Speech/Letter To A School Board about Abstinence-Only Education

I come to you this evening as a former teacher, parent, and concerned community member to speak against the present sex education curriculum that emphasizes abstinence only. To put it simply, it does not work. While there is nothing wrong with abstinence, it needs to be seen as a tool for preventing the spread of STDs and unwanted pregnancies and not as the only tool we give to our children. You wouldn’t try to build a house with only a screwdriver, so why would you teach a student that the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDs is only through abstinence? It makes no sense.
I am a former teacher of both English and health in the states of Florida and South Carolina. I taught at both the middle school and high school levels. In both of those states, abstinence only education is the norm. I personally taught students, 7th and 8th graders in particular, who already had one or two children of their own by the time they reached my classroom. At the high school level, I witnessed the same pattern. Part of this was due to the educational system failing them by only offering abstinence as a way of avoiding getting pregnant. While abstinence is the only way to absolutely guarantee not getting pregnant, it is not the only way. When I saw groups such as the one that comes into our schools come into schools where I taught, it was cringeworthy to say the least.
For one, they painted the girls as the cause for abstinence failure while leaving the boys off the hook. Much like the recent gum demonstration by the group within our schools, female students were painted as promiscuous seductresses who lead boys into having sex as they had sex with one boy, but saw no reason why they should not have sex with another. The males are somehow always seen as the victims. This is not only misogyny, but also mixes in fundamentalist Old Testament blame for the fall of man due to women. Last I checked, it takes both genders to have sex that can possibly result in pregnancy.
Second, as mammals and primates, we humans are naturally curious about our bodies and those of others around us. Teenagers have been experimenting with their sexuality most likely since the dawn of the human race. Many times, it starts as self-exploration, but it can evolve into exploring it with someone else. When and if that occurs, we owe it to our children to give them the tools aside from abstinence to practice safe sex. This means to tell them about contraceptive methods and, if possible, make them easily available for them to obtain. If we do not, they will not know about them or, if they do happen to learn about them, will be too scared to obtain them. In doing so, they will place themselves at risk for an unplanned pregnancy and possibly STDs.
Third, one of the most ludicrous things that the program presently being used suggests is the idea of “reclaimed virginity”. Hate to break it to you, but that is not possible. Once an individual has sexual intercourse, he or she is no longer a virgin. He or she cannot become a virgin again. Maybe celibate, but not a virgin. A girl’s hymen does not miraculously regrown nor does the semen somehow re-enter the boy. An amusing anecdote to this is a conversation I overheard two of my 7th graders having one day. It was shortly after the group there had performed their “education” for the students. One girl told her friend that she was no longer a virgin. The other asked who she had sex with. The first girl responded that she hadn’t had sex, but simply used a tampon, so she was no longer a virgin. They looked up and saw that I was standing behind them. Having built a rapport with my students, I asked them to remain after class. I called in a female teacher from an adjoining room and we explained to them that virginity could only be lost through having sexual intercourse. While I haven’t heard the claim made by the local group, it is made by some. That type of misinformation, aside from being misinformation, can also cause harm to a student psychologically and possibly even socially. Can you imagine if it had gone around a school of 1500 that someone was no longer a virgin when that was not the case?
Fourth, that brings me to the whole shaming that the abstinence only education produces. Making students sign a pledge to remain abstinent and even going as far as encouraging purity rings sets many students up for failure and ridicule from their peers. Well, at least the female students. Male students still get away with breaking them under the whole “boys will be boys” excuse malarkey. Girls face the brunt of the shaming when it comes to this area between self-talk if she should engage in sex to the social gossip that goes on within our schools. The teenage years are painful enough without adding shame to them. An article in Psychology Today from September 2017 brings up the practice of “slut shaming” that is prevalent in these abstinence only programs. One example they gave was one that I personally witnessed as a teacher where the group presenting had each student write whether or not she or he were a virgin. No names were given. The presenter made a similar comment made in the article by saying that “all the students who were not virgins likely had STDs and wouldn’t finish high school”. Seriously?!? The students I mentioned at the beginning of my talk all graduated or earned their GEDs, by the way.
Fifth, these abstinence only programs ignore that there may be some students who are sexually active already and, thus, in doing so, do not give them access to contraceptive methods or ways to prevent STDs. That was also backed up by the article from Psychology Today.
Many students cannot rely on their parent(s)/guardian(s) to educate them about sex or contraception. It is up to the schools to do this. Abstinence only education fails to do this and, by failing to do this, it fails our children. We cannot have groups like the one being used to teach our children. It would be much better to have the local health department send someone to do this or even reach out to the Education, Biology or Medical programs in local universities like Syracuse, LeMoyne, or SUNY Upstate to send in professionals to teach our youth. Theology and religious based programs do not belong in the public schools. If parents want them, then the parents should either have their children in private religious schools or arrange for their faith leaders to teach them and exempt them from science-based sex education. That is what this all boils down to after all. Yes, abstinence is the only sure fire way to prevent pregnancy and reduce the chances of students developing and STD or STI. However, it is not the only way and our students deserve all the tools they may need rather than just a screwdriver.
Thank you.

