Thursday, November 20, 2008

(Sex) Education

The Bedford Hillsian has a great little piece up about sex ed. Inspired by a rather frustrating radio show (though the host fact checks, which is awesome), blogger "the unbeatable kid" brings in that most stalwart of sex ed defenders: Dan Savage. I reccomend listening to both Dan Savage's bit, and then the whole radio show. Make sure you have time for the second one; it's rather long (50 minutes).

The debate is the whole abstinence debate, with a decade of implementation and studies to match it.

And it's an interesting conversation, between intelligent concerned adults with different perspectives and different data. What's interesting to is not so much the disagreements, but the agreements with qualifiers. "No parent disagrees with abstinence, they disagree with abstinence only" and "Abstinence programs do teach about condoms; they teach how condoms aren't very effective" are my two favorite qualifiers.

The immediate things that bother me: 1), abstinence programs aren't allowed to encourage condom use, and 2), there is a desire to present information about condoms with an emphasis on the flaws and shortcomings. Regardless of my stand on sex education, my general stand on presenting information to youth is that teachers shouldn't lie to them. For a humorous take on disinformation, here's a dressing down of other pieces of disinformation targets at youth.

I had rather unpleasant experiences with abstinence-only sex education in middle school, so I am rather grateful that I was able to partake in a comprehensive sex ed program offered outside my school. The strengths of that program are many - it addresses the emotional and relational issues of sexuality, it isn't exclusively hetero-normative, and it covers STIs and contraceptives with an eye towards accuracy. More than that, however, it does a remarkable thing - it trusts that youth, given accurate information, will be able to make informed decisions about their own lives.

To restate: it trusts that youth, when allowed to, have the capacity for rational decision making.

This is huge, and this is one of the big things missing from sex education in schools, and from the debate over sex education in general. And really, it's missing from education a lot of the time - the PSAs linked to above all trust in fear and trust to force youth into acting appropriately. And frankly, that's undemocratic and unAmerican.

If we want better decisions made, and if we want essential freedoms, we as a people have to do 2 things: make sure that accurate information is provided, available, and encouraged (while making sure that people know how to call "bullshit!" when they see it), and we have to trust people to take that information and act as best they are able.

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