"SILENCE is criminal. We must teach these facts and teach them right, so that knowledge may lead to purity and righteousness. But with the new awakening and discussion of sex matters, the pendulum has swung from silence to publicity that is almost nauseating." So said E. K. Mohr, superintendent of the purity department of the International Sunday School Association. The remarkable thing is that he said it in 1914. The pendulum continued to swing beyond anything Mr. Mohr or his purity department could have foreseen. What was then a pioneering stand for frankness has become virtually commonplace, and what was then upsetting delicate souls or stomachs is now casually discussed in the classroom.
The change was gradual until three to four years ago. Since then, sex education in the schools has moved forward at startling speed. Experts estimate that two years from now, 70% of the nation's schools will have broad, thorough sex-education programs. Progress has been so fast that it is creating problems: a shortage of qualified teachers and great uncertainty about what form instruction should take.
By no means has all opposition disappeared. Sex education is still suspect in many parts of the country, and often severely limited. Many teachers are still afraid of getting into trouble with trustees or families. Some schools require the parents' written consent before children may attend the classes or lectures. But school systems with a diversity of religious groupings are launching experimental programs. New York City's begins next September, Chicago's started last winter, and 400-odd others are under way. This year, for the first time, the Federal Government is awarding two grants specifically in the field, to help plan model courses in Bedford, Mass., and New Orleans. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which hitherto has given the subject a wide berth, is taking the plunge. The New York Archdiocese has prepared a "Program of Family Life Education" for its 400 parishes. Catholic-run Fordham University will offer next September a series of lectures and discussions about sex in all its nonpathological aspects. Organizations devoted to the spread of sex education are swamped with requests for help in designing courses. Says Curtis Avery, professor of education at the University of Oregon: "Sex education apparently no longer must be sold; it has been bought." Mostly it has been bought by the parents themselves, who are virtually besieging the schools to take on the job. Who