Works Cited

Mintz, Laurie. “Abstinence-Only Sex Ed: Harmful? Unethical?”. Psychology Today. September 5, 2017. .

The Need for Touch

The Need for Touch

“Hand over hand
Doesn’t seem so much
Hand over hand
Is the strength of the common touch”-Rush

Humankind needs touch. Not simply in a sexual manner, but in general as well. It helps us connect with one another and the world. Touch is energy. When we touch, we share energy that permeates all nature. That’s why there is so much more to massage, hugs, and other forms of touch that bring energy and even healing to us. The ancients knew this, but modern society has forgotten. We could heal so much of the pain and suffering in the world if we would simply touch more.

We, in the West, have become more fearful of touch. We’ve even come to the point where we believe all touch either has a sexual component to it or is simply bad It’s not, expect when that touch is forced or coerced. Rather, touch is necessary. Humanity cannot survive without touch. Psychological studies have shown what the lack of touch does to a sentient being. Take, for example, the baby monkeys used in psychologist Harry Harlow’s experiments.

In his experiments, he separated rhesus monkey babies from their mothers shortly after birth. He gave them a choice of a “mother” made of bare wire and one of the same bare wire covered with a soft cloth. His experiment first found “that monkeys who had a choice of mothers spent far more time clinging to the terry cloth surrogates, even when their physical nourishment came from bottles mounted on the bare wire mothers”(Herman). He went so far as to make it so that both types of surrogates provided milk, but still noticed that the “Monkeys who had soft, tactile contact behaved quite differently than monkeys whose mothers were made out of cold, hard wire”(Herman). Taking it further, he introduced “strange, loud objects, such as teddy bears beating drums” and found that the “monkeys raised by terry cloth surrogates made bodily contact with their mothers, rubbed against them, and eventually calmed down”, while those raised by the bare wire ones “threw themselves on the floor, clutched themselves, rocked back and forth, and screamed in terror”(Herman). It was the touch that made the difference. A soft, caring touch created a calming and stable effect on the monkeys. He tied the results of these experiments to children in adoption situations versus those in institutionalized situations (Herman).

This was not lost on the Chinese as in many of their orphanages they have connected them to senior living establishments to facilitate touch between the babies and the elderly knowing that both will benefit from touch. While not ideal, it still has a positive effect on babies when it comes to their later adjustment when adopted from the orphanages.

We date, pair with someone or with multiple partners, and marry to experience touch on an intimate level. Without it, relationships and marriages suffer. While the leading cause of divorce is attributed to financial reasons, I’d hazard to guess that lack of intimacy is either second or an underlying reason. Perhaps one reason for premarital sex is the need for touch with someone aside from family members. In teens, it may be to simply connect with someone who is going through similar changes and explore touch in ways that will help them understand their future mates. It is obvious that self-touch occurs often as a way of exploring what feels good, so it would follow that sharing touch with another person flows from that.

We need touch. A relatively recent therapy, Cuddle Therapy, shows this need is rising. In it, people pay a professional cuddler to simply hold them for a certain time frame. There is no sex and both the cuddler and person being cuddled are fully clothed. It is simply being touched and held that matters. Ada Lippin, CEO and co-founder of Cuddlist, puts it this way:

“We’re touch-deprived, and most of us don’t know it consciously. All we know is that there’s loneliness and stress and a deep sense of missing out. We feel this because there’s a biochemical yearning for something that is missing in our lives. And there is something missing: touch and the connection with others that it fosters”(Cuddlist).

Biblically, the numerous accounts of Jesus healing others came through touching them. There is even an instance where he was unable to go to the person needing healed and simply sent his healing energy to the person and healed them.

There is an energy within touch or even the proximity of someone touching us that can heal us. This is the basis of a form of massage called Reiki wherein the both the person and the practitioner are fully clothed. The practitioner places his or her hands either on the patient or just above the patient and allows the energy of touch to help heal the body naturally. It needs noted that most responsible practitioners of Reiki also know when modern medicine is necessary and consider their form of help to be used in conjunction with modern medicine. Yet, there is a certain power in the simple hand positions used in Reiki that helps both the patient and the healer feel better.

