Thursday, July 24, 2008

Abstinence Education Varies Widely Across American Public Schools

-- From "Texas keeps a tight lid on sex ed" by Melissa Mixon, American-Statesman Staff 7/14/08

When it comes to sex, what kids are taught in school varies widely from state to state and often from school district to school district.

In Texas, the education code treats human sexuality differently from the rest of the public school curriculum. Unlike subjects such as English or history, course materials dealing with sexual issues are reviewed by local advisory councils of parents and community representatives, with the specific content of what's taught to be decided by each school board.

But local latitude goes only so far, thanks to Texas' appetite for federally funded abstinence programs — it leads the nation in spending for abstinence instruction — and the state's restrictions on what teachers may tell their students about sex and contraceptives.

As in all public schools in Texas, Austin district teachers are forbidden to hand out condoms, and the district does not allow instruction on proper use. The state requires that information about condoms be given "in terms of human use reality rates" — an estimate that condoms are effective, on average, only 85 percent of the time, with failures usually due to improper handling or inconsistent use.

That's in contrast to some schools in California, where teachers can demonstrate how to wear condoms by rolling them onto bananas. And in Portland, Maine, school board members approved a measure last year that allows middle school students, who range from 11 to 15 years old, to get birth control prescriptions from the school's health center.

Twenty years ago, Texas teachers had more freedom to talk about condoms and birth control methods as part of health courses that covered a broad range of sexual, reproductive and family issues. That is now considered "comprehensive" sex education. With few exceptions, it is a thing of the past in Texas public schools.

A 2006 national survey reported that 82 percent of parents want sex education that teaches students about not only abstinence but other methods of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, such as condoms and birth control methods. The survey, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, showed that 68.5 percent of parents want schools to teach proper use of condoms. Years before, another survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation [a pro-abortion organization] found similar results.

Abstinence proponents hail their own study, done by Zogby International in 2003, which found that the majority of parents support values taught in abstinence-only programs, teaching, for instance, that sex should be linked to love and intimacy, which are most likely to occur in the context of marriage.

The abstinence message is not only about sex. It also emphasizes self-empowerment, self-respect and being comfortable with setting physical boundaries. The idea is that choosing to refrain from sex will not only prevent a pregnancy or an STD, but lead to a healthy lifestyle, with fewer distractions from school and a better relationship with parents.

This is a very lengthy article intended to form public opinion on this subject -- it's worth the read [CLICK HERE].