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Chapter 9: Education

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One characteristic American response to social issues is to propose educational programs, and this Commission is no exception. The range of educational topics impinging on population is broad and diffuse; somewhat arbitrarily, we have elected to organize the subject into three categories: population education, education for parenthood, and sex education. This is not the only way to organize this material. It is for the individual community, school, or agency to decide what is appropriate and wise for them in preparing such educational programs.


Population Education

If Americans now and in future generations are to make rational, informed decisions about their own and their descendants’ future, they must be provided with far more knowledge about population change and its implications than they now possess.* The amount and accuracy of information currently held by Americans on the subject of population leave much to be desired. Approximately six out of 10 questioned in our 1971 poll either did not know or could not guess the size of the United States population within 50 million persons (205 million in 1970). And among young persons between 16 and 21, many of whom are still in school, the proportion answering correctly rises only a couple of percentage points. The record is even worse with respect to information about the world’s population. Only 16 percent know or can guess the size of the world’s population within one-half billion persons (3.6 billion in 1970). If information on such elementary facts is missing, one can imagine the state of more advanced knowledge and understanding.’

Population education involves more than simply learning the size of different populations. Ideally, it includes some elementary knowledge of the arithmetic of population growth and the growth of metropolitan areas and suburban decentralization. A program of population education should seek to present knowledge about population processes, population characteristics, the causes of population change, and the consequences of such change for the individual and for the society. We believe that population education should not approach population as a “problem” to be solved or as a point of view to be promoted. The goal of population education is to incorporate concepts and materials related to population into the school curriculum in order to educate future generations, enabling them to make more intelligent decisions with regard to population matters.2

*A separate statement by Commissioner Alan Cranston appears on page 150.


Although some students are exposed to a smattering of population content in courses such as geography and biology, there is hardly any systematic coverage of the topic.

There is no evidence that anything approaching an adequate population education program now exists in our schools. Very few teachers are trained in the subject and textual materials are scant and inadequate.

Teachers can be trained in the content of the population field and in the methods of population education, through pre-service and in-service programs, summer institutes and workshops, the development of mobile teams of specialists, and other special programs. Some beginnings in this direction have already been made.

It is, of course, understandable that schools are under enormous pressure to incorporate in their curriculum many new topics ranging from driver education to drug education. The techniques for incorporating population materials into other courses will have to be explored.

Congress has begun to recognize the need for population education. Population is among the subjects that may be included in programs funded under the Environmental Education Act of 1970. P.L. 91-572, the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act, contains an authorization of $1.25 million in fiscal year 1973 for family planning and population information and education.

However, the Environmental Education Act is seriously underfunded; and population education, which is only a small element of the program, is unlikely ever to receive adequate attention under the present legislation. The Office of Education, which administers the environmental education program, has not been an enthusiastic advocate of population education. This situation might change if adequate authority and funding became available for such a program.

Although Congress authorized funding of population education under P.L. 91-572, in the first two years no funds have been made available under the Act for this purpose. In fiscal year 1973, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare has requested $170,000 for population education. In a paper prepared for the Commission, one expert estimated that federal funds amounting to $25 million over the next three years are needed in this field.

Responsibility for coordinating activities in population education has recently been assigned to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs. This represents an initial step toward establishing quality programs in population education. The Commission suggests that, as activity in the field of population education expands, it may be necessary to review periodically the location of this responsibility.


In view of the important role that education can play in developing an understanding of the causes and consequences of population growth and distribution, the Commission recommends enactment of a Population Education Act to assist school systems in establishing well-planned population education programs so that present and future generations will be better prepared to meet the challenges arising from population change.


To implement such a program, the Commission recommends that federal funds be appropriated for teacher training, for curriculum development and materials preparation, for research and evaluation, for the support of model programs, and for assisting state departments of education to develop competence and leadership in population education.


