It’s safe to say that thousands of bloggers, members of the media and regular folks on the street have already weighed in on the affair former presidential candidate John Edwards had while his wife Elizabeth was recovering from breast cancer in 2006. You’re probably thinking, “Everything worth saying about this revelation has already been said.” However, I wonder how many parents have talked to their teenagers about it? And how many sexuality education teachers will be brave enough to bring up the subject when school resumes in September?
When I became involved in implementing sex education policy in the public schools in the late-1970’s, one of the arguments my opponents tossed at me concerned values. At public meetings they would ask, “How can you have such programs without teaching values?” It took me awhile to understand the broader meaning which I think was, “How can you have such programs without teaching our values? How can you teach about sexuality without specifically telling young people that intercourse before marriage is wrong, abortion is killing an unborn child, and homosexuality is an abomination before God?”
After some thought, I arrived at an answer to the values question. I explained that I would teach values using the elements of good pedagogy. I would use a balanced approach to give all students a chance to offer their own ideas. From the ensuing discussion, they might discover new values which could cause them to discard or change their previous values. Certainly, I would not impose my values on them.
For example, let’s look at the topic of teaching premarital sex to high school teens. One way to approach the subject would be to break the class up into small groups and have them brainstorm the pros and cons of sex before marriage. Each group would choose a pro or con and prepare a one minute presentation to explain their reason for endorsing it. Afterwards, students could write an anonymous paragraph to support the pro or con that best fit their individual value system. The various views could then be posted on a classroom bulletin board under the banner: Our Values About Premarital Sex. A simple, but effective, lesson.
I’m sure many teachers are fervently hoping the Edwards affair story is forgotten and far from their students’ minds by the time high school reopens. I, on the other hand, wish teachers would address it, even if it doesn’t fit exactly into the prescribed curriculum. I think teens would appreciate the chance to sink their teeth into the topic with their peers and examine the values—public and private—embedded within it.
And I would not limit the lesson to John Edwards. Former President Bill Clinton, Senator Larry Craig, former Governor Eliot Spitzer and certain political figures from our past (for example, former presidents Grover Cleveland and John F. Kennedy) whose sexual exploits have driven them from public life—or not—would be appropriate to include.
Initially, I saw this topic as a self-contained, one-time lesson for students and a single conversation for parents of tweens and teens. Now I think it is worthy of deeper discussion. The Edwards’ affair gives parents and sex educators a huge opportunity to talk and keep talking about one of the most important aspects of human sexual behavior: values.