Monday, April 16, 2007


Last weekend's LA Times brought news of more states refusing federal funding of sex-ed since it has too many strings attached. This brings a smile to my lips since it is a rejection of the willful ignorance that seems to be running amok. The problem is, you see, that they are not allowed to teach anything but abstinence should they accept these funds. Though the article is now archive only, it can be read here.

I found one quote particularly interesting:

"There are kids who don't want to know how to put on a condom, because they don't want to have sex," said Leslee J. Unruh, founder and president of the South Dakota-based Abstinence Clearinghouse, the nation's largest network of abstinence educators. "So why can't kids who want to abstain have equal time, funding and education in the classroom as kids who are having sex?"

Is this really the shape of the thinking? It's hard to think otherwise, but it seems so muddled.

Now, kids are very good at figuring out they need to know certain things. It is incredibly useful to know how water flows and they'll put hours into the experiments to figure it out. They aren't so good at knowing they need math. Plenty of them will claim they don't. Should we stop teaching them algebra because they don't want to know it? No one has been hurt by knowing algebra and not using it, plenty are hurt by not knowing it and needing it. No one has been hurt by simply knowing how to put on a condom, but should they need the knowledge and not have it the potential for hurt can be far more immediate than lack of algebra.

But let's go on. Why can't kids who want to abstain have equal time? There is nothing "equal time" about teaching abstinence only. It just isn't logically possible.

The article later points to a study by Columbia University and the Guttmacher Institute that finds that teen pregnancy rates dropped 24% of which 14% is attributed to teens waiting longer to have sex while the rest is contraception. Perhaps there is some bias in not pointing out that that means 10% (a smaller amount) is attributable to contraception. There is not half so much bias as if someone took this to mean that abstinence only works. Clearly a complete program teaching both works better.

It is right and good to teach kids that abstinence is the only 100% safe way to handle sex. It is right and good to point out that there is nothing wrong with them to take this route. It is right and good to mention that their elders are expecting them to abstain. It is not right and good to suppose that they'll all just take your word for it. It is certainly bad to try to lie to them to try to trick them into doing as their elders desire.

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