Friday, June 20, 2008

Pulling our Heads out of the Sand

Still think abstinence-only education programs work?

Seventeen girls at a high school in Glaucester, Massachusetts got pregnant during this recently concluded school year. And apparently there was some kind of pact. It has been reported that girls were more disappointed when they found out they were NOT pregnant than when they found out they were expecting.

I spent a quarter working at a juvenile court in Massachusetts. I saw more young girls walking through the courtroom with multiple children in their care then I like to think about. Girls without a high school diploma, many of whom will never get one, trying to raise children. And now I hear about this group of teens who were TRYING to get pregnant.

The local school board is set to discuss the possibility of giving easier access to contraception. One parent interviewed questioned the wisdom of the decision, saying that there was not going to be someone following the girls around to make sure they take the pill. First of all, Let this be considered a big smack on the back of the head of every member of the school board. Of COURSE you need to provide easier access to birth control. But more important than access to items, schools need to be a place where there is easy access to information. Information about how to prevent pregnancy. Information about how to effectively use birth control. Information about how to grow up smart and healthy.

What students need, more than anything in this area, is an effective program of sex education. Abstinence should be part of the program, of course, but abstinence-only programs are a classic example of sticking your head in the sand. High school students are going to have sex, whether the schools teach them how to be safe and smart about it or not. So can someone please explain to me why it is better to not teach them?

An effective sex education program would not have kept all 17 of the girls at Glaucester High School from getting pregnant this year. But it could properly arm them and their classmates with the information that they need to make their way in the world.

Mark Twain said "I never let my schooling interfere with my education." Effective sex education programs are an instance where a class can bridge the gap and be both schooling and education. It is long past time to pull our heads out of the sand and accept the world as it is. Seventeen new children will hopefully be able to learn from such a program as they go through school.