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How Far Should Sex Education Go?

Aired April 24, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Sex education in schools a hot topic today. On one side, advocates, including Surgeon General David Satcher, who, according to "The New York Times," wrote a report last year calling on all schools to offer comprehensive sex education. But Satcher's report may now never be published because on the other side are opponents, including President Bush, who want schools to teach abstinence only with no advice on taboo topics like contraception, condoms or abortion.

The debate has split parents, teachers and students over who should be teaching what. Is abstinence alone enough? Can teachers ever replace parents in talking about the birds and bees? But where parents can't or won't, who will? -- Tucker.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Dr. Elders, last year in an event in California, President Bush summed up pretty well I think the way a lot of Americans feel about sex education. Listen to what the president said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The best sex education takes place at home. I think schools ought to be focused on reading and writing and adding and subtracting.


CARLSON: The point, I think, Dr. Elders, the president is making is that this is an intimate subject that's best handled by parents. Teachers don't tell children where go to church, who to date, what doctors to go to. These are decisions that parents make and should make.

Why should teachers be brain-washing students with their opinions about something as intimate as sex? Why is that appropriate?

DR. JOYCELYN ELDERS, FORMER SURGEON GENERAL: Tucker, when you have the kind of problem that we have in America, a sexual crisis, with almost a million teenagers becoming pregnant each year, with the number of teenagers that we have that are getting sexually transmitted diseases, with the number of teenagers that are getting HIV and AIDS, I think you begin to realize that we have a major problem.

Parents want help: 84 percent of parents said that they would like to have comprehensive health education or sexuality education taught to their children in school. When parents are dysfunctional, that means that the school has to do more.

And I think all of the scientific data suggests that we need to be teaching comprehensive sexuality education in our schools: reading, writing and responsibility -- arithmetic, and the fourth "r" is responsibility.

CARLSON: Well, that raises a lot of questions: among them, what is a dysfunctional parent and who decides? But it also raises a more basic question. You point out that there are a lot of sex problems in America and some of them are dire, but it's still a subjective matter.

Consider, if I'm a teacher and I'm an evangelical Christian, and one of my students is, say, a Muslim, I believe by the nature of my religion that that student needs to hear my opinions on religion in order to be saved, not just now but for all eternity. But I'm not allowed to proselytize in class, no matter how strongly I feel about this, because it's not my role. I'm not his priest, I'm not his iman, I'm not his parent. I'm his teacher. It's a different sphere.

I still don't understand why this is different simply because it's about sex.

ELDERS: You absolutely -- you know what? Whatever you're going to do, you're going to do it better if you're healthy. If we allow our children to be -- to get HIV disease, to have unplanned, unwanted pregnancies, to be poor, ignorant and slaves, you're being a very sorry teacher if you don't teach them how to be responsible.

CARLSON: Reverend Falwell, good evening. Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: Reverend, I agree with Tucker, and I'm sure you and I agree that the best place for kids to learn about sex is at home, the best people to teach them are the parents. But of course, as we know, the problem is that all -- not all parents are perfect.

I'd like you to listen to how Mark Temple, who's with the Illinois School Health Association, put it. He said, quote -- we'll show this on our screen -- "Unfortunately, many times parents leave it to the schools to teach these topics, and if schools aren't doing it, we're leaving youth with no information or poor information. So they're picking up their information from the media, and that's a situation nobody wants."

For these reasons, Reverend Falwell, isn't it important that sex education take place in the schools?

REV. JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: Well, it all depends, Bill, what you mean by sex education. If you teach it with values, that is that all sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman is wrong, and that all the complications that Dr. Elders just talked about, HIV-positive young people, illness, all kinds of disorder, a million babies born outside of marriage, et cetera, it seems to me,that what she is advocating is as ridiculous as selling cookbooks at a fat farm with the idea people will lose weight.

The idea is to say stop doing it, and as far as I'm concerned, I don't know where she got that 84 percent number a moment ago about parents wanting this. In the National Campaign to Prevent Teenaged Pregnancy Organization, in their most recent poll, 91 percent of all parents disagree that sex education is primarily the responsibility of the schools. Now...

