Tuesday, September 9, 2008

sex ed for kindergarteners

John McCain and Sarah Palin are pro-choice—at least when it comes to schools. They say that “parents should be able to decide the learning environment that is best for their child.”

But a recently released McCain ad lambasts Barack Obama’s achievements in comprehensive sex education, scoffing at the idea of “learning about sex before learning to read” and concluding that Obama is “wrong on education… wrong for your family.”

Excuse me, but shouldn’t parents be able to decide?

After all, every parent is a sexual being. But more than likely, their sexual activity didn’t begin with a marriage vow. Government data show that not only do 9 out of 10 people engage in premarital sex, but that the rate of premarital sex has been consistent for over 50 years. Even Sarah Palin can’t claim she saved herself for marriage; she gave birth to her eldest son only 8 months after eloping.

Parents understand that just as babies discover their fingers and toes, they also discover their genitals. They know that on every playground, toddlers are aware of the biological differences between boys and girls.

Age-appropriate sex ed helps shape healthy attitudes about gender roles, teach communication, and heighten capacity to build relationships. And as children progress into adolescence, they need complete, medically accurate information on the values of abstinence, the use of contraception, and the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI).

But even though only 10% of the nation’s school districts teach comprehensive sex ed, McCain wants to rob parents of that choice completely. Since the 1980s, McCain and his cronies have forced abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs on parents, students, and public schools, spending $1.5 billion in the process. Palin has echoed these sentiments, writing “The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.”

Of course, we all know how well that turned out. Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is national news, and her boyfriend Levi Johnston had to shut down his Myspace page because it stated “I don’t want kids.” No matter how the McCain camp spins it, if Alaska’s school system had encouraged safer sex practices, Bristol and Levi might not be expecting one.

But if Bristol Palin isn’t evidence enough that abstinence-only doesn’t work, try a 2007 Health and Human Services study that says just that. Of the more than 700 federally funded AOUM programs, the evaluation looked at only four. These four programs were handpicked to show positive results—and still failed.

If McCain hopes to overturn Roe v. Wade, and remove a patient’s choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, then he needs to do more to ensure young people never have to face that choice. He needs to advocate real efforts to curb teen pregnancy and reduce the number of teens who have an STI (currently 1 in 4).

Instead, when a reporter asked McCain whether he thought contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV, he replied, after a long pause, “You’ve stumped me.”

And if McCain is stumped, then the choice for parents who want real sex education for their kids should be crystal clear.

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