At the college level, a recent survey of 537 accredited four-year institutions in the United States indicated that nearly half offer a course in demography or population problems. Variation by type of institution was considerable, with only one-fifth of the Catholic schools, but two-thirds of the state or municipal schools offering a population course.3 In reality, only a small fraction of the college population is exposed to formal coursework in demography. The Commission feels that a useful way to increase this exposure would be to include population in the large introductory social science courses offered by all colleges and universities. Additionally, exhibits, lectures, and programs sponsored by campus groups would serve to increase student awareness of population questions.


Education For Parenthood

Life in the future will depend significantly on the characteristics of our children. The Commission’s interest is not limited to the number of children in our population, but extends to a concern for the quality of their development. How adequately are we raising our children, and how can we insure that parents and children are given the opportunity for self-fulfillment? There is a diversity of styles of family life in America today. It includes the conventional nuclear family (parents and children) along with extended families and experiments in communal living. In addition, a great many of the traditional functions of the family are being assumed by other institutions. Although its functions diminish and its size and form change, the family as a basic social institution shows little sign of obsolescence. The family remains the primary environment for the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of children. The home continues to be the focus for learning about parenthood. Children are constantly being educated for their future roles as parents by the examples set for them. The infant shares in the loving environment of his home; the young child learns discipline and the daily activities of family life; the teenager begins to understand the responsibilities involved in the creation of a home.

Since the overwhelming majority of Americans marry and have children, we tend to overlook the fact that we are not all equally suited for parenthood any more than we are for teaching school or playing various sports. Matters of temperament, age, health, and competing interests, to mention just a few, are considerations in determining whether or not to have children. For most people, choosing to remain childless is not a real option. Our society should enlarge its tolerance and accept, without stigma, those individuals who choose not to become parents.


Costs of Children4

At the same time, the Commission considers it important for parents and prospective parents to have some understanding of the implications of their reproductive decisions for themselves and their children. The benefits and rewards of children are well known, but not many recognize the emotional and financial costs involved. For many young people, becoming a parent represents a greater change in their lives than does marriage; and they are unprepared for the emotional demands of parenthood or the impact of each additional child on the family unit.

Although many couples have only a vague idea of the financial costs of a child, more and more parents are enlarging their expectations for their children. This change in expectations has meant a change in costs. Parents today, in addition to paying for the birth and rearing of a child, may also bear the costs of a college education. The costs of raising a child from birth through college, without including the costs borne by the public sector, are estimated in Table 9.1. As substantial as these are, the direct cost is only part of the total. With the birth of a child, one parent—usually the woman—will tend to spend more time at home, thereby giving up the income which she otherwise would have earned. Today, with more women better educated and having better jobs, the earnings a woman foregoes due to the birth of a child are often substantial. Depending on her educational background, a woman’s loss of earnings over a period of 14 years due to the birth of her first child might be as high as $60,000. Although she will forego less in the way of earnings with subsequent children, the loss of income, combined with the costs of raising a family, may place a heavy financial burden on the parents. Information on the costs to the family of raising a child is an important part of education for parenthood. With some idea of the financial demands of children, parents can plan ahead and be better prepared to provide the kind of life they want for their children.

Another type of cost for many individuals and their children are the disadvantages that result from early childbearing. Infants of young mothers, especially those under 19 years of age, are subject to higher risks of prematurity, mortality, and serious physical and intellectual impairments than are children of mothers 20 to 35. Despite a downward trend, a quarter of American girls who recently reached their twentieth birthday had already borne a child. Moreover, the mother, father, and child are more likely to be disadvantaged in social and economic terms than are couples who postpone childbearing at least until the mother is in her twenties.5 In addition, a recent government report indicates that the probability of divorce is considerably higher for couples married when the wife is younger than 20 years old.6


Table 9.1 The Total Cost of a Child, 1969



Undiscounted a

Cost of giving birth



Cost of raising a child



Cost of a college education



Total direct cost



Opportunity costs for the average womanb



Total costs of a first child




a Discounted and undiscounted costs—spending $1,000 today costs more than spending $1,000 over a 10-year period because of the nine years of potential interest on the latter. This fact is allowed for in the discounted figures by assuming interest earned annually on money not spent in the first year. True costs are not accurately reflected in the undiscounted estimates, for these are simply accumulations of total outlays without regard to the year in which they must be made.

bDepending on the educational background of the mother, the opportunity costs (earnings foregone by not working) could be higher or lower.

