriage, and even the decriminalization of drugs. Thus, there is a more insidious agenda at stake.

If the coalition gets its way, local districts would have to follow the Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Frameworks, published in 1999 by the state’s Department of Education. No school district could opt out. While much in the frameworks is unobjectionable, certain portions would require lessons on “reproduction,” “sexuality” and “family life.”

The frameworks’ general terms will need to be interpreted, fleshed out and applied to the classroom setting. School systems will require practical help to design their health courses in a way that is judged consistent with the frameworks. Coalition members stand ready and willing to assist.

Thus, the official positions that coalition members have endorsed or resources they recommend can provide clues as to what the actual content of mandated sex education at the local level will look like. For example: “Abortion is a simple medical procedure which ends a pregnancy.... Any reason we have for choosing an abortion is a good reason.” Another example: “[E]ngagement in sexual activity is a personal choice, regardless of marital status.”

One more issue merits attention.

The coalition’s materials are careful to note that parents can opt their children out of objectionable classes. However, in a recent court case certain groups in the coalition took a decidedly different, more hostile position.

The Greater Boston Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association, key members of the coalition, filed a brief in the Lexington case of Parker v. Hurley. These groups supported a decision by the Lexington schools not to give parents notice when homosexuality is discussed. They argued that children have a “right” to be taught sexuality matters without parental interference, and an opt-out provision denies that “right.”

This suggests that if and when the health curriculum mandate is adopted, then the opt-out provision itself will be targeted for court action on the grounds that it impedes the coalition’s real agenda.

Consequently, parents who choose to send their children to public schools will be stripped of their current rights and the moral development of children will be left to groups with radical ideologies.

Then you will know who is in the driver’s seat.

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Policy & Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.