Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Sex Ed

Reuters reports that the new sex-education textbooks in Texas are likely to ignore birth control:

Texas educators are debating what will be taught in new sexual education textbooks for its high school students. The 15-member Texas Board of Education is considering and will likely approve four books, all of which extol the virtues of abstinence. Three make no mention of contraceptives at all while one makes passing reference to condoms.

Pardone moi? What exactly is there to debate? There's only one way the human body works. Or, to paraphrase a line from My Cousin Vinny: are we to believe that the laws of biology are suspended in Texas?


National surveys indicate that a wide majority of parents support a strong abstinence message to teens in sexual education.

Hmm, maybe this is the problem. I should think a sexual education class is supposed to teach facts, not dispense moral/societal messages. There's a difference between abstinence, the facts, and abstinence, the message. The facts are that abstinence is but one of over 80 methods of birth control, one that's not very effective (because it's user-dependent). These facts apply equally to all the students in a class (their number, sex, family situation, or religion are irrelevant). In contrast, the abstinence message is different for every student in a class; it depends on the student's particular circumstances--what societal or religious background he/she comes from, what message the parents wish to transmit to their child, etc.


Local school districts are not required to use one of the new books but they receive state funding to buy them if they do.

This use of state funds is eerily similar to the Alabama EC one. And, again, I have to ask: why is the government involved at all? Shouldn't the educators and the parents decide what the curriculum should be?


The education board has been at the center of many political and religious battles over the years including a recent proposal by evangelical Christian groups to have the state's textbooks include items debunking evolution.

This doesn't make sense. Just like gravity, human anatomy and physiology exist independent of political system or religious denomination. Moreover, we still have separation of State and Church. So why are religious groups making state school curriculum proposals? I'm not absolutely certain, but I think members of a religion can have their own private, religious schools.

Texas standards require sexual education books to "analyze the effectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods, including the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, keeping in mind the effectiveness of remaining abstinent until marriage."

As discussed in an earlier post, very few abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been rigorously evaluated and, thus, there is no compelling evidence to date that they actually change sexual behavior. If teaching students STD prevention is the goal, I do hope they spend time on microbicidal spermicides. I'll have a more detail post on these methods, but, briefly: a spermicidal kills sperm; a microbicidal kills microbes (like the ones causing STDs); a microbicidal spermicide prevents both pregnancy and STDs.

State Education Agency officials said mention of condoms and contraceptives in the teacher's editions or in supplements to the books enable them to meet Texas curriculum standards.

Richard Blake, a spokesman for Holt, Rinehart and Winston said his company offers a supplement for students that goes into comprehensive detail about forms of contraceptives.

The supplement for students is free with the purchase of the textbooks. It is excluded from the main text in order to offer flexibility and meet the needs of school boards across the United States that have differing views on how to treat a subject many see as highly sensitive.

Let me see if I understand this correctly: we take out the actual information from the textbook and we put it in a supplement. Then we give the students the textbook containing...what? If you take out the information abut birth control from the "Birth Control Methods" chapter, you're not offering the students flexibility; you're giving them blank pages. And, unless only philosophers and artists--people who can look at a blank page and have many different views of it--are allowed on school boards, there's only way to treat the subject of science: give students the information.

Update: Another view, from Austin, TX.


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