Source:  Ritchie H. Reed and Susan McIntosh, “Costs of Children” (prepared for the Commission, 1972).


Family Life Education

The decision to marry and the decision to bring a child into the world should not be made lightly. Both marriage and parenthood should imply a deep personal commitment and a continuing emotional investment. As a nation, we have a responsibility to provide better preparation for parenthood. At the present time, some school systems throughout the country have included family life courses in their curriculum. The Catholic Church has been in the forefront in family life education and is working to inform children and their parents on issues involved in family living. Programs in home economics similarly provide training for marriage and parenthood. The subject matter of these courses is extremely variable, including topics on the functions of the family in human history and in modern industrial society, nutrition and home management, the physiology of reproduction, the physical and emotional relationships involved in dating and marriage, and the roles of family members, including discussions of the changing status of women and patterns of child-rearing. Supplementary to these school programs are the efforts of community groups, such as the Red Cross, in training and guiding prospective parents. In regard to parent education, the White House Conference on Children concludes:


Where parent education does occur, it is typically presented in vicarious forms through reading and discussion.. . . Excellent preparation for parenthood can be given to school-age children through direct experience under appropriate supervision, in caring for and working with those younger than themselves.7


The mass media are a potent educational force in our society. American children and adults spend an estimated average of 27 hours a week watching television.8 They also spend large amounts of time reading newspapers and magazines, listening to the radio, and going to movies. Family life, as depicted in soap operas, situation comedies, and romantic magazines and films, bears little resemblance to that experienced by most of the population. In our judgment, the media should assume more responsibility in presenting information and education for family living to the public.

In proportion to the number of individuals who are and will become parents, our educational effort is insufficient. The Commission believes that community agencies, especially the school, should become more sensitive to the need for preparation for parenthood and should include appropriate subject matter in their programs. We observe that there is information and expertise in the various aspects of family life scattered throughout the public and private sector. The Commission suggests that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare provide financial support for programs designed to examine and coordinate existing information activities and resources in this field.

If one of our goals is to maximize the opportunities for parents and their children, the concept of education for parenthood goes beyond the provision of courses in family life. The field expands to considerations of maternal and child health, the emotional and physical conditions under which we raise our children, and finally the genetic endowment with which the young will develop. Discussion and recommendations on issues of maternal and child health are found in Chapter 11.



The existence of hunger and malnutrition in the United States is well known. Although it is difficult to separate nutrition from the total physical, social, and biological environment, the Director of the National Nutrition Survey estimates that there may be more than 10 million malnourished Americans among the poor. Of these, approximately 40 percent are children. Of all the children surveyed, 15 percent showed evidence of growth retardation—an anticipated result, since malnutrition is known to inhibit the normal growth process.10

Experts have stated that, if malnutrition persists during the first few years of life, the child is doomed to foreshortened physical and mental development, increased susceptibility to infection and impaired response to his environment.11

Malnutrition is not only a threat to growth and development, it endangers life itself. Scientists have shown that malnutrition directly increases the mortality rate of pregnant women and, indirectly, of infants; maternal malnutrition is a major cause of immaturity and prematurity among infants. Between one-half and three-fourths of all children who die in the first four weeks of life are premature. A Norwegian study has demonstrated that improved nutrition resulted in a 50-percent decrease in still births, premature births, and infant mortality.

We urge private and public agencies to, combine in establishing programs to prevent malnutrition and its effects. Malnutrition can be prevented by providing the appropriate food to expectant mothers and to children under three years old, particularly those living in poverty.

