The Educational Theory Summer Institute 2012
Sex Education and Value Conflict in the Liberal State

The Fourth Educational Theory Summer Institute (ETSI), was held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from August 20-22, 2012. The journal Educational Theory and the Department of Education Policy, Organization, & Leadership co-sponsored this event.

The theme was: Sex Education and Value Conflict in the Liberal State. Educational Theory commissioned a team of outstanding scholars to produce fresh and substantive statements on this pressing issue. Their papers appear as a special issue of Educational Theory Volume 63, no. 5. The invited 2012 participants were:

• Josh Corngold, University of Tulsa (director)
• Dianne Gereluk, University of Calgary
• Michael Hand, University of London
• Sharon Lamb, University of Massachusetts
• Cris Mayo, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
• Paula McAvoy, Spencer Foundation
• John Petrovic, The University of Alabama

During the first two days of the institute, participants workshoped each other's papers in internal sessions with Educational Theory staff. The institute culminated, on Wednesday, August 22nd, with an all-day open conference, featuring the scholars above and other area scholars. All of those interested in educational policy issues, including those related to this theme, were invited to attend. This event was sponsored by the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Perhaps no other area of the school curriculum generates as much controversy (and on such a consistent basis) as sex education. Recent polling data point to a broad consensus that schools should offer some form of sex education (see, for example, National Public Radio, 2004). But exactly what should be taught, when, and how are matters of intense and ongoing debate. As David Archard (2003) observes, “Sex education is disputatious because sex itself has a great significance in our lives yet we disagree profoundly about the values that should inform our sexual conduct” (p. 540).

Recent developments in sex education policy raise difficult questions about how educators should deal with moral disagreement in the classroom. Should educators strategically avoid moral questions that are highly disputed in society—questions about the rightness or wrongness of premarital sex or of homosexual acts, for instance? This approach may sound appealing to some parents, citizens, and conflict-averse teachers and administrators, but there are attendant dangers. If educators choose to broach highly controversial moral questions in the classroom, another question immediately comes to the fore: Should educators endorse a particular point of view, or should they present the arguments for the various sides as evenhandedly as possible?

We have assembled an international panel of scholars — from North America and the UK — in the interest of providing a varied look and fresh insights on these timely and important questions related to sex education and value conflict in the liberal state. In addition to participating in the 2012 Summer Institute and developing a special issue of Educational Theory, we also are committed to finding ways to disseminate this research to a broader audience of educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens.

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