Touch can heal the world. Touch is very powerful. Touch is what the world needs more of to heal us all.

Works Cited

Cuddlist. Https://cuddlist.com

“Hand over Fist Lyrics.” Lyrics.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2018. Web. Feb. 2018. .

Herman, Ellen. Harry F. Harlow, Monkey Love Experiments. The Adoption History Project. University of Oregon. 24 February 2012. http://pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/studies/HarlowMLE.htm. 7 February 2018.

The Myth of White Superiority-A Brief Look

It’s time once again for me to anger some people and delight others. With the recent installation of a new president in the United States, there has been a surge in the numbers of white supremacist groups, along with other hate groups that are primarily made up of individuals of white European backgrounds. They all claim to be of a superior race. It’s not a new thing that they’re claiming, but it is a myth or rather an invention of culture that has sullied the human race over time.

Gene researchers have concluded that race simply does not exist. All humankind is genetically the same. Our differences in appearance are evolutionary mutations that helped our ancestors adapt the climate where they lived. In fact, “the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)issued a statement asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth” in 1950 (Sussman). Dr. Sussman, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, further states that while “the concept of human races is real. It is not a biological reality, but a cultural one. Race is not a part of our biology, but it is definitely part of our culture”(Sussman).

I recently read, and I apologize as I do not recall from where, how at one time in our nation’s history, indentured whites and blacks were considered to be on the same level, the lowest in fact. However, in order for the white elites to maintain power, they allowed the poor and indentured whites to believe they were part of the ruling class based not on economic status, but on race. Much of this occurred as a result of Bacon’s Rebellion in the 1675, when Nathaniel Bacon, “a white property owner in Jamestown, Virginia,…managed to unite slaves, indentured servants, and poor whites in a revolutionary effort to overthrow the planter elite” (The Birth of Slavery). When the uprising was suppressed, the wealthy planters put into motion changes that brought in more slaves from Africa rather than ones from the West Indies who might know English and be able to try to unite again with the indentured servants and poor whites (The Birth of Slavery). As such, the poor whites, while allowed to vote, felt they were superior to black people based on their being white rather than being any better off than the black people were.

The myth of superiority of whites simply continued as our nation developed and the myth continued to be perpetuated though laws and stereotypes. Historically, there was, of course, the whole Eugenics area of pseudo-science that tried to perpetuate these ideas of race and racial superiority. Nazi Germany was perhaps the most infamous for this as they tried to show the superiority of the Northern white Europeans over everyone else. Even in the history of politics, we have the words of Lyndon B. Johnson who said, “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. [commenting on racial epithets seen on signs as he visited in Tennessee] If you convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

What does all this have to do with life in 2017? Everything. This myth of white superiority has never gone away. It’s why there are people who complain about the Black Lives Matter movement and reply with All Lives Matter. It’s why enough people went out and voted in such a way as to give an openly racist and xenophobic person the Electoral Votes to win the presidency, even though he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, which he claims were rigged. It’s why there are people who have given themselves over to irrational fear of immigrants from primarily non-white countries and who are of primarily non-white dominated religions. Racism is not dead by a long shot, but it is, despite the uptick of hate groups in recent years, terminally ill.

One remaining vestige of the myth remains with white privilege. There are whites who wrongly claim this does not exist. Many of these white privilege deniers think that since they are not wealthy, then they cannot be considered privileged. These folks still buy into the same culturally based myth as the poor whites did after Bacon’s Rebellion, yet they refuse to see how people of color are treated differently than they are treated. They do not see how law enforcement target people of color in subtle and not so subtle ways. They don’t hear car doors lock at a stoplight when they walk pass. They do not know what it feels like to be denied service or even a loan because their skin color makes them a credit risk. If a white person commits a terrorist act, that person is deemed mentally unstable; however, if a person of color, especially a person of color who is also a non-Christian commits a similar act, then not only is the act labeled an act of terrorism, but it’s expected by the media that all members of the perpetrator’s race or religion come out to condemn the attack or else they are deemed to be in favor of it.

That’s white privilege. Those are not exhaustive examples, but I’m not writing a dissertation on racism or white privilege either.

White privilege is not about wealth or status. It’s about how being born white, particularly a white male, makes it that the person can get away with things that his or her non-white peer cannot. It’s the white kid caught with a joint who gets a verbal reprimand, but her non-white counterpart gets suspended or expelled from school. It’s the Asian kid who is told they must be good in math or science based simply on the color of his or her skin, while his or her white counterpart rarely hears that. It’s the Middle Eastern person who is seen as a terrorist, while his or her white neighbor never gets a second glance. It’s the Black person who is seen as a threat simply by walking down the street, while a white person is not. It’s the Hispanic person who gets asked if he or she is an illegal, even though he or she was born in the United States, but the white person is not. It’s stop and frisk versus let him or her pass freely. It’s fear that creeps into the heart whenever law enforcement passes a person even though he or she knows that he or she is doing nothing wrong.

