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Comment on ‘Sex Ed in Washington’ (Ross Douhat, 2/10/2010)

February 10, 2010

In response to:

Sex Ed in Washington

New York Times | February 10, 2010

Ross, somebody needs to call you on the underhanded rhetorical tricks you employ so frequently in your columns.  You use the term “abstinence-based sex education” , which sounds innocuous enough on the face of it, when what you’re really talking about is abstinence-ONLY sex-ed. – an entirely different thing.  I don’t think any thinking people – those who you like to tag with the discredited “liberal” label, but most of whom prefer to self-identify as “progressive” these days – object to teaching teens the virtues of holding off on being sexually active until they’re at least old enough to die for their country. What we object to is the idea that our scarce tax dollars are being allocated to promote a thinly-disguised religious theme, and that some small minority’s narrow view of morality is being gussied up and passed off as legitimate educational content. Even if it “only” costs $100MM (as an aside – can we take you as being on record that things that cost around $100MM or so are beneath notice and therefore should be taken off the table for criticism? Can we hold you to that?)

Secondly, there is NO legitimate public policy goal of keeping citizens from engaging in consensual, age-appropriate sexual behavior. Or, to paraphrase a favorite canard of those of your political bent: “keep your government hands out of my kid’s underwear.” There IS a legitimate public policy goal of reducing teen pregnancy and STDs, one well-worthy of $100MM in investment (because those social problems cost a hell of a lot more than $100MM). To achieve those ends, it’s criminally negligent to insist that only the narrow abstinence-only message be taught in schools. The reason for that – as if any thinking person should have to be told! – is that the vast majority of kids who will at some point fail to heed the abstinence-only message deserve protection from catastrophic consequences for a relatively small mistake that most humans make in one form or another before they settle down to become responsible members of society.

Thirdly, Kristen Luker said it’s “surprisingly difficult” to show results. It should surprise no one that a diligent sociologist would make that statement, as the tools of sociology are notoriously inadequate to the task of demonstrating to Cartesian standards that any single input in a complicated social matrix has an absolute and irrefutable effect on a particular outcome, and particularly one that’s as unverifiable as what happens in post-prom teenaged grope-sessions in back seats. So, more rhetorical shadiness.

The better indicator for those of us who don’t have peer-reviewed articles or Ph. D. theses to defend is to seek analogies with other efforts to protect kids from the tragic excesses of their hormonally-driven impulses. Driver’s education and drug & alcohol education are two obvious candidates…perhaps even more so the intersection of the two. Anybody who’d argue that we shouldn’t require kids to learn as much about their own bodies as they do about the rules of the road, or about how to balance their carnal desires in the same way they do their desire to catch a chemical buzz, is an utter fool.

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