If any food supplement program is to be successful, food fads and habits must also be changed. Nutrition education is a vital component in any program to prevent and correct malnutrition.

It is not only the poor who are in need of nutrition education. All groups in our society require information to improve their nutritional health. Currently, we are giving a good deal of attention to consumer education, including some nutritional education. We urge that these efforts extend to ensuring fair and honest advertising and labeling of the products we consume.


Environment and Heredity

We have all heard the term “deprived environment” used to describe the handicaps of ghetto children; yet, relatively little attention has been paid to determining the environmental needs of children. More consideration should be given to the physical, intellectual, and emotional environments in which we raise our children. Other groups and commissions are reviewing many of these issues; our concern is that we recognize the need for programs to provide parents with the education, skills, and services to deal effectively with these problems.

The relative importance of heredity and environment in shaping an individual’s growth and development remains uncertain. Clearly, it is desirable to reduce the incidence of genetically related disorders in the population. The frequency of such disorders is much higher than formerly suspected. According to experts:


No less than 25 percent of hospital and other institutional beds are estimated to be occupied by patients whose physical or mental illnesses or defects are under full or at least partial genetic control.12


Others estimate that one out of 15 children is born with some form of genetic defect, some so severe as to have tremendous implications in the life of the affected person and his family.13

The provision of genetic advice to parents and prospective parents can increase the responsibility of their reproductive decisions. With the information provided by genetic screening and counseling, a couple can approach parenthood with some notion of the probability of their child having a genetic disorder. We believe that this increased knowledge and awareness can benefit parents and children alike.

It would be unrealistic at the present time to imagine that we can launch a full-scale program of genetic screening and counseling. For centuries, man has observed that some disorders are found with greater frequency in certain families, and in some social and ethnic groups; it has only been in the last half century that knowledge has accumulated concerning the actual mechanism controlling inheritance. And there remains a great deal to learn regarding the genetic components of many disorders and the precise mode of their inheritance. Furthermore, only recently have we become concerned with the ethical and moral implications of the expanding technology of genetics.

As a Commission, we encourage increased support of: (1) research to identify genetically related disorders; (2) development of new and more refined screening techniques and research aimed at improving the delivery of these services; (3) extension and improvement of the care and treatment of persons suffering from genetically related disorders; and (4) exploration of the ethical and moral implications of genetic technology.

Although the science of genetics is still in its early development, our knowledge and technology are sufficient to begin to develop the educational, screening, and counseling programs to identify and inform couples at risk.

Private and public funds should be made available to develop facilities and train personnel to implement programs in genetic screening and counseling. A small number of such programs are already functioning within groups in the population known to experience a high frequency of certain disorders. For example, biochemical evaluation of the fetus is now used to detect the presence of Tay-Sachs disease among members of the Jewish community, and prenatal chromosome analysis can detect Down’s syndrome (mongolism), which occurs with a high frequency in older pregnant women. A simple blood test is now available to screen for sickle cell anemia, which affects tens of thousands of black Americans, and to identify those individuals who are carriers of the sickle cell trait.

The Commission believes that genetic education is an important component in any program of education for parenthood. Therefore, we suggest that genetic information be part of the health education services offered in comprehensive programs where patient counseling is involved, such as family planning services, premarital counseling, prenatal clinics, and maternal and child health projects. Moreover, we suggest that material on genetically related diseases be included in the school curriculum. Professional education should be expanded to alert doctors, nurses, and other health workers to recognize genetically related problems and to refer them to available genetic counseling services.

In the United States at present, the one role which most people ultimately assume—parenthood—is given little attention. The Commission urges that parents and prospective parents have access to the information, techniques, and services needed to raise their children to be healthy, creative individuals who are capable of full participation in our society.


Sex Education

In our society today, many young people appear to be questioning traditional sexual codes and experimenting with new life styles and new moralities. Although there are many manifestations of change, it may be that the fundamental change consists of a greater willingness to submit our sexual attitudes and behavior to public discussion. Traditional and religious constraints on such discussion have receded; psychiatric writing has induced us to accept sexuality as a basic aspect of. personality development and interpersonal relationships.

