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. .

Never Forget–Never Let It Happen Again

Today, January 27, 2017, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day was established on November 1, 2005, to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. It is also the day in 1945 when the Auschwitz-Birkenau death/concentration camp was liberated. Over 6 million Jewish, 2 million Romani, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled, and 9,000 homosexual men (Wikipedia) died as the result of the Holocaust.

Some of you may be saying, “Gee, thanks for the history lesson. What does this have to do with me here in the 21st Century?”

It has everything to do with you.

The common phrase associated with the Holocaust is Never Forget. That phrase is more than just some catchy advertising campaign. Never Forget is what those who survived the Holocaust tell us because they not only want us to never forget what happened to the millions of people under the savage reign of the Nazis, but they want us to make certain it never happens again. Unfortunately, it has in places like Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

It happens when groups of people are set apart as being the cause of problems from loss of jobs to terrorism. We hear it today from the current incumbent of the White House who calls Mexican people “criminals” and “rapists” and “killers”. He blames violent crimes on Blacks and Hispanics. He’s called for a ban on Muslims. He’s signed executive orders to ban Muslims from immigrating and to build a wall to keep Mexicans out. He has also taken action that would be detrimental to the LGBTQIA community. His words are reflected in the actions of his supporters who go on the attack against these groups of people and some of whom, frighteningly enough, also fly the flag of the Nazis or engage in the salute of that same group.

Never Forget also means to never let it happen again. If we never let it happen again to the Jewish people or to any other group that is discriminated against, that honors the victims of the Holocaust. No group of people should face those horrors again.

The numbers of Holocaust survivors are dwindling as that population ages. Their call to us should never cease, even when the last survivor dies.

We must act against prejudice and violence against marginalized people!

We must STAND UP to those who bully, threaten, or attack marginalized people!

We must act against laws that discriminate against other people!

Now is not the time to simply Never Forget, but it is a time to ACT against future atrocities!

Even if it doesn’t personally affect you now, there’s nothing to say it will not affect you or someone you love in the future. Therefore, STAND UP and ACT UP against prejudice and violence wherever you encounter it. Whether it is contacting your elected officials or marching in the streets, it is up to US to Never Forget and NEVER let it happen again.

Happy Mother’s Day to the Fairer Sex

With Mother’s Day in only two days, I thought it fitting to focus an article on women in general. Lately, they have come under attack on so many issues. There are those in government who wish to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. There are those who blame women for being raped for the clothes they choose to wear. There are those who even still believe women are the weaker sex and are inferior to men. As a man, I have to say that there is much more to a woman than what most people, including other women, see. They are stronger than one might think regardless of their body type. However, let me get into the issues I have already addressed.
First, the governmental regulation of what women can and cannot do with their bodies. The government has no right to do this; that is unless they wish to regulate what men do with theirs as well. There are those in government who want to tell a woman whether she can or cannot have an abortion. There are also those, many of them the same people, who want to limit a woman’s access to affordable, safe contraception. It is her body, her life, her wanting to be self-empowered and responsible, so the government should leave her alone! Imagine if the government tried to tell men they could not have vasectomies or purchase condoms. Imagine if men were forced by the government to procreate all in the name of patriotism. There would be protests and riots in the streets.
Next, the excuse that a woman’s clothing caused her to be raped. While there are women who wear less than others, that is not an excuse for them to become the victims of a rape. Yes, heterosexual men are turned on by the sight of a woman’s body, but that does not give them the right to rape women. Rapists use that as an excuse. A woman wears clothing for the same reason as a man does; they like how they look in it. They chose their clothing to fit their mood, the occasion, and to accentuate their body type. Men do the same thing. A man who chooses to wear a torso-hugging shirt or no shirt at all is doing the same thing as a woman who wears a tight-fitting or lower cut neckline shirt—they are showing off that part of the body they are proud of. Men wearing tight jeans hope to accentuate their rears the same as women do when they wear the same or a similarly cut skirt or dress. It is no different except in the perception imposed upon them by cultural beliefs or customs. When it comes to rape, that is a crime of power perpetrated by a man or a woman who feels they have no power and that if they make an intimate and personal attack on someone, then they will gain power. Rape is a cowardly act regardless of who commits it. A woman does not wear clothing hoping to be raped. Men simply need to control themselves and, if they cannot, then they need to seek psychological help to overcome their problem.
Finally, I will briefly address the idea of women as the weaker sex. How can that be true? They bear children. They carry 8-10 pounds of additional weight for 9 months only to pass that out an extremely small orifice. How is that week? That is pretty damned strong to me. In addition, many women work outside the home in addition to also trying to be as traditional as they can be as mothers. That is stressful, especially if there is no support from their spouses or significant others. The idea of their being the weaker sex is ludicrous. They are physically speaking the softer sex, but not the weaker sex. However, women are supposed to look different from men; it is part of what makes them attractive. So, rather than being the weaker sex, let us all view women as the fairer sex. I will hold off what makes women attractive for another article.
Let me just end this by wishing all mothers out there a Happy Mother’s Day! If you do not have children as yet, then I wish you a Happy Potential Mother’s Day. Even if you choose not to give birth or even adopt a child, that does not mean someone may not benefit from your maternal instincts and from you being a strong woman. So, Happy Mother’s Day to you as well.