Touchy Subject: The History and Philosophy of Sex Education (History and Philosophy of Education Series) (Hardcover)

Touchy Subject: The History and Philosophy of Sex Education (History and Philosophy of Education Series) By Lauren Bialystok, Lisa M. F. Andersen Cover Image

Touchy Subject: The History and Philosophy of Sex Education (History and Philosophy of Education Series) (Hardcover)


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A case for sex education that puts it in historical and philosophical context.

In the United States, sex education is more than just an uncomfortable rite of passage: it's a political hobby horse that is increasingly out of touch with young people’s needs. In Touchy Subject, philosopher Lauren Bialystok and historian Lisa M. F. Andersen unpack debates over sex education, explaining why it’s worth fighting for, what points of consensus we can build upon, and what sort of sex education schools should pursue in the future.

Andersen surveys the history of school-based sex education in the United States, describing the key question driving reform in each era. In turn, Bialystok analyzes the controversies over sex education to make sense of the arguments and offer advice about how to make educational choices today. Together, Bialystok and Andersen argue for a novel framework, Democratic Humanistic Sexuality Education, which exceeds the current conception of “comprehensive sex education” while making room for contextual variation.  More than giving an honest run-down of the birds and the bees, sex education should respond to the features of young people’s evolving worlds, especially the digital world, and the inequities that put some students at much higher risk of sexual harm than others. Throughout the book, the authors show how sex education has progressed and how the very concept of “progress” remains contestable.
Lauren Bialystok is associate professor at the Department of Social Justice Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at the University of Toronto.  

Lisa M. F. Andersen is associate professor of History and Liberal Arts at The Juilliard School. 

Product Details ISBN: 9780226822167
ISBN-10: 0226822168
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: December 23rd, 2022
Pages: 232
Series: History and Philosophy of Education Series
Touchy Subject tackles an incredibly important and vexing subject: sex education and its place in public schooling. Andersen and Bialystok team up to provide an engaging look back at the mostly terrible ways that we have approached sex education in North America. They examine the aims and arguments for sex education in public schools and propose an enlightened but politically liberal approach they call ‘Democratic Humanistic Sexuality Education.’ This approach foregrounds children’s interests and needs in health and well-being, and a pluralistic society’s interest in religious neutrality."
— Ann E. Cudd, University of Pittsburgh

“To casual observers, it might seem as if Americans are hopelessly divided on sex education in public schools. Bialystok and Andersen do an admirable job of moving beyond the standard assumption of a simple, implacable culture-war divide on the issue and pave the way for productive discussion.”
— Adam Laats, Binghamton University, SUNY

Coauthored by a historian (Anderson) and a philosopher (Bialystok), Touchy Subject’s unique premise is built on two parts: three chapters explaining the trajectory of sex education in the US in the 20th century and three chapters making the normative case for a version of robust sex education in which the state balances the needs of adolescents and the rights of parents . . . This is a book for public school teachers and academics, and it will be particularly useful for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in the fields of education and women, gender, and sexuality studies. Recommended."
— Choice

"Touchy Subject is a brisk, lively, accessible introduction to a vast field of scholarly inquiry."
— Theory and Research in Education

" . . . .co-authors Lauren Bialystok and Lisa M. F. Andersen tackle the always delicate subject of sex education with admirable clarity and scholarly insight."
— Josh Corngold, Philosophical Inquiry in Education