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Teaching Values, Teaching Stereotypes: Sex Ed and Indoctrination in Public Schools

56 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2010 Last revised: 1 Oct 2010

Jennifer S. Hendricks

University of Colorado Law School

Dawn Howerton

University of Tennessee

Date Written: April 15, 2010


Many sex education curricula currently used in public schools indoctrinate students in gender stereotypes. As expressed in the title of one article: “If You Don’t Aim to Please, Don’t Dress to Tease,” and Other Public School Sex Education Lessons Subsidized by You, the Federal Taxpayer (Jennifer L. Greenblatt, 14 TEX. J. ON C.L. & C.R. 1 (2008)). Other lessons pertain not only to responsibility for sexual activity but to lifelong approaches to family life and individual achievement. One lesson, for example, instructs students that, in marriage, men need sex from their wives and women need financial support from their husbands.

This Article first describes the ways in which teaching sex stereotypes may affect children, highlighting the need for further empirical research in this area. Second, it critiques the extant feminist legal response to gender-biased Sex Ed curricula, particularly the use of precedent dealing with governmental perpetuation of stereotypes; those precedents cannot be incorporated wholesale into this context. Finally, to correct this analytical gap, this Article connects the Sex Ed issue to the existing scholarly literature on indoctrination of schoolchildren, a literature that has hooks in both equal protection and the first amendment. The first amendment principles developed in this literature provide the missing link to explain the constitutional flaw in sex stereotyping at school. The result is an endorsement standard, based on a blending of equal protection and first amendment doctrine. Public school students should not be inculcated in values whose entrenchment by government is contrary to constitutional principles.

Keywords: sex education, sex stereotypes, priming, stereotype threat, equal protection, first amendment

Suggested Citation

Hendricks, Jennifer S. and Howerton, Dawn, Teaching Values, Teaching Stereotypes: Sex Ed and Indoctrination in Public Schools (April 15, 2010). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 13, 2010; University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 109. Available at SSRN:

Jennifer S. Hendricks (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
303-735-5453 (Phone)


Dawn Howerton

University of Tennessee ( email )

Knoxville, TN 37996
United States

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