White people need to own up to this problem and work to eradicate it. While a few whites may see this as an “us vs them” issue, it is not. Our country is based on the ideal that all humankind are equals. If a white person is treated better or differently than a person of color, that damages us all, if we truly believe in equality for all people. Some whites will feel threatened by this for fear that those who have been treated unfairly will rise up against them. Some whites fear no longer being in the majority and, therefore, feel they must fight for their culturally given right to remain a superior race. But again, there is no race aside from the human race. That’s a scientifically proven fact.

When it all comes down to it, all humankind are the same. There are good people and bad people of every skin pigmentation. There are intelligent people and, frankly, stupid people of every skin pigmentation. There are good people and bad people from every religion and no religion at all. People are simply people. Messy, mixed-up, and imperfect humankind.

We, as humanity, must begin to shift our conversations from non-existent race and toward conquering the problems we face as humankind. Problems that are not perpetuated by any race or religion, but by people being irrational and cruel to one another. Problems caused by not seeing one another as human beings regardless of skin color and treating one another with mutual love and respect that is due to all humanity.

Alexander, Michelle. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The Birth of Slavery (Bacon’s Rebellion), The New Press, 2010, http://www.duboislc.net/read/BirthOfSlavery.html. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.

Sussman, Robert W. “The Myth of Races:Why are we divided by race when there is no such thing?.” Rawstory, Rawstory, 9 Nov. 2014, http://www.rawstory.com/2014/11/the-myth-of-race-why-are-we-divided-by-race-when-there-is-no-such-thing/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.

Genetically Modified Foods aka Frankenfoods are Dangerous

I recently took a vacation to my hometown in Ohio. While driving down the interstate, I noticed a couple of billboards taking a stand in support of genetically modified food crops. (At least one of these was sponsored by the largest manufacturer of GMOs, Monsanto). At the time, I had a vague sense of an idea as to what these crops were. The information given to the public states the purpose of these crops is to grow more food easier as genetically modified crops are more disease, drought, and insect resistant. Sounds like a great idea on the surface. Face it, if farmers can grow crops faster and lose less to environmental problems, then they will make a better profit and consumers will have an abundance of food making prices lower and products more available. It is a win-win situation, right? I decided to check up on these genetically modified crops, hereafter referred to as GMOs or GEs for genetically engineered.

What I found was some scary stuff. Most of this comes from a group called GM Know. They are a group of concerned citizens who have been studying this for years on their own. Their website is gmknow.org and that is from where a great deal of this background information comes. I thank them for posting this information and for helping to inform consumers about GMOs and GEs.

First off, genetically engineered foods are created in a lab rather than naturally occurring. What happens is that food scientists insert a gene, virus, or bacteria from one type of plant or similar species of the same plant into another to change how the plant reacts to insects, diseases, or environmental conditions. Another way to put this is to imagine that you spray an insecticide on a plant, but rather than being able to wash it off prior to eating it, that you cannot and it becomes part of the plant. Guess what happens when you eat the plant. You ingest that insecticide. Sounds tasty, right? The advantage is that there are primarily usually only six foods sold in the US that are genetically engineered: Corn, Soybeans, Canola, Sugar beets, Cotton, and Papaya.

Wait a minute! Corn, Soybeans, Sugar beets, and Canola? Aren’t those found in a great number of foods that we eat either completely or in part? Sure they are. We use corn in many ways. We eat it whole, in cereals, in its oil form, in most pre-packaged foods as corn syrup or hydrogenated oil. We feed it to livestock to fatten them up faster. We use soybeans in much the same way. Sugar beets are used to make, what else, sugar. Canola is considered healthy oil. So this means that every day, people are possibly eating products made using GMOs/GEs. The scarier part is that you do not know if you are eating them or not since the FDA does not currently call for mandatory labeling of products containing GMOs or GEs. However, other countries have done a great deal of research about them and the facts are startling. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will refer to a list of four studies done on animals in other countries as posted on the GM Know website.

