Human Relations Education Once Considered Communist Plot

Human Relations Education Once Considered Communist Plot

Going back to​ 1980 to​ write The Sex Ed Chronicles required me to​ return to​ the 60's and 70's to​ get the political setting just right. Until I started my research, I did not know that sex education had been considered part of​ a​ 'Communist plot.'

In 1960, John Birch Society president Robert Welch urged parents to​ join their local Parent-Teacher Associations and take them over. According to​ a​ Time magazine reporter in​ 1969, Welch had "decided that sex education was a​ 'Communist plot' akin to​ community fluoridation plans."

As part of​ my research, I read a​ National Education Association (NEA) manual, published in​ 1970, advising state and local teacher's unions on how to​ confront extremists opposed to​ sex education in​ the public schools. The manual referred to​ a​ documentary supported by the Society called 'The Innocents Defiled' which put sex education instructors in​ an​ unflattering light, saying that they were spreading "moral depravity" and that they were "bent on the corruption of​ America’s youth, with the ultimate aim of​ overthrowing the United States."

The John Birch Society also formed a​ front group called the Movement to​ Restore Decency (MOTOREDE) to​ attract non-members to​ their cause. The NEA manual mentioned an​ irony: the Society emulated the Communist party, their sworn enemy, by forming a​ front to​ hide their true motives. This movement did succeed in​ attracting its own base: according to​ author and sociologist Janice Irvine, 80 to​ 90 percent of​ MOTOREDE members were not John Birchers. MOTOREDE was not the only organization of​ its kind; others were parents' organizations with names such as​ Sanity of​ Sex (S.O.S.) and Parents against Universal Sex Education (PAUSE).

While opinion polls of​ the time showed overwhelming (71 percent) support for sex education, and sex education was endorsed by not only the NEA, but also the National Council of​ Churches, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Catholic Conference, vocal conservative opposition led legislators to​ reconsider sex education, or​ gave their political kin ammunition to​ fight it. Organizations opposed to​ sex education in​ public schools existed in​ 35 states in​ 1969.

One politician, for example, the late California State Senator John Schmitz, introduced the Sex Education Act of​ 1969 in​ the Golden State. While innocently named, this legislation required an​ 'opt-in,' meaning that any sex education program required 100 percent parental approval before it​ could be taught in​ a​ public school. Schmitz' legislation also called for dismissal and revocation of​ teaching credentials for any instructor who taught an​ unapproved class. Three years later, elected as​ a​ Congressman from Orange County, Schmitz became the presidential candidate of​ the American Independent Party, attracting over a​ million votes.

Aside from linkages to​ Communism and liberal ideology, opposing arguments against sex education were similar to​ today: classes are too explicit or​ specific; they are taught too early; or, abstinence should be stressed over contraception.

However, during the 60's, the organized opposition was also linked to​ causes that had become, or​ were about to​ become unpopular. Parents could be opposed to​ sex education, but also opposed to, as​ examples, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism or​ the Vietnam War. as​ a​ result, single-issue groups strictly opposed to​ sex education were more effective than broad coalitions.

Today's opposition to​ sex education is​ more sophisticated; conservative Republicans have done a​ much better job of​ being more inclusive and grass roots; they are embarrassed when they are seen on the side of​ any organized group that preaches segregation or​ discrimination, or​ shown as​ hypocrites when they take moral actions contrary to​ their political views.

Sex education advocates are also more sophisticated; they are better focused on the health and medical reasons for comprehensive sex education, and less disposed to​ label their opposition as​ fanatics. There were quick dismissals along this tone during the 60's; they kept their opposition alive—and possibly legitimized them with voters.

A major problem history showed was that sex educators had looked at​ their cause as​ a​ liberal one; that was a​ mistake in​ appealing to​ states with sizable conservative voting blocs and activist conservative legislators. Neither conservatives nor liberals want their opponent's views legislated on them, even when they are in​ the minority.

Today, people of​ all views are more accepting towards sex education. We do see legislatures with 'abstinence-only' and 'abstinence until marriage' positions as​ well as​ 'opt-in' policies—but sex education is​ not going away. Advocates need to​ do a​ better job of​ convincing voters that comprehensive sex education is​ not a​ liberal issue, but a​ health and medical one, as​ well as​ an​ opportunity to​ deter predatory acts and child abuse.

Today, we see a​ presidency that prefers to​ fund 'abstinence until marriage' programs, although some governors courageously refused to​ pursue the money this time around, as​ the requirements became too extreme—to educate 'abstinence until marriage' through the age of​ 29. However, the next presidency will promise a​ more moderate position—or leave the funding issues to​ the states.

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