Thursday, July 19, 2007

Obama, sex education, and the inevitable smears

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's our Headline of the Day. And what a doozy it is:

As it turns out -- and of course this never, ever happens in the MSM -- the headline is a gross misrepresentation both of the article below it and of Obama's views. Well done, ABC.

Right-wing nutjob Alan Keyes smeared Obama over this issue during their Senate race in Illinois in '04. At least in its headline, ABC has resurrected that smear. The impression one gets is that Obama wants innocent, wide-eyed kindergartners to be taught the finer points of anal sex technique.

But -- no. What Obama actually supports is "age-appropriate sex education, science-based sex education in schools," which is a great idea, one very much at odds with the anti-sex, anti-science bias of the right. Given that our children are being inundated with sexual images, that they are learning about sex, and not always good things about sex, at ever younger ages, that they are having sex at ever younger ages, or at least having irresponsible sex at disturbingly young ages, that HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy remain serious problems, that, in generally, our children are being sexualized at early ages, there very much needs to be such sex education in the schools -- and this goes for Canada as well as for the U.S., I might add (Europe tends to be more progressive, in a good way).

Does this mean starting early -- like, in kindergarten? Yes, absolutely. Should children not be told the truth about where babies come from? Some details could be avoided, of course, but what is the point of lying to them or otherwise denying their budding sexuality and interest in sexuality?

Now, we get this in the ABC piece, but well below the headline:

"Keep in mind: I honor and respect young people who choose to delay sexual activity," Obama continued. "I've got two daughters, and I want them to understand that sex is not something casual. That's something that we definitely want to communicate and should be part of any curriculum. But we also know that when the statistics tell us that nearly half of 15 to 19 year olds are engaging in sexual activity, that for us to leave them in ignorance is potentially consigning them to illness, pregnancy, poverty, and in some cases, death."

When Obama's campaign was asked by ABC News to explain what kind of sex education Obama considers "age appropriate" for kindergarteners, the Obama campaign pointed to an Oct. 6, 2004 story from the Daily Herald in which Obama had "moved to clarify" in his Senate campaign that he "does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten. . . The legislation in question was a state Senate measure last year that aimed to update Illinois' sex education standards with 'medically accurate' information . . . 'Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it,' Obama said. 'If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case by case basis by local communities and local school boards.'"

In addition to local schools informing kindergarteners that babies do not come from the stork, the state legislation Obama supported in Illinois, which contained an "opt out" provision for parents, also envisioned teaching kindergarteners about "inappropriate touching," according to Obama's presidential campaign. Despite Obama's support, the legislation was not enacted.

So: Obama does not support teaching "sex ed.," broadly understood as what might be taught to teenagers, to kindergartners. Rather, he supports sexual responsibility, including birth control, and respects abstinence. In other words, he takes sex and sexuality seriously. Rather than seeking to suppress it, or to encourage young people to repress it, which is how many on the right treat it, he wishes to empower young people to make responsible decisions. And this starts with ensuring that they know the truth -- for what is a responsible decision if not an informed decision? So he supports the teaching of "'medically accurate' information" -- again, in an "age-appropriate" way. What should be taught to a 16-year old is obviously different than what should be taught to a 5-year old. In addition, he wishes to empower parents to make decisions regarding their children's sex education, too. And is it not a good idea, too, to teach children -- and this is where getting to them at a young age is crucial -- about "inappropriate touching," that is, about sexual abuse? Why pretend it doesn't exist? It does, and it happens a lot, more often than parents know, or want to know. Shouldn't our children know what it is and what to do about it?

Kudos to Obama for taking this stand on sex education. Given how both his opponents on the right and the media that cover him misrepresent his views, making him out to be some sort of pervert, it is truly a courageous stand.

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  • Yes! Forget about what the abstinence nuts preach! We need complete strangers to have discussions with our infants about sex in order to protect them from perverts!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:12 PM  

  • "Given that our children are being inundated"

    They are not "our children".

