The House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing "Assessing the Evidence of Domestic Abstinence-Only [Sex Education] Programs," at which various public health experts opined that scientific studies don't show any benefit to such abstinence programs. (See here for the witness statements.) Rep. Duncan (R-Tenn.) responded, among other things, that polls show that parents support abstinence-only education, and that
The Zogby poll that's been mentioned showed by a more than 2-1 margin that parents ... prefer the abstinence approach, and it seems rather elitist to me for people who maybe have degrees in this field to feel that they, because they've studied it, somehow know better than the parents what is best for ... I still think parents know best what is best for their children.
(See this video, starting at around 72:00.)
People thinking that because they've studied a subject — based, they claim, on attempts to actually measure the effectiveness of particular educational programs — they know better than those who just have intuition, casual observation, and anecdote? How elitist! Next thing you know, doctors will think that because they've studied the effectiveness of various treatments for childhood illnesses, they know better than the parents what is best for treating those illnesses. I mean, why not just rely on parents' intuitions about what medical approaches (or educational programs) work? After all, they are parents who love their children, and you don't need a fancy-pants M.D. to do that. How could parents' intuitions about what will actually work in keeping children safe possibly be wrong?
Look, if you want to challenge the reliability of various studies, by all means please do that. Many such studies are indeed junk science; and education is an area where good studies are notoriously hard to conduct. For all I know, maybe the studies that the witnesses are referring to are unsound. Likewise, if you want to make an argument based on pure morality or democratic theory about what should be done and shouldn't, that's fine, if you make clear that you're focused on what's moral or democratic, rather than on what actually helps children.
But if you're going to talk about what's actually "best for ... children" — which is to say what's actually effective in preventing harmful behavior — then don't claim that parents have some sort of innate insight into a process that they've never systematically studied, and as to which they have at best a couple of observations (and far from perfect ones, since they may not know that much about their children's sex lives). It's not that parents are less inherently "elite" than public health Ph.D.s. It's just that, on the question of what sorts of educational programs work in this area, only people who have indeed studied the subject in a systematic way are likely to have a trustworthy opinion on what will actually work.
Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.
UPDATE: I should mention something that I had thought was implicit, but that on reflection I should make explicit: Even if parents may know better what programs work for their particular children, given their knowledge of their children (which isn't necessarily so) — or even if parents have some a moral or political theory entitlement to opt out of certain such programs (which may well be so) — the question is what education programs the government should fund for children at large. Even if ten years from now my special knowledge of my boys' personalities and behavior will give me a better sense of what sex education will work for them (I hope it will, but I'm not sure), it won't give me a particularly good sense of what sex education will work for children generally.