In 2007 I happened to see a sign in the State Bureau of Vital Statistics that listed the 2005 facts I mention below in my article. The NC legislature was beginning to consider the comprehensive sex ed bill( Healthy Youth Act H88/S221 ) at the time. As I began to think about that bill I sensed a kind of link between that issue and the driver's license as a universally accepted rite of passage. I struggled to organize a coherent argument. This year, when I heard Rep. Ty Harrell, a leading sponsor of the bill, in an interview on WPTF (of all places) make an offhand comment about the driver’s license during the discussion, my concept finally clicked. I.e. sex ed is more important to the public good than are teen drivers licenses.
A few weeks ago I attempted to submit my piece to the N&O Op-Ed Point of View page. After a couple of weeks had elapsed and there was no response to the first version, I decided it could be improved. Also, by then the story about the newly proposed opt-out option had appeared in the N&O. I then used this angle to redesign my POV. Long story short, still no response. So I called the page editor who said to resubmit it. And still not even at least a form e-letter of any kind.
Since the issue is so timely, I decided I might find a more receptive place here in BlueNC., especially after reading the friendly invitation to test the waters of blogging.
Now that the house bill has made it to the senate, I hope my article might offer a fresh look at the issue that might invigorate the debate toward passage of a more effective sex ed program.
So without further ado, I present my first blog.
Opt-Out is Irresponsible: Time To Rethink Sex-Ed
By Nell Steelman Whitlock
When your kid hits puberty, just toss him or her the keys to the family car and say “ Here, Kid. Take a ride. You’ll get the hang of it eventually. Especially if you don’t get into a wreck. So, just say no to car wrecks before you are married.” No sane adult would allow ignorant (as in “uninformed”) adolescents to drive without lessons, insurance, and license. But isn’t that what we’ve been doing when it concerns their reproductive systems?
The N&O reports lawmakers now propose an opt-out provision in the new comprehensive sex ed bill. Opt-out is irresponsible unless parents agree to provide comparable comprehensive sex ed at home.
North Carolinians must rethink the sex ed issue and examine why so many adults are determined to keep our younger citizens ignorant about how their own bodies work. After decades of inadequate programs, NC public health and taxpayers’ pocketbooks have suffered. It’s way past time to try something different. Ignorance about sex is no less dangerous and costly to kids and the public than are uncertified drivers. However, there’s a big difference. We can legislate qualifications and licensing age, but we can’t tell Mother Nature to hold the reproductive plan until the kids are 18. It’s a real bummer that she enabled our bodies to reproduce at the most inconvenient time of early adolescence before kids are even old enough to finish high school, much less college. We’ve been telling them “Just Say No!” No to what, they might well ask. Thus, we get fun facts like these from 2005, posted in the NC Bureau of Vital Statistics lobby:
Total births 123,040 (out of wedlock 47,248 (white 26,048 minority 21,200)
Youngest mother 10
Youngest father 14
These statistics have helped North Carolina achieve its startling rank as #14 in the national teen birth rate chart in a recent CDC report (U.S. News and World Report, January 8, 2009,) just behind South Carolina. One in four teenage girls has an STD; presumably quite a few boys do, too. Some track record for futile abstinence only programs produced by private contractors for 1.3 billion federal tax dollars through March 2008!
Perhaps the two things parents of adolescents most dread are the driver’s license and sex education. Parents can control access to the family car easier than they can the behavior of their teens with surging hormones. Actually, they can forbid their kids from even learning to drive before they are 18.
Most cultures have some sort of ritual, generally within a religious context, that celebrates puberty as the beginning of adulthood. Our secular, culturally diverse nation has one nearly universally agreed-upon such rite of passage: the driver’s license.
With the model of the driver’s license in mind, I suggest developing a standardized test for adolescents to demonstrate competent, comprehensive knowledge about how their reproductive systems work. It should include facts about behavioral consequences on their own lives, family and society. Passing it earns adolescents a comprehensive sex ed certificate that’s far more important to the public good than is the driver’s license.
Kids aren’t born with an owner’s manual for their bodies. But they’re eager to learn. Either they learn by trial and error or someone has to teach them. No problem showing them how to use their brains in school or eyes and legs to cross the street safely. But mention the reproductive system, then many adults freak out. Is it a power thing? Perhaps these adults subconsciously feel somewhat threatened by the rising Generation Next. Knowledge is power. Many adults seem reluctant to relinquish to adolescents knowledge about reproduction because it means having to confront their own mortality. So to “protect the children,” adults throw up defenses of morality, religious tradition and legal restrictions about the amazing bodies we live in. This makes the mysterious forbidden fruit even more alluring to inquisitive, passionate adolescents. Nature has seen to that. Facts, however, can help diffuse and control the passions.
Adults owe adolescents timely, practical information about sex. But first, adults must get over their sex education hang-ups, especially concerning who should instruct their kids. Parents can choose: school, home or other parentally approved person, just as long as their kids can pass the test. There is no excuse for ignorance-based sex ed.
Many parents welcome their freedom from chauffeuring their kids. Perhaps, to incentivize reluctant parents, this sex-ed certificate could be a required prerequisite to the graduated driver’s license. It’s not essential that teens drive cars, but it is essential they acquire comprehensive, medically correct information about human reproduction in time to maximize the benefits---- before they are old enough to get behind the wheel. Then, at least, they have a better chance to make better decisions affecting their futures.