ELDERS: Reverend Falwell, where did you get your 91 percent number?

FALWELL: Just a moment, Dr. Elders. I did not interrupt you, so be quiet and I absolutely...

ELDERS: I will not be quiet when you aren't telling the truth.


FALWELL: ... agree that we do have dysfunctional families, but we don't help those dysfunctional families by teaching young people that you're going to do wrong anyway, you're going to have sex with everything that walks, so here are some contraceptives and do -- they already know all of that. There is no doubt they know all that.

The fact is we ought to be telling them don't do it, respect one another, and there are many groups, like A.C. Green's programs and Sex Respect, True Love Waits, that millions of young people are involved in. To say that kids cannot contain themselves is ridiculous.

PRESS: All right, Reverend Falwell, let's give Dr. Elders a chance to respond there.

ELDERS: Well, I think that Alan Guttmacher Institute, when -- and the American Cancer Society, when they interview parents, they found 84 percent of parents wanted their children to have sexuality education at schools, and that it should be taught. And I think that the programs that Reverend Falwell talked about, none of those programs have been shown to make a difference or to reduce the number of children that engage in sex or in the number of children that become pregnant.

PRESS: Reverend Falwell, let me jump in here just to give you some more numbers and have you respond to them, building up on what Dr. Elders said. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, last September, their report, when they interviewed parents, here is what the parents said that sex education should cover in public schools: 98 percent of parents said it should talk about sexually transmitted diseases; 97 percent said it should talk about abstinence; 90 percent said birth control, and 85 percent even said it should teach kids how to use condoms.

Reverend Falwell, you are out of step with your values and the rest of the American people? FALWELL: Well, you can do a survey with any select group of kids or parents or whatever, and if they already are a part of your belief system, for example, you can get the answers you want. I'll prove that by -- here we have 10,000 students Liberty University, 6,000 on the campus. We have 34,000 Christian schools, elementary through high school, all of which, in which we teach abstinence, true love waits, save sex to marriage, and amazingly, teenage pregnancy, high school and college pregnancy is almost nil when they're taught that from kindergarten right through their college degree.

Don't tell me young people are so stupid they cannot be, forget the religious aspect, cannot be taught that sex before marriage, outside of marriage always complicates and ruins lives.


CARLSON: Go ahead, please.

ELDERS: Reverend Falwell, I agree that if we start teaching children when they're in kindergarten and very early, teaching them to be responsible, teaching them to respect each other and their values and wait, there is no question that that's what done...

FALWELL: Then why don't we do it?

ELDERS: Well, the big reason we've not done it is people like yourselves are out there saying we shouldn't be teaching sexuality education in schools. But you know what, teaching children to have self-respect, to feel good about themselves, to make good decisions: That, to me, is sexuality education. Nobody in the world can teach anybody how to have sex.

FALWELL: Dr Elders?


FALWELL: I believe we should teach sexuality. We ought to teach everything about sexually-transmitted diseases, we ought to teach the biological aspects, but we ought to also teach from kindergarten through Ph.D. degrees, we ought to teach young people that all sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman is not only forbidden of God, it is socially a ship-wrecking situation.

CARLSON: Now, Dr. Elders, perhaps you could answer this. Every study -- and this is a point on which I don't think there is much debate -- every study on the subject of sex education, the single biggest factor in reducing risky behavior among children and teenagers -- and that includes cigarette smoking and drug use and drinking and sexual conduct -- is parental involvement.

When kids have parents involved in their day-to-day lives, they're less likely to do stupid things. Why isn't the federal government encouraging parents, for instance, to spend more time with their kids, rather than empowering teachers to push their ideology on 10-year olds, for example. ELDERS: Well, you know, first of all, let me say that everybody in the world would agree, and I -- we all agree, that parents are the best teachers of their children, and we would like for parents to begin to teach their children. But, you know, when we have 33 percent of children being born into single family households, 69 percent of black children being born into single family households, we know that we have a major problem.

And you know, I think that we agree, we should have parents in education, and I really...

CARLSON: Wait a second. I mean, I remember when you were surgeon general, I mean, there was a lot of talk about spending more money, you know, to teach condom use, rolling condoms on bananas, et cetera.

