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In today's schools, sex education focuses on family values and decisionmaking

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''The big trend in sex education is . . . thinking!'' A no-nonsense trainer of teachers in the field of sex education, Peggy Brick of Englewood, N.J., rolls her eyes with a laugh at the simplicity of her own statement. But for a half-dozen of her colleagues from around the United States who have joined her for an informal discussion of trends in public school sex education, Ms. Brick's words describe a welcome development.

''Today when we talk about sex education, we mean the broad picture: We're talking about self-esteem, responsibility, values, and, really, what we mean by femininity and masculinity,'' says Bill Stackhouse, director of the a program for parents at the Sex Information and Education Council of the US in New York City. ''We want people to think.''

Studies by the Urban Institute and researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggest that fewer than 10 percent of all students are involved in this sort of comprehensive sex education, or ''thinking'' course, even though about three-fourths of American students receive some form of sex education at school.

Yet, according to sex educators, the last few years have witnessed a slow shift away from purely ''informational'' courses to ones that encourage children , at steadily younger ages, to consider such brow-knitting topics as love, morality, decisionmaking, and aspirations.

As this transition has taken place, schools have done more to include their neighbors - religious leaders and public-service organizations such as the YMCA, Boys Clubs, and Scouts - to help develop programs that best reflect community concerns. Perhaps most important, more schools are encouraging parents to work with them in clarifying a topic that many mothers and fathers still find difficult to discuss with their children.


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