For some, the subject of human sexuality refers to the physiological and emotional responses to sexual stimuli; recent research into the biology of human sexuality reflects this perspective. For others, sexuality consists of learning the guidelines for appropriate sexual behavior. In its broadest sense, sexuality is no less than the fact of being a man or a woman, and how this identity affects personality and human relationships.

Whatever the limits of the subject, there seems to be a lag between the recognition of the importance of sexuality in human relationships and the development of ways to improve this aspect of our lives. One reason for this is the insecurity felt by most people in dealing with human sexuality. The challenge is great and there are few acknowledged experts to guide us. When so basic a system of attitudes and behavior appears to be changing and when there is conflict between traditional sexual mores and contemporary sexual behavior, the task is to educate and inform in this climate of uncertainty.14

As a nation, we are reaching a consensus on the need for sex education; and there is widespread support for these programs from the general public. A number of states have passed legislation in support of sex education in public schools. Some local school districts have instituted programs in family life and sex education. Many responsible organizations have indicated their support for sex education programs. In 1969, the president of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers stated that “sound education about sexuality is basic if children are to understand human development, cope with stresses and pressures of adolescence in modern America and become adults capable of successful marriage and responsible adulthood.”15 The Interfaith Statement on Sex Education, urges “all (parents, clergy and school) to take a more active role, each in his own area of responsibility and competence, in promoting sound leadership and programs in sex education.”16

There is a wide range of opinion on the subject of sex education among specialists who are themselves divided on the definition and content of sex education programs. To some degree, the social and cultural backgrounds of the groups with whom the sex educator is most familiar, and his perception of their immediate needs, are reflected in his definition of sex education. The sex educator working in an urban ghetto will have views on the methodology and presentation of sex education which might differ from those of an educator working {n a middle-class suburban community. Furthermore, there is a dearth of carefully constructed programs with clearly stated assumptions, values, aims, and mechanisms for evaluation.

Some authorities define the subject from a relatively narrow, pragmatic perspective. They are of the opinion that young people reject the authority of the school as representing “the establishment,” thereby making it difficult, if not impossible, for schools to be an effective force in discussing the sensitive relationships involved in human sexuality. These educators feel that students should be taught what they want to know— that is, the specific facts about reproduction, contraception, abortion, and venereal disease. Moreover, students want the opportunity to discuss in the classroom their attitudes toward sexual behavior. This subject matter should be presented in a straightforward manner in existing biology and health courses. And, these school programs should be combined with community efforts sponsored by youth-oriented groups, Planned Parenthood centers, and similar groups.

Others view sex education as a form of preventive medicine, as an “appreciation of maleness and femaleness in relationship with the same and opposite sex— part of the total personality and health entity of each individual—character education.” From this perspective, sex education is not reproduction education or simply the presentation of facts; it is seen as a way of helping people, especially the young, to understand themselves and their sexuality in relation to the human community.

Although no single definition of sex education is accepted by all those working in this field, we find more agreement on the general objectives of sex education programs.

A major goal of sex education is to improve human relationships by helping individuals deal more openly and reasonably with their sexual concerns. In addition, sex education programs aim to increase the individual’s knowledge and appreciation of human sexuality.

Programs in sex education have the responsibility to present, in an appropriate manner, factual information on the emotional, physical, and social aspects of sexuality.

Another goal of sex education is to enhance communication between the generations regarding sexual attitudes and behavior. Most would agree that the home should be the source of sound sex education. In fact, informal education about sexuality is constantly provided in the home environment as children are influenced by parental attitudes and behavior. A recent survey conducted for the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography indicates that an overwhelming number of those interviewed reported parents as the preferred source of sex education. However, mothers were an actual source of sex information for 46 percent of the women, and parents served as an actual source for only 25 percent of the men.17 Unfortunately, large numbers of parents feel factually and emotionally ill-prepared to handle the topic with their own children. Most adults have had no formal sex education, and the characteristic lack of communication about sexuality is a source of great frustration and anxiety for parents and children alike. The community can assist in this difficult task by providing sex education for citizens of all ages; sex is a vital aspect of life for people in every age group, and education in sexuality should be an ongoing process.

