September 23, 1998/New York, NY
What are U.S. high schools teaching teens about love, sex and marriage? That's the topic taken up by the Council on Families, a group of prominent family scholars and experts, in its latest
study, The Course of True Love: Marriage in High School Textbooks, released today at the New York Academy of Sciences.
Written by Professor Paul Vitz of New York University, the report is a sequel to the Council's widely reviewed 1997 college textbook report, Closed Hearts, Closed Minds. This
new report reviews all high school health textbooks published between 1993 and 1997 that are currently used in the 20 states that adopt specific health textbooks at the state level.
The news is not all bad. In contrast to the 1997 college report, which concluded ``these textbooks are probably doing [students] more harm than good," high school health textbooks
``present marriage as an important personal commitment," offer ``detailed information about the health risks . . . of early sexual activity," and ``acknowledge at least the short-term emotional and
economic difficulties of divorce and single parenting."
But hemmed in by the controlling idea of ``health," these textbooks convey to students an image of marriage and love which is uninspiring and uninformative -- in a word, boring.
Textbooks, say these scholars, present teens a world in which ``taking a public vow of eternal faithfulness" becomes ``akin to an act of hygiene, like flossing one's teeth."
Trapped within a badly outdated psychology of self-actualization, high school textbooks, ``rarely ask students to consider their behavior, not as it relates to their own needs but the needs
of other people. For example, what about avoiding pregnancy because it would hurt your child to grow up without a father? What about refraining from sex out of concern for your
When sex, love and marriage are treated as ``health" issues, ``What gets left out of the discussion is precisely the topic that should be at its very center: the meaning and possibility of
In recent years, public schools have become increasingly involved in shaping young people's values. These textbooks reveal the goals, problems, and current challenges in this
effort. They also throw open a window on the moral dilemma that Americans now struggle with, but have not yet resolved: How to reconcile our proudly pluralistic society with our need to pass on
moral values to the young.
Council member Judith Wallerstein said about the report:
This report asks a terribly serious question -- how should we address the needs of divorce-tossed young people who are both hungry for love and frightened of being betrayed or
Council member Professor Thomas Kohler commented:
America's whole cultural quandary in a nutshell -- who would have guessed that textbooks could make for such fascinating reading?
About the Council on Families:
The Council on Families is comprised of twenty nationally prominent scholars and family experts who have come together to form an on-going program of collaborative research,
interdisciplinary deliberation, and public education on major issues of family well-being.
Members of the Council include Norval D. Glenn, David Popenoe, Linda J. Waite, Judith Wallerstein, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, among others.
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Closed Minds: The Textbook Story of Marriage