Ignorance Breeds Ignorance on Sex Ed

It’s bad enough that Texas is failing teens by promoting ignorance about responsible pregnancy and disease prevention in sexuality education classes. But is it really too much to ask that public policy-makers and assorted pressure groups not wallow in ignorance as well?

Our new report on sexuality education reveals that more than nine in 10 public school districts in Texas teach either abstinence-only or nothing at all when it comes to sexuality education. That’s the case despite the state’s high rate of teen births, the increasing problem of sexually transmitted diseases among youth and recent major studies showing that abstinence-only programs are simply ineffective. (See here for one such study. Our report, page 2, notes others.)

But supporters of abstinence-only programs are still burying their heads in the sand — like this spokesperson from the Free Market Foundation Focus on the Family-Texas:

Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation, a conservative group that supports abstinence-based programs, questioned the criticism of those programs, citing links between the Texas Freedom Network and Planned Parenthood.

“These groups want teenagers to have more sex and learn more about sex at an earlier age,” he said. “You can give students greater access to contraception and abortion, but that’s not good for Texas.”

Complete nonsense. Educating young people about responsible pregnancy and disease prevention is a way to decrease the number of abortions and raise healthy teens. Keeping them ignorant certainly isn’t working.

Then yesterday Gov. Rick Perry’s office responded to calls by lawmakers to improve sexuality education in Texas:

Republican Gov. Rick Perry … “is comfortable with current law and supports abstinence programs,” his spokeswoman, Allison Castle, said.

And in the same story, we read this gem from a Perry ally:

The conservative Texas Eagle Forum views the Democrats’ proposal as trying to cover up immoral behavior by men and doing the bidding of abortion providers, Cathie Adams, president of the organization, said. “I see this as a very anti-woman, anti-girl attempt,” Adams said. “It’s putting immorality off on children.”

Good heavens. So much reckless blather in one little quote.

Of course, the official Texas Republican Party platform also opposes “any sex education other than abstinence until heterosexual marriage.”

Look. Support for teaching young people the importance of abstinence is almost universal. In fact, we haven’t met anyone who thinks it’s a good idea for teens to be sexually active. But too many of them already are.

When so many influential officials and pressure groups are intent on keeping young Texans ignorant about sexuality and health, is it any surprise that the state’s taxpayers spend more than $1 billion annually on the costs of teen childbearing? That Texas teens rate well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors? That the teen birthrate in Texas, already the nation’s third highest, is rising?

Yet proponents of abstinence ignorance programs continue to prattle on with their well-rehearsed talking points even though what they are saying has no basis in reality. Ignorance clearly is breeding ignorance in Texas.

One thought on “Ignorance Breeds Ignorance on Sex Ed

  1. Just a few assorted and somewhat random thoughts:

    1) The Religious Right supports abstinence only sex education as a pregnancy prevention tool in the public domain. However, that changes when certain important figures in the abstinence only movement enter a formal gathering of their supporters, a place where they feel that they can let down their hair and be relaxed. In the past couple of years, I read an article or saw a special TV news report (cannot remember which) where one major figure in the abstinence only movement said something like this paraphrasal in a meeting with their supporters:

    “In support of abstinence only sex education, we tell the general public that the primary purpose of our work is to prevent teenage pregnancy. However, as all who are gathered here today know, the first and foremost purpose of our work is to prevent sexual sin among our young people.”

    This sounds a lot like the portrayal of General George S. Patton in the movie “Patton,” where he was always making bizarre and damaging statements when he felt sure there were no reporters there or that everything he was saying was somehow “off the record.” Open mouth. Insert foot.

    The point I want to make here is that this is one specific example of the lies and deceit practiced by the Religious Right. One might say that this is just being “strategic” to defeat an enemy, but that is just public relations double-talk (the sin of lying dressed up in a tuxedo to make it look presentable). Stating that the primary purpose of your programs is one thing in front of the general public and then saying that it is something else in a private setting with your cronies means that you are lying to the public. Plain and simple. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see this.