FALWELL: Masturbation.

CARLSON: I don't remember (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that would encourage parents to spend more time with...

ELDERS: Let me tell you what I said. It is published all over, every place, even before I came to Washington, that we should have early childhood education, comprehensive health education in schools, from kindergarten through 12th Grade. Number 3 was parent education. Number 4 was male responsibility. Number 5 is that we should make sure that all --of all children hope, so let me say that was what I have always been about.

FALWELL: Let me say this to Dr. Elders: I don't question her training and background. But the problem is a different set of values than most American people have. If we were to teach in the home, yes, she is right, with the parents. And the pastors and the educators reinforce what the parents teach, that save sex for marriage, if we all together agreed that sex outside of marriage is wrong, wrong, wrong, we could change it.

But as long as we say, hey, you are going to act like animals anyway, here are some condoms, it is to me a hopeless, hopeless pathway.

ELDERS: Reverend Falwell...

CARLSON: If I can just cut you off, Dr. Elders, we'll have a chance to talk a lot more about sex when we return in a moment.

And Dr. Elders will be in the CROSSFIRE chat room right after the show. To join in, just log on to


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Surgeon General David Satcher is working on an extensive report on sex education in schools. You haven't read it, though, because so far the report hasn't been published. Why? Maybe because America is still arguing about what sex education should be. Should schools teach children to have safe sex? Should schools teach children to have no sex at all? Joining us tonight from Little Rock, Arkansas, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, and from Lynchburg, Virginia, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University -- Bill.

PRESS: Reverend Falwell, three times already, tonight, you have said that sex education has to include values, with which I agree.

FALWELL: Absolutely.

PRESS: But then you define those values, as you have three times tonight, as: No sex, only sex between men and women, and no sex at all outside of marriage. Now, I submit to you, Reverend, that those are your religious values, but they are not values, those religious values, shared by all Americans.

FALWELL: Well, I hope they are yours, too, Bill.

PRESS: They are not, and what gives you -- my question is...

FALWELL: I bet your wife believes they are.

PRESS: What gives you the right to force your religious values on everybody else?

FALWELL: Well, here is what I believe. I believe that parents do have the ultimate responsibility in raising their children up in righteousness. We have three children, my wife and I, after 43 years, have eight grandchildren. None of them have ever been arrested -- thank God -- none of them have ever had a child out of wedlock, not because they are perfect, but because, like anybody's children, they respond to teaching.

But I'm telling you that if one of my children or grandchildren were in a classroom where a teacher was teaching sex education without values, and suggesting that gay is OK, or having sex outside of marriage is OK, I would go in the classroom and personally stop it. And if parents will take back their children, Gray Davis and the education czars in California are now, from kindergarten up, suggesting teaching gay is OK to the children.

We -- and then abortion and all these non, these non, anti- Christian values. Parents, take your children back. Walk into schools, they are your schools, and stop it.

PRESS: Again, Reverend, those are your religious values. Now I'm straight, and I'm not gay, but why did God make the human body capable of two men having sex or two women having sex, if it is evil?

FALWELL: Because, first of all, every one chooses or her own lifestyle. No one inherits his behavior. We are all born in sin. It's only through the blood Christ and the gospel of Christ that our sins can be forgiven and we can be delivered. But we choose our lifestyles. God makes us with a finger that can pull a trigger and kill someone, but I -- and some choose to do that -- but I believe that God also gave us a human will and the ability to restrain ourselves from elicit sex from hurting someone, from being dangerous in the culture. And I believe that one can be straight, morally, that one can restrain himself, herself from sexual activity, simply because it is the right thing to do.

CARLSON: Now Doctor Elders, speaking of self-restraint, obviously you have spoken about sex education before, and I want to play for you your most famous lines on the subject. Really this is -- this will be your epitaph, I'm convinced. This is you at World Aids Day in 1994. Listen to yourself, please.


ELDERS: In regard to masturbation, I think that that is something that is part of human sexuality, and it is a part of something that perhaps that should be taught.