They state that Scotland studied “GE potatoes” that were “fed to rats.” The study “showed lowered nutritional content and suffered damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers and testicles and enlarged intestines” (GM Know). In addition, the Austrians studied “that mice fed GE corn had fewer litters and fewer total offspring” (GM Know). The French “found that GE corn previously thought harmless revealed hormone-dependent diseases and early signs of toxicity in rats” (GM Know). Finally, the Australians found that “a harmless gene in a bean engineered into a pea produced immune reactions in mice, indicating allergic reactions and/or toxins” (GM Know). Here in the United States, the FDA has relied on the data given to them by the companies who create the GMOs and GEs and “they’re not required to give all their data to the FDA” (GM Know). Like too many things in the US, the reliance on the companies to self-monitor is much like putting the criminals in charge of the jail. Rarely do they tell the whole truth, especially if profits will suffer.

In an article that I gathered from the Cornucopia website, Maria Rodale, CEO and Chair of Rodale, Inc., cites a number of independent studies that point to the dangers of GMOs/GEs. One study she cites, taken from a journal entitled Nature Biotechnology, states “after we eat GMO soy, some of the GMO genes are transferred to the microflora of our intestines and those GMO genes are still active” (Rodale). She goes on to state that a study found in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, “found Bt-toxin (used in genetically modified Bt corn) in the blood of 93 percent of the pregnant women studied and their babies. The study authors suggest that aside from eating products made from GMO crops, eating meat from animals fed GMO crops make lead to a ‘high risk of exposure’”(Rodale). She finally lists a study performed Italian researchers that was published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that discovered “that in young and older mice fed Bt corn, there were changes to their immune systems that corresponded with allergic and inflammatory responses. In humans these same inflammatory changes are associated with arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, and autoimmune diseases” (Rodale).

Now, wait another minute! Do you notice something here? There have been a great number of reports claiming that Americans, especially American children, are suffering from more allergies and autoimmune diseases than ever before. Could there be a link to this and the use of GMOs/GEs? I am not a scientist and will not pretend to be one; however, if these independent studies are showing the possibility of GMOs/GEs causing changes in animal tests, then what is to say they cannot also changes to humans? Someone needs to look into this further. There are more and more children becoming victims of cancer at younger and younger ages. We owe it to our children to demand independent studies on these GMOs/GEs, rather than allow the corporations to police themselves and tell us all is well based on their tests. More about their testing follows.

What this boils down to is that while the companies creating these GMOs/GEs state that these products are safe for human consumption saying that the cooking process will destroy the traces of GMOs, those companies have been proven wrong by independent studies and these products are indeed not safe for human consumption. If they are truly safe, then the companies must release all of their data to prove it. They will not and the politicians who receive donations from these big companies will not force them to release all of their data either. The studies they have were also performed using money from the companies, which would affect, in turn, the results as it is difficult to find a researcher who is hungry for funding that will also go against those who are giving them money for the research in the first place.

In order to be fair, I thought I would check out Monsanto’s website and see where they stand. After all, they are one of the largest producers of GMOs/GEs. They refer to “a large body of documented scientific testing showing currently authorized GM crops safe” (www.monsanto.com) through a body called the Center for Environmental Risk Assessment (CERA). They were even kind enough to give a link to CERA’s website. There I found a list of people who make up the Advisory Council for CERA, which their website says “is to act in an advisory and consultative capacity for CERA’s Director and staff” (cera-gmc.org). One of the members of this advisory council is Dr. Jerry Hjelle, Ph.D. Take a guess as to whom he works for. He is the Vice-President for Science Policy for Monsanto and the Vice-Chair of the International Life Sciences Institute Research Foundation Board of Trustees. So, one of the advisors for the place researching the safety of GMOs/GEs also works for one of the largest companies that manufactures GMOs/GEs. Somehow, that does not sound like an unbiased affiliation to me, or am I missing something here?

As Americans, we need to demand to know what is in our food, especially when it comes to these ‘Frankenfoods’ that are not as nature intended them to be. We need to be allowed to decide to purchase those products that have been or contain genetically modified organisms or not, but that cannot happen if the labels are not there in the first place to let us know or not. An alternative is to go entirely organic and attempt to increase the demand for organic foods, which will then lower the price on them to make them more affordable than their non-organic counterparts.

The fear that is evident from the money these companies are spending to keep us from knowing should be our warning that something is amiss with our food supply. It is also evident in their having people working for them who are also part of the same researchers that say their products are safe. This is not right. We need to demand independent research be performed to prove the safety of GMOs/GEs. While they say it is not practical to hold long-term studies on humans in order to determine that GMOs/GEs are safe, that practicality comes from a profit-driven motivation rather than a human well-being motivation. Our health as well as the health of our children is at stake. That should be the motivation, not how much money can be made regardless of safety and having to clean up the potential mess down the road.

http://www.cornucopia.org/ (Rodale)