Column – Doesn’t take a prude to use a little common sense on sexuality in schools

Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, September 27, 2022

We were proud prudes at my house growing up, in an era — the 1970s and early 1980s — when the Sexual Revolution was well underway on college campuses and in big cities but rarely a topic of discussion or concern at our rural high school, much less its elementary and middle schools.

Some, if not most, teenagers were having sex, of course, but it was never a matter of classroom nor textbook fodder. When mini-skirts made a brief comeback in the early 1980s after their heyday in the 1960s, some parents agitated for an update of the school dress code. That’s about the extent of my memories of sex-themed controversies on campus.

It’s through that lens that I wrestle, four decades later, with the appropriateness of sexuality as a matter of public education’s concern. Sure, the questions may have changed in those 40 years — from premarital sex of any kind then to gender identity and sexual orientation now — but are K-12 schools the proper forum for addressing them now any more than they were then?

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I don’t believe so, but one who disagrees might say my prudish tendencies have me completely out of touch with 21st century reality. They could be right.

It seems that a little common sense would go a long way in helping schools navigate the thorny questions of the modern era, and credit to new Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Theo Cramer for putting his to good use.

When a concerned parent pointed out recently that Smithfield Middle School’s website contained a link to a San Francisco-based website with such content titles as “Male snakes pose as ladies to sneak into massive orgies” and “The Vulva, Vagina, and Clit, Oh My!” and “Could Porn Save the Dwindling Panda Population” and “Two-Foot Penis Bones: How Walruses Stay Erect in Freezing Water,” the link was gone within 72 hours. It probably would have happened quicker had the parent not sent her email over a weekend.

It was a vivid contrast with his predecessor, Dr. Jim Thornton, a good man and superintendent whose pride toward the end wouldn’t allow him to admit that his critics sometimes had good points. It became more about the critic than the criticism.

Cramer surely will face harder questions in his tenure, but he’s demonstrating early on the wisdom to choose his battles carefully and to dispense quickly of the no-brainers.


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is