America’s educational landscape is being transformed under the cover of “health.”  This transformation began with sex education, which once was relegated to a subunit of physiology that addressed the science of human reproduction.  But sex education suddenly required its own graphic, stand-alone how-to course, then morphed into a “nonjudgmental” monstrosity designed to transmit knowledge of contraception and sex diseases.

Today’s “health classes” are little more than “mental-health” classes.  In health class, students participate in tell-all depression surveys like TeenScreen (with accompanying curricula); stress-reduction exercises (e.g., yoga); and “conflict resolution,” which assigns moral equivalence to all behaviors.  They learn about substance-abuse and smoking prevention, birth-control methods, alternative families, self-esteem, and so on.  What they scarcely have time for is health.  Who needs lessons on nutrition, dental hygiene, or the digestive, lymphatic, skeletal, or nervous systems, much less useful information about the brain, such as the physiology or warning signs of strokes or Alzheimer’s?

The latest emphasis is on “dating violence.”  This effort began in Rhode Island in response to a terrible crime.  In September 2005, 23-year-old Lindsay Burke had her throat slashed by an obsessed ex-boyfriend with whom she apparently had lived until he became abusive.  Her grief-stricken parents vowed to turn the tragedy into something positive: They would warn other girls about the signs of potentially abusive relationships.  Their campaign led the Rhode Island legislature to pass the Lindsay Ann Burke Act (2007), which requires public middle schools and high schools to teach children about dating violence in health classes.

Nebraska has long been a hotbed of controversial health classes.  (One adolescent questionnaire that was part of a Nebraska public-school curriculum asked, “What do you think about when you think of sex?”)  Unsurprisingly, the state is eager to adopt Rhode Island’s model legislation on dating violence.  That is a typical scenario for ensuring a program “goes national.”  Political savvy in marketing is characteristic, too.  Clothing manufacturer Liz Claiborne Inc. was enlisted to help push the Burke Act in the Cornhusker State.

As a victim of a violent stepparent, I can assure you that people change over time.  An abuser may start out as the most thoughtful person in the world and then, years later, when things go wrong in life, turn on family members.

In any case, projects such as this are not the prerogative of schools.  They belong to parents, who, for all their faults, remain the best guides for children.  The Church, too, should spend more time focusing on troubled parishioners than on politically expedient feel-good projects in far-flung countries.  Law enforcement also has a responsibility: Despite stalking laws (inaugurated during the years when I worked for the Department of Justice), police still typically ignore pleas for help until violence has been committed.  Any attempt to enlist the “soft interventions” of mental-health specialists and social workers (as opposed to law enforcement) frequently results in more death, injury, or trauma than would have occurred with no such intervention.  A curriculum like Rhode Island’s may do more harm than good.

Educational institutions should be about four things only: creating a literate citizenry, capable of self-government; teaching financial independence (because doing so helps ensure political stability); uplifting the level of the general culture (through an emphasis on the arts as an outlet for creativity); and bolstering moral standards consistent with the Anglo-American tradition, which undergird representative democracy.  Any activity that does not accommodate one of those goals has no place in a tax-supported environment.

Remember 17-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Taylor Marie Behl, whose decomposed body was found in a ravine in 2005?  She was murdered by a 38-year-old sexual partner who was also involved in child pornography.  Yet, despite all of the news stories in recent years about young women caught up in abusive relationships with boyfriends, adults still have not figured out that pre-adolescent dating and trial live-in arrangements do not serve women well.  The fact is, women (especially those in the 17-25 age group) are far more likely to be abused in a noncommitted, intimate relationship.  The old taboos against nonmarital sex existed for a reason.  Schools imagine that these became irrelevant once birth control was common and easy.  What became common and easy were women, and society (including police) became reluctant to come to their aid.  Now the Supreme Court has taken the death penalty off the table as a sentence for such formerly capital crimes as child rape.  In Maryland, some 12,000 violent sex offenders, all out on parole, were given “no candy at this residence” signs to post on Halloween.  (The program was scrubbed when it became the butt of late-night TV jokes.)  Rape, a crime that is so often debilitating to women and girls, emotionally and physically, is no longer worthy of retributive justice.

Another culprit in dating violence is the marketing of early dating and sexuality, including “kinky” sex, to ever-younger age groups.  Schools (both public and private) push mixed dances in elementary school.  Our society has embraced racy clothing for nine- and ten-year-olds.  Modesty is no longer inculcated in youngsters in any of our institutions, leaving responsible parents with no backup.  T-shirts sporting such expressions as “super-stud,” “hottie,” and “future porn star” are ubiquitous in schools, including elementary schools.  Licentious TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives entice kids with commercials broadcast during what was formerly called the “family hour.”

Consequently, boys grow into young men who lack the urge to be protective of females.  The marketing of violent sex in schools, clothing, teen magazines, film, video games, and on television is not enriching our society.  Instead, we are turning back the clock to a time when life was cheap and women were chattel.  Churches, religious organizations and educational institutions should be throwing a hissy fit, not “recognizing modern sexual trends.”

The best thing that our schools could do would be to return to their primary function of transmitting academic knowledge.  That includes health classes, but not in their present configuration.