Today a teacher at Elli's school sent around a notice to parents talking about Health Education, which doesn't really include explicit sex education at Elli's age but does start to touch on those topics. The notice talked about something fairly interesting: The curriculum has not been updated since 1998. Fifteen years isn't enough time to change the fundamentals of sex but it sure is too long for much of what children are taught. Consider that since that time gay marriage has been legalized and communication, instead of being restricted to letters and phones for most people, now involves twitter, facebook, and email for all.
Technology changes rapidly and is continuing to change ever more quickly as time goes by. These changes propagate through our social systems with remarkable speed and it is important that we understand how the new ways of doing things affect us and educate our children appropriately. The trouble is that politics does not move at the speed of technology; politicians and high level bureaucrats usually take huge amounts of time to change things. Taken together this means that when our curriculum is tightly controlled by a central agency it is going to continue to lag behind society.
Of course Not all of that can be tossed at the doorstep of politicians because when changes are brought in right on the heels of a social shift people complain. Changing the curriculum to support gay marriage will inevitably end up running afoul of religious fundamentalists who demand that their children not be taught such things. The point at which a new idea is recognized as a good thing to teach and the point at which criticism of that idea can be easily ignored are too far apart and this means that those who feel they must pander to anachronistic bigotry resist change for quite some time.
To avoid this whole mess requires significantly empowering teachers and stepping away from a centrally designed curriculum. When individual teachers are given the authority to change what they teach based on what is happening they can respond to new ideas efficiently in a way that a central bureaucracy simply cannot. It will inevitably lead to a few teachers that teach things badly in their own special way but that is a small price to pay for all the rest of the teachers being able to teach far more effectively because their shackles have been removed. We do want all children to get a good education but enforcing mediocrity on everyone is not the way to do that.