Wisconsin’s Senate just passed a bill that would force public school teachers who are teaching sex education to promote the benefits of marriage and abstinence as the best way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. And bills have been introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress that would encourage comprehensive sex ed in high schools and colleges.

The Republican-led effort in Wisconsin and the Democratic-led legislation in Congress take different views of how to teach students, but they both do one unfortunate thing: Get legislators involved in something they have no business being involved in.

You can go from state to state and find things that kids must learn because legislators or state officials have passed a regulation or law saying so.

This past summer California lawmakers passed the first law in the country saying that the contributions of gays and lesbians must be part of social studies lessons (though it left it to teachers to figure out how). Supporters said it would promote tolerance (among other things); opponents said it would promote homosexuality (among other things).

That joined a long line of things that California’s lawmakers have mandated over the years, including that students learn about the contributions of women, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, people with disabilities, the labor movement and entrepreneurs, as well as lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust. State social studies standards also mandate that elderly people never be portrayed in a demanding manner, the “aging process should be pictured as a continuous process spanning an entire lifetime,” “waste must not be encouraged or glamorized,” etc, etc.

If all this must be taught, the contributions of gays and lesbians might as well be included too. It seems only fair. The real question is why legislators think they should be peppering schools with individual mandates to teach individual subjects in specific ways.

Comprehensive sex education, though controversial, is a good and important thing for young people to learn. Research shows it may lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies.

But why should Congress and state legislatures be involved in picking and choosing subjects for kids to learn?


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