    They are my children. I do not want, nor need, a bunch of socialistic nut jobs from the left teaching my children what is my job to teach them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:59 PM  

  • He has children. You have children. I have children. When talking about all the children, our children implies nothing more than good grammar.

    Teachers aren't strangers. They are people who parents and children come to know very well.

    I have no problem with my children learning what areas of their bodies are private. They learn that at home. The knowledge is reinforced by their teacher at school. There is nothing wrong in that. Some children might not understand the first discussion. Some may forget.

    Some parents will always be too busy, or won't realize that their children are old enough to become victims. What is wrong with teachers teaching those students what areas of their bodies are private, to tell their parents and teachers should anyone try to touch those private areas.

    There is nothing wrong with helping children to protect themselves. There is nothing wrong with Obama for trying to help protect very young school age children.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:45 PM  

  • The John McCain attack ad purporting that Barack Obama advocates age-appropriate and science-based sex education in schools has again exposed the general lack of understanding that the public has about sex education. Most of the negative comments about Obama on internet blogs seem to make the assumption that the intention of age-appropriate and science-based sex education is to teach very young children about intercourse and other adult sexual activities. That is not what Obama meant and it is not something that young children even have the capacity to grasp.

    What Obama was talking about was warning young children about sexual predators and explaining concepts like “good touch and bad touch.” A specific example would be teaching young children that it is inappropriate to touch ANYONE else without their permission, including other children. This is a very important lesson and one that should be reinforced by teaching the children how to comfortably say "NO" when they are asked and do not wish to be physically touched in any way. In addition to the problem of sexual predators, children can be very disrespectful to other children and their early experiences, particularly in the public schools, often leave scars that last a lifetime.

    Other industrialized countries that teach age-appropriate and science-based sex education in the public schools have much lower rates of unwanted teenage pregnancy, abortion and STDs. Also, many studies have shown that the more age-appropriate and science-based sex education a person has, ,on average, the longer they will delay the age of initial intercourse.

    It is vital that we all understand the issues involved with this discussion (the very safety of very young as well as older children) and how important they are to all of us, our society and, especially our children.
    Gary Schubach, Ed.D., A.C.S.

    By Blogger Doctor G, at 4:07 PM  

  • I think what is most disconcerting here is not the idea that Obama supports teaching kindergarten students "age-appropriate sex ed." To frame the conversation in such a way sets up a straw man. To say you are against it is to, based on your interpretation, enable child abuse. The problem here is that this is one more step in a long line of efforts by state and federal government to assume the role of parenting. What ever happened to letting parents be parents? Why is it the government's job to teach our children anything about sex?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:23 PM  

  • Our society has an obligation to offer comprehensive age-appropriate and science-based sex education because the parents and churches are not meeting this responsibility, particularly teaching ONLY abstinence. We are the only industrialized nation that does not have universal comprehensive age-appropriate and science-based sex education and the cost to our society in unplanned pregnancies, STDs and countless human tragedies is just too high.
    Gary Schubach, Ed.D., A.C.S.

    By Blogger Doctor G, at 3:09 PM  

  • The thing to think about here is that we do have high teen pregnancy rates, we do have STDs running rampant in our society, we need this in school. Our teachers are not strangers, they are respected by our children and in some cases spend more time with our children during the week than parents do. Parents being parents just isn't the case, alot of parents aren't being parents when it comes to educating their children about sex. I personaly would welcome this, if inappropriate touch were talked about with younger children it could really help them to not be afraid to come to us if, God forbid, someone were to molest them. Teaching abstinence is ok but kids will still be kids and they will still be curoious and experiment, there is nothing that can replace knowledge. I would much rather find out my teen was experimenting or even having sex by finding a condom in their bag, than hearing "Mom I'm pregnant". Come on grow up people someone has to teach our children about sex. Ooh SEX, I know to some of you it's just so scary, but come on it's life, it's natural, and they are going to do it someday, better to be informed than to be ignorant.

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