Monday, October 10, 2005

US News; Big Article on Sex-Ed

The October 17th issue of U. S. News and World Report has a major article about sex education. I'd have to say they do as good a job as you can walkin' that line, presenting both sides of the issue in a fair and empathic way. It's quite long, spanning six web pages, so I'll just clip a little bit here, omitting the intro:
...Still, the question remains: Are we teaching our kids too much about sex? Or too little?

The answer depends on whom you ask. Sex may be a private matter, but sex education is a public one, especially since it is taught in public schools with public funds. The debate over what to teach has ratcheted up in recent years, but the topic has been around for decades. The arguments have remained much the same, but the recommended curriculum has flipped, flopped, and flipped again. The passage of the Adolescent Family Life Act in 1981 gave money to educational programs that would "promote self-discipline and other prudent approaches." But during the '80s and early '90s, as AIDS became an increasing threat, sex ed became "comprehensive." Often taught by educators associated with Planned Parenthood, the classes covered contraception, disease protection, and much more. Then in 1996, as part of the Welfare Reform Act, Congress established a federal program to exclusively fund abstinence-only curricula. "The abstinence-only program really stirred things up," says Deborah Roffman, author of Sex & Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide. Just Don't Do It! Are we teaching our kids way too much about sex? Or not nearly enough?

Of course we know Deborah Roffman, she spoke at the TeachTheFacts forum a couple of weeks ago. Gave a really engaging talk. We hope to have transcripts available before long, and we'll post them here. (It's a lot of work transcribing those things.)
Granting that this is a topic fraught with dueling statistics and conflicting studies, the generally accepted figure is that only 15 percent of parents want an abstinence-only curriculum. Nonetheless, the movement has steadily gained momentum. Backed by many conservative churches, a vocal group of parents, dozens of conservative organizations, an impressively organized PR campaign, and, since 1996, more than a billion federal and state dollars, the unambiguous message that postponing sex until marriage is the only option is being delivered in 35 percent of public school districts in the United States. (If birth control is discussed in these classes, the focus is on failure rates.) An additional 51 percent of school districts teach abstinence-plus, a course in which chastity is the preferred and safest option but in which information about contraception as a way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is also included. And 14 percent of school districts teach a comprehensive program that can include discussions on abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, oral and anal sex, and masturbation.

Which means, says Roffman, that no one is doing enough. "We give young people the organ recital, and we do disaster prevention, but we don't do good work helping young people prepare for their adult lives."

The disagreement is deeply ingrained in religious beliefs and ideas that, although discounted by the medical profession, are held as truth. Some abstinence-only advocates say that discussing sex acts can inspire experimentation and fantasies that would otherwise not occur. Some charge that they promote homosexuality. And many point out that some of those practices are contrary to their religious beliefs. Stepping on anyone's religious beliefs is a problem for many Americans. But so is failure to teach according to the accepted science...

Man oh man, we've covered this ground, haven't we?

I could tell you some stories...
An Alan Guttmacher Institute analysis of the teen pregnancy rate between 1988 and 1995 showed that 25 percent of the drop was due to delayed onset of intercourse and 75 percent was because more sexually active teens were using long-acting, ultra-effective contraception. A Columbia University study by Peter Bearman showed that it is true that for some young people virginity pledges can be a protective factor. But it also found that 88 percent of middle and high schoolers who pledge to stay virgins until marriage end up having premarital sex anyway. The bad news is that they are less likely to use contraception the first time they have intercourse. As for students who get comprehensive sex education, they do not have sex earlier or more often, but, although they are reported to practice safe sex more frequently, both groups had the same rate of sexually transmitted infections.

Well, I can't quote all of this for you, you have to read it. If you're a parent trying to sort all this out, through all the crazy statements and allegations, then this article is a good starting place for thinking about what you want in your community. Remember, it's not just your kids, it's your neighbors' kids too, who go to these schools, not just your kids but the kids they go out with.

Naturally, they have a sterling comment from the President of the CRC:
"I didn't think homosexuality should be taught as something that is natural or the same as heterosexuality," says Michelle Turner, a Montgomery County, Md., mother of six. Last year, the county adopted a sex ed curriculum that included information about same-gender attraction and a film that demonstrated putting a condom on a cucumber. Turner and others objected so vehemently that they--encouraged by national supporters--formed a group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, took the school board to court, and won. The curriculum was dropped before it was ever taught.

Yes, we were there, I remember that. Why, some of us even heard those "national supporters" speak. Unforgettable. No matter how hard you try.

And just think: tomorrow we get to start it all over again.

There's a good discussion of abstinence-till-marriage, and they talk about the Unitarians' OWL program, which sounds like one of the most direct and comprehensive sex-ed programs in the country. Look, go back up and click on the link and see how they laid this out. The controversy is at once simple and complex, obvious and subtle. They've done quite a good job here of putting the pieces together in a fair and well-integrated way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is seldom noted is the long-term effect of teaching sex ed in a valueless, neutral way. A look at our society before and after the widespread institution of this type of sex ed showed that it has changed the way teens behave and caused myriad societal problems.

Well, yes, tomorrow's the day when we see if all Jim's dreams come true. Will obsession have its reward?

October 10, 2005 9:24 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Mmm, what dreams are those?

October 10, 2005 9:33 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

PS For those who aren't following this story very closely, tomorrow is the day that the school board will announce the new citizens advisory committee for the new sex-ed curriculum. My dream is to learn who will be on it ... I guess ... oh, I'll lose sleep over that one, fer sherr.


October 10, 2005 9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, Jim, you have no personal interest. That's why you took off work today and ran down to the school board meeting.

October 11, 2005 8:18 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

What the ...? Of course I have a personal interest. I want to see what's going to happen. Please don't be a moron, or we'll send you away.

I read and write about this topic every day, it is crazy to act like I'm not supposed to have an interest in it... sheesh.


October 11, 2005 8:59 PM  
Blogger Kay2898 said...

Jim...never knew ANON was so interested in your comings and goings...much less being so interested in this blog.

ANON...did they kick you off the CRC "less than public message board" too....?

October 12, 2005 12:55 PM  

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