    2) I have a great idea that the Religious Right might like to implement in Texas. The idea comes from a dead right wing uncle of mine in Tennessee. He believed that the government should require anyone having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) to carry a government-issued card in their wallet or purse to indicate that fact. He was a firm believer that anyone with an STD is a sexually immoral person (never mind that your crooked husband was having an affair behind your back when he gave it to you). Sexual immorality was seen as a “key diagnostic.” People who would commit sexual sin and get an STD would also be highly likely to lie, steal money from the cash register, hijack your car, or maybe even murder you. Therefore, the individual holding the government-issued STD Card would be required to show it to an employer or anyone else in authority who demanded it. Presentation of the card would then be used to screen that person out of employment and to deny them access to assorted basic rights and services.

    My uncle was a very nice man and an earnest conservative Christian all of his life. However, he seemed to really believe in this Orwellian view of how things should be. In fact, he used to say to me that “…what America really needs is a benevolent dictator. Back in the early 1970s, in his mind, this meant an all-powerful government leader who would use the police to make people like Willie Nelson get a haircut every two weeks, jail as a traitor anyone who peacefully protested the Viet-Nam War, and ensure that every citizen was a faithful and unquestioning supporter of Richard Nixon. As he said about Watergate, “A President has a right to do whatever he needs to do to protect himself from his political enemies.” I guess that included felony breaking and entering and robbery.

    I think the above is a pretty good prototype description for the kind of Christian theocratic police state that my deceased uncle and other members of the Religious Right today would like to establish here in the United States. The only problem is that the forced haircuts sound a lot like Sharia Law in an Islamic Republic, the STD Cards sound like the marking of foreheads by the Anti-Christ, and the rest sounds like a constitutional and legal nightmare that would give Thomas Jefferson and James Madison a bad case of the heebiejeebies.

    3) In the late 1840s, Texans said, “Remember the Alamo!!!” In 2009, Texans need to shout, “Remember my 401K!!!” Far right-wing, hands-off, no-regulation, neocon Republicans (who were supported to the hilt by the Religious Right for 14 years) created this economic nightmare that we are in right now. Do you seriously think that all of those rich investment bankers with golden parachutes on Wall Street were sugary little liberals when the Republican Party has ALWAYS been the party of choice for Big Business and Big Businessmen? Do you seriously think that abject fear of the Bush Administration played no part in the Security and Exchange Commission’s decision to look the other way while Bernie Madoff and others like him stole the life savings of our major charities and our old people who were only saving for a decent retirement?

    4) Abstinence only sex education is fine for those kids who do not know how to fornicate, those who never will, and those who decide to quit. However, as we all know, there is a very large percentage of kids out there who will not abstain—for whatever reason. We could just throw up our hands and say, “Well good for them. The wages of sin are teenage pregnancy and the living death that comes with it. The little licenstious twerps deserve whatever they get.” Can’t you just feel the Christian love oozing out of that statement? Come on folks. These are our children. Your children. My children. Our next door neighbor’s child. We have a God-given responsibility to love them and protect them in any way that we can. If we cannot persuade them to abstain, we can at least provide them with the contraceptives and information necessary to avoid pregnancy, STDs, and other related tragedies. As Jesus said, “If our child asked us for a loaf of bread, how many of us would give him a stone instead?” We do not need abstinence only. That is a rock. We need abstinence plus a loaf of bread.

    I hope Texans in general and my fellow Christians who are not members of the Religious Right will read what I have written above and consider whether this is really the kind of society they want to have in Texas. Personally, I think this is the kind of prescription the Religious Right has written for all of us—and maybe worse. If you want to begin changing any of that—and change will only come from people at the bottom who rise up and make their voices heard—you can start by opposing the religion-based science education agenda of the Texas State Board of Education and support sensible sex education in Texas. Call or write your representatives in government at the state and federal level. Tell tell them how you feel about all of this right-wing lunacy that is destroying our nation.