CARLSON: Now, you of course left office shortly after that. To the mechanics first: How should this be taught, with demonstrations, textbooks, with a CPR type dummy, I mean, how would you go about teaching this if you were a sex educator?

ELDERS: If I were a sex educator teaching, I would teach children that masturbation is not wrong. It does not because to you go blind, does not cause you to go crazy, it does not cause hair to grow on your hands. Our religious leaders have lied about masturbation to our young people for a very long time. Seventy percent of men and women masturbate, and you know and I think it's probably a lot higher than that. The rest lie. So I think we should stop lying to our children.


FALWELL: Let me say this. We have had 43 presidents, and only one of them, only Bill Clinton would have appointed you as surgeon general. You are nuts.

CARLSON: Well, let me ask you, Dr. Elders, is there anything -- this raises a larger question...

PRESS: Wait a minute. Do you deny what she says about the number of people who masturbate? Is that what you're saying?

FALWELL: That is not the issue.

PRESS: Accept reality, Dr. Falwell.

FALWELL: Bill, the issue is this: The fact that children can steal and lie and loot and hurt one another, yes they can do that. But what do we do? Do we say we can't stop you, so don't hurt them too badly? No, we teach them don't lie, don't steal, don't stab people, don't shoot people, don't commit adultery, don't live homosexual lifestyles. We can teach right and wrong and God, by his Holy Spirit, can put in us the ability to live like decent human beings. What we're suggesting is you're all a bunch animals, just go and try to do it as safely as possible.

CARLSON: Well, let's get back to masturbation just for a second, Dr. Elders. Is there anything that people do with one another that we shouldn't talk about? Is there any part of human sexuality that we shouldn't discuss and teach and write manuals and about give speeches about on World AIDS Day? Is there anything that ought to be private?

ELDERS: Well, I think that sexuality is very private, but you know, never has something that's done in private been so public. When we have children being abused, when we have children having children, when we have children getting HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases, I think -- and it's because we have not educated our children, empowered them with the knowledge to be responsible. And that, to me -- I think we have abused our children, in that sense.

FALWELL: You're teaching...

PRESS: On that point, Reverend Falwell, isn't the truth, Reverend Falwell, that the more knowledge teens have about their bodies, about the responsible way to use them, the more power they have, the better they are going to be?

FALWELL: Bill, do you think there's a child on any street corner in America 13 years of age who doesn't know everything that you could think of to tell them. That is not the problem.

PRESS: Oh, yes, I do. I believe that.

FALWELL: The problem -- the problem is lack of values instruction, of morality, decency, respect for one another, save sex until marriage. That is not that is not being taught, and if Dr. Elders were to say, I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and woman is wrong and that I want to give them this information and then tell them, don't do it, then I might be a little bit more open, but her idea is anything goes, and this is where...

ELDERS: Reverend Falwell.

FALWELL: ... sexual education and public education is absolutely reprehensible.

PRESS: Dr. Elders, I know you want to jump in. I'm sorry, we are out of time. That has to be the last word. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Elder in Little Rock and Dr. Falwell, Reverend Falwell and Dr. Falwell, good to have you back, too.

FALWELL: Thank you.

PRESS: When we come back, Tucker Carlson and I, both experts in sex, will have our own good advice for all teenagers. Stay tuned, closing comments.


CARLSON: Take the CROSSFIRE online right now. Join Dr. Joycelyn Elders in the chat room at

You know, Bill, the worst part, people try to make this is a debate between people who are against sex, people who are for sex, totally funny. Everyone is for sex. The question, who ought to be able to talk to kids about it? Parents and parents alone, not teachers. Wouldn't you be upset if some teacher came in and started lecturing your kids about their opinions on sex?

PRESS: What's important is that kids have the information they need. Tucker, your kids are lucky, they've got a great parent. Not all kids are so lucky, and for those kids that don't have that help at home, they ought to get that information in school. But what gets me is Reverend Falwell...

CARLSON: That doesn't give teachers the right to talk about sex with kids.

PRESS: It gives them not the right, it gives them the responsibility and the duty to make sure that kids have the education they need, including sex education.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. More sex tonight in "THE SPIN ROOM." Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: As always, from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE."



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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