The Commission recognizes that there is no best way to define or conduct sex education programs, and that local communities and groups must create programs which coincide with their values, resources, and needs.

Today there is an increasing openness and public presentation of sexual matters. Some take advantage of this situation, presenting sex in a sensational manner. Not enough information about sexuality is presented to the public by responsible sources. For example, we see no justification for a situation where newspapers accept advertisements for X-rated movies, while advertisements for birth control methods are unacceptable.

With an appreciation of the difficulties involved, we feel it is possible to present material from this intensely personal aspect of life in an open and forthright manner, while maintaining respect for the intimate and private nature of the subject. We believe this can best be done through responsible programs of sex education.

Yet there remains a well-organized and vocal minority actively opposing programs of sex education. Some of these groups go so far as to interpret sex education as a politically inspired plot to teach young people how to engage in sexual activity, thereby officially condoning “immorality” and “perversion.” We regret that these groups have successfully forestalled sex education programs in 13 states.18 We call upon all groups to join in the creation of appropriate, high quality programs in sex education. The issue was underscored by the observation of a high-school girl at one of the Commission’s public hearings: “. . . the refusal to provide education will not prevent sex, but it certainly will prevent responsible sex.”19

Ignorance does not serve to prevent sexual activity, but rather promotes the undesirable consequences of sexual behavior—unwanted pregnancy, unwanted maternity, and venereal disease. These problems seem particularly acute for the adolescent segment of our population. Unfortunately, society has been slow to face the fact that, with or without formal sex education, there is a considerable amount of sexual activity among unmarried young people. A recent national study of unmarried teenage girls revealed that 14 percent of 15-year-olds and up to 44 percent of 19-year-olds reported having had sexual relations. Only 20 percent of these girls used contraception regularly. Such a low incidence of contraceptive use is particularly significant when less than half of these girls knew when during the monthly cycle a girl can become pregnant.20 Rates of out-of-wedlock births to young women aged 15 to 19 increased by two to threefold between 1940 and 1968.21 (Discussions of teenage pregnancy and contraceptive information and services for teenagers are found in Chapter 11.)

Venereal disease in the United States is considered by public health officials an epidemic of unusual extent and severity. They estimate that 2.3 million cases of infectious venereal disease were treated in the United States last year. The incidence of reported venereal disease is highest among persons under 25.22

After a consideration of alternative mechanisms for improving and increasing programs of sex education throughout the nation, the Commission suggests that funds be made available to the National Institute of Mental Health to support the development of a variety of model programs in human sexuality. These programs should include school- and community-based projects in a number of different communities. In the area of sex education, there are few carefully designed programs with clearly defined goals and mechanisms for evaluation. The evaluation and testing of different model projects would greatly enhance the field of sex education.

We believe that sex education ideally should be focused in the home and supplemented by schools and other community groups including religious, medical, and service organizations.

To handle this material successfully, those people involved should be individuals who themselves experience no difficulty in being open and direct about sexual matters, and who have the sensitivity and perception to gain the trust of youth. Few of today’s teacher training institutions provide adequate education in this field. From a sample of 100 teacher training schools, it was discovered that only 13 percent provide any kind of specific training for teachers of sex education.23

The Commission supports those community agencies and educational institutions training professional sex educators, and urges more schools to include such training in their programs. Moreover, we encourage institutions involved in training professionals in the health and welfare fields, such as doctors, clergy, family planning workers, and social workers, to add courses in human sexuality to their curriculum.


Recognizing the importance of human sexuality, the Commission recommends that sex education be available to all, and that it be presented in a responsible manner through community organizations, the media, and especially the schools.



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