It’s my god-given right to raise ignorant children

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 42,643 Americans died in car accidents in 2003 (the last year for which data was available). Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States. Which is why I am going to demand that my non-existent children never ride in cars. It’s my duty as a non-parent to make sure that my non-children are safe from harm at all times. Of course, it wouldn’t do to send a mixed message about the dangers of riding in cars, so in order to remain consistent on this position, I am going to fail to inform my non-children about safety belts. Safety belts create the illusion of, well, safety, when statistics prove that cars are death traps intent on murdering my poor, defenseless non-children. By encouraging the use of safety belts, parents are telling their children that riding in cars is perfectly safe and no caution should be used, such as obeying speed limits or driving defensively so as to avoid collision with other less morally pure drivers. Teaching the proper and consistent use of safety-belts encourages children to recklessly ride in cars (or, gasp! even drive them!); ignoring all the data that suggests that seat belt use decreases motor vehicle crash fatalities by 72% is the only way to keep my non-children safe from this silent epidemic.

Imagine if parents made this kind of argument to your local school board, demanding that all references to seat belts be removed from the curriculum so as not to encourage our youngsters to engage in reckless behavior. Rather than teach children that the world out there is sometimes a scary place where terrible things happen—things whose risk can be reduced with simple behaviors like putting on seat belts or wearing condoms—there are people in this country who genuinely believe that by keeping children ignorant of harm and harm-reduction, we can keep them safe. It’s a ridiculous notion, and one that will only backfire; just look at the rate of STDs and unintended pregnancy among teens in abstinence-only classes versus those that receive comprehensive sexual education. If these people were in your school district and demanding that your children not receive information about seat belts wouldn’t you be incensed?

Well, someone needs to have a talk with parents like Nick Comaianni and Mary Koslowski, then. These are two New York City parents who are opposing the teaching AIDS and HIV education in their public schools. Fundies like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights claims that the program "represents a coordinated effort on the part of city officials to sexually engineer our children." I’m not sure what "sexually engineer" means to someone like Donohue (it reminds me of that episode of Buffy where Warren creates that sexbot to replace his ex-girlfriend), but somehow I doubt it has anything to do with teaching kids to wash their hands. According to the New York City Department of Education, the curriculum for grades K-3 includes these controversial topics:

General basics of disease prevention: washing hands, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and cleaning and bandaging cuts. Later they learn not to touch other people’s blood, and to ask adults for help when someone is bleeding.

The horror! That children might learn not to handle someone else’s blood or cover their mouths when they cough!

Donohue’s anti-education rant continues with comments like this: "If they were truly interested in protecting kids from diseases, they would start by teaching them about such things as food poisoning." Oddly, I couldn’t agree more. What I want to know from Donohue is why does he assume that a lesson on not eating undercooked meat or mushrooms from your backyard is somehow threatened by teaching five-year-olds that it’s generally a good idea to get help from an adult if little Timmy splits his head open on the monkey bars. I understand the limitations of time and funding might force public schools to make decisions about what material to cover and what to ignore (might I suggest Calculus in the latter category), but I’m pretty sure that something as fundamental as avoiding food poisoning is going to make the "to teach" list.

HIV/AIDS prevention is not a moral issue—it’s a public health issue. People have HIV, and it doesn’t really matter in the long run if they got it through unprotected sex, intravenous drug use or a blood transfusion, the truth of the matter is the only way to make sure that our children are protected against this and other diseases is to teach them that these things exist, and that there are ways to reduce our risks of contracting them. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, and refusing to talk to your children about the inherent risks of all behaviors doesn’t make your moral, it makes you every bit as irresponsible and reckless as you don’t want your own children to be.


annamaria at 9:49 AM

3 spoke


at Tuesday, March 21, 2006 10:55:00 AM Blogger Wake of the Flood said...

Lowering the level of polemics in health and sex education policy decisions would be a very good thing. One of the difficulties in doing so, however, is the insistence that public education be morally neutral. Our attempts at this often lead to implicitly espousing one moral position over another without allowing for any discussion of how behavior and morality are intertwined. The abstinence-only folks seek to privilege their values over the values of others, but no less so than many others. Maybe it's time we acknowledge that personal values play a role in our decision making when designing health and sex education curricula. We trust teachers to deal with values and morals in other areas (like teaching the history of Hiroshima or Viet Nam), and expect the school boards and school administration to oversee that they do not unduly influence their students in these areas. I believe the vast majority of teachers are not driven by a moral agenda in their teaching. The sex and health educators who are should not be teaching in those fields. Rather than attempting to micro-manage education through policy we need to be sure we are getting the right people in the appropriate positions.

at Tuesday, March 21, 2006 11:30:00 AM Blogger annamaria said...

I wholeheartedly support any sexual health program that places at its center the lesson that sexual abstinence is the only guaranteed, 100% effective means of preventing unintended pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. But stopping the lesson at that is foolhardy—it assumes that the lesson will hold in every circumstance and that people will always act accordingly. Responsible sexual education encompasses both abstinence and risk-reduction behavior. It says while we would prefer that you do not engage in sexual behavior, it is more important that if you do, you do so carefully and safely with full knowledge of the risks involved and how to decrease them. Is this a personal value that affects how we design sexual health curricula? Of course! But I would argue that it is a better value since it emphasizes personal responsibility and public health rather than the knee-jerk “sex is bad” moralizing of the far right. The reason I don’t see the K-3 HIV/AIDS prevention education as a moral issue is that it does not focus on sexuality but rather simple disease prevention—they emphasize washing your hands! Frankly, I’d be concerned if kids didn’t know this by age 5 already! As the kids get older, sure, there are moral issues to weigh, but it comes down to, like you say Wake, making sure that our educators are able to teach kids without succumbing to some ideological agenda, be it right- or left-wing.

at Tuesday, March 21, 2006 2:20:00 PM Blogger Kurt said...

i love how you two can use so many words to agree. i really do. especially when i concur as well.


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