Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sex Education Controversy

First published 12-27-05

It was an amazing sign of the times and it jumped off the page at me. In the first paragraph of it’s front-page, above-the-fold, headline story for Wednesday, December 21st, The Boston Globe said, “[it was] the state’s most aggressive effort yet to use a controversial method of teaching Bay State teenagers about sex.” What was this controversial method of teaching children about sex, you’re wondering? It must be really out there, huh? Nope. It’s not the least bit kinky. Nobody, not even my grandmother, would blush if I were to explain it in detail. The headline read: “State to push abstinence in schools.” According to the Globe’s way of looking at the world, teaching kids not to have sex is controversial. However, using public tax money to instruct Massachusetts teenagers in bizarre ways to “do it” is no big deal, not even worth mentioning.

The Globe featured this “controversy” as the most important thing that had happened in the world the previous day for its 500,000 readers. It reminded me of another kind of Massachusetts public school sex instruction a few years ago I considered vastly more controversial than the “Don’t do it” program. Public school students and teachers attended a “teach out” at Tufts University at which the Massachusetts Department of Education and other state employees led a workshop in which the bizarre sexual practice of “fisting” - inserting one’s fist into the anus or vagina of a sex partner - was described. When students at this workshop asked why anybody would want to do anything like that, the Massachusetts Department of Education official said, “[it’s] an experience of letting somebody into your body that you want to be close and intimate with.”

Now that’s what I call controversial, so I searched the Globe’s archives for how they covered the story. In their search engine, I typed “fisting, public school, students, Newton” because I knew there were fourteen-year-olds (the age I teach) from Newton’s school system in attendance. Guess how many hits I got? Zero, zilch, none. Evidently, the Globe didn’t think that grotesque workshop controversial enough to even mention - certainly not the lead story of the day. However, when I typed the same five words into Google, I got 108,000 hits. What does that tell us about The Boston Globe’s manipulation of news? And more importantly: what is happening to us?

In spite of the Globe’s best efforts to prevent it, at least Massachusetts is going to use the federal money offered for teaching sexual abstinence. My state, Maine, is one of only three (all blue states) in the country which chose not to accept the funds. “This money is more harmful than it is good,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, Maine’s Public Health Director. According to an article by Paul Carrier in Augusta’s Morning Sentinel, “In the past, the state has used the [$165,000] to run public-service announcements on television that encouraged young people to avoid having sex prematurely . . . that used the recurring tag line ‘not me, not now.’” We all remember those. But now Mills claims that Maine’s teen pregnancy and teen abortion rates have declined and the state doesn’t need the money. I guess teen sex just isn’t a problem anymore here in Maine, huh Dr. Mills?

Mills claimed the federal money has to be spent on “abstinence only” programs which instruct children that the only appropriate place for sex is within marriage. But that would discriminate against gay and lesbian students who can’t marry here in Maine. And, she said it would prevent the state from providing “comprehensive information” for sexually-active teens. It’s strange for Mills to make that claim because, according to Massachusetts Governor Romney’s communications director who is quoted in the Globe, “the [Massachusetts abstinence] program will be taught in addition to comprehensive sex education programs already in place, and that students will learn about contraception methods.” I can’t believe the feds are going to allow it in Massachusetts and disallow it in Maine.

Ever since “comprehensive sex education” has been taught in the nation’s public schools, pregnancy, abortion, and sexually-transmitted diseases among teenagers have been skyrocketing. Proponents argue that correlation is not causation and that it would have been even worse had sex education not been taught. Hmm. When the results of your program are just the opposite of what were intended, it’s not exactly a vote of confidence in its effectiveness.

Now consider that Maine has been spending federal abstinence money for ten years and Maine’s teen pregnancy and teen abortion rates have been going down - so much so that Dr. Mills is now claiming we don’t need to spend any more. Instead, she wants to protect and renew the “comprehensive” approach regardless of its dismal long-term results nationally, and trash the one which seems to have been much more effective.

Why not take the lead from Governor Romney in Massachusetts and do both? Or is that too controversial here in Maine also?

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