GOP is aroused by sex education

by Jim Longworth

After months of debate, the NC House last week passed a bill about sexeducation in public schools. But the bill had little to do witheducation and everything to do with political pandering. Instead ofestablishing guidelines for multimedia instruction or setting asidemoney for teacher training and purchase of instructional resources, thelegislature merely appeased a small but vocal minority of Republicanswho won for parents the right to opt their children out of school-basedsex education. Parents will now be able to choose one of the following three options: A. Abstinence-only education B. Abstinence and contraception education together C.No sex education at all. It was much ado about nothing because theoverwhelming majority of parents in this country now supportcomprehensive sex ed. This was borne out by a Kaiser FamilyFoundation study several years ago which showed that 95 percent ofparents of middle school students said contraceptive methods were“appropriate topics” for school health classes. In short, parents seemto know what some conservative politicians won’t admit: thatabstinence-only education doesn’t work. The Center for DiseaseControl reports that one-third of students have sex by the time theyare in ninth grade, but the age for first time sex is much lower insome cities, like Baltimore, where the average first encounter takesplace at age 14. Also, the rate of teen pregnancy has been on the risefor the past two years, with over 1 million teenagers becoming pregnanteach year. In fact, the United States’ teen pregnancy rate is now twicethat of the United Kingdom, and three times that of Canada. Theconservative Republican solution to the teen sex and pregnancy problemis for young people to “just say no.” But statistics don’tsupport that headin- the-sand approach. Just ask Bristol Palin, who,despite her mom’s political leanings, said that abstinence-onlyeducation is a bust. Yet over the past eight years the federalgovernment continued to fund a failed program, the effects of whichwere in sharp contrast to the doctrine of fiscal conservatives. That’sbecause teen pregnancy costs the United States about $7 billion eachyear, factoring in the expenses of child care, public assistance, losttax revenues, foster care and involvement with the criminal justicesystem. Fortunately, the Obama-led Congress is about to reverse course,with Senate bill 611 and HR 1551, now in committee. The new legislationwould appropriate $50 million per year in support of a program that isnow being called “Abstinence Plus.” Passage of such a bill would be astep in the right direction because, currently, one-third of the statesdo not even require public schools to offer sex education of anykind. Dangling federal monies might persuade those backward states to join the 21 st century.

Someschool systems have jumped out in front of this debate. South Carolina,for example, is the only state that mandates a certain number of hoursschools must devote to sexuality education. The result has been a sharpdrop in teen pregnancy. Meanwhile, the city of Pittsburgh’sschool board, responding to concerns by parents over rising teenpregnancy rates, voted 8 to 1 in February to replace theirabstinence-only program with a comprehensive sex education curriculum. Winston-SalemForsyth County School has also been ahead of the curve in offering acomprehensive approach to family life education. And recently,Superintendant Don Martin released a new birth control video forviewing by 7 th and 9 th graders. The video, titled “TooYoung,” was written by Chris Runge and produced by his Cable 2 staff.It is informative without being preachy, and it encourages students totake control of their own bodies. Yes, the video promotes abstinence asthe best path for students to follow, but it does so by being frankwith kids about the dangers of sexually transmitted disease. In onepassage, the narrator says, “A teenager’s body won’t suffer from nothaving sex”. But that’s not where “Too Young” ends. After making a casefor abstinence, it then goes into great detail about various types ofcontraception that are available, ranging from condoms to pills, andeven periodic injection of Depo Provera, which temporarily stops awoman’s body from producing eggs. The Cable2 video also includestestimonials from real teenagers who had unprotected sex at an earlyage, and became unintentional parents as a result. One youngmother told of her baby’s low birth weight. Another lamented that shehad to drop out of school and couldn’t graduate with her friends. Andthen there was the teen father who, with tears in his eyes, said heloved his baby, but couldn’t pay the rent. These are words and imagesthat will stay with students who view “Too Young.” And for the record,the video is never shown to boys and girls together. The segregatedviewings provide a comfort level that can lead to more open andsubstantive discourse. Thus far, feedback from students hasbeen positive. So too from local parents, 99 percent of whom opted tolet their children benefit from comprehensive sex education. Andso it would seem that conservative Republicans on the state and federallevel have been wasting our time and money on backwards-thinkingprograms that haven’t worked, just so they could troll for votes from atiny minority of parents. Their pathetic dogma has cost ourcountry both human and capital resources that we can never recover.Fortunately many communities are now on the right track towardspreventing disease and teen pregnancy. Now if we could only come upwith a program that would prevent diseased minds from running foroffice.

Jim isthe host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45(cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).