There has been much ballyhoo made by Republican Party ads of the notion that Obama would support "learning about sex before learning to read." I may be tarred and feathered for this statement, but - great! Fabulous! Teach them all their little brains can hold. Why? Because the actual language of the legislation in question is:
SB99: Course material and instruction shall discuss and provide for the development of positive communication skills to maintain healthy relationships and avoid unwanted sexual activity. ... Course material and instruction shall teach pupils ... how to say no to unwanted sexual advances ... and shall include information about verbal, physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance. The course material and instruction shall contain methods of preventing sexual assault by an acquaintance, including exercising good judgment and avoiding behavior that impairs one's judgment.
I should admit first that my children attended parochial elementary school. They clearly did not attend for the sex-ed classes. It was a choice of religion, pure and simple. They are now enrolled in urban public high schools; since I'm pretty sure whatever religion they were going to develop has already come about. Our local public schools here are doing their level-best to close achievement gaps and raise scores, and as an educated and involved parent, I'm willing to help them out on that path.
What I have found remarkable in the parochial school arena, though, is this vast making up for lost time by requiring parental background checks, FBI clearances, and countless other measures to keep those elementary school Catholic children safe from potential sexual dangers - those dangers that are discussed in the above senate bill. What clear-thinking parent doesn't want their child to learn, in the most thorough manner possible, "how to say no to unwanted sexual advances" and to understand "...methods of preventing sexual assault..." or "avoiding behavior that impairs one's judgment?"
Please, please, someone help me in this gravely important and serious task. Must I spend all of my time at home not just helping with their homework, but constantly reminding them of what are "good touches" and "bad touches?"
Let's not forget that some of those "touchers," unfortunately, are parents or caregivers. Is it wrong, then, to have schools provide some instruction to the kids whose parents or babysitters might be the predators themselves? It's arguably the absolute-best measure of all! Teach them all we can so that we don't find the public schools in the same clean-up mess that we have found the many Dioceses across the country - paying for lack of information and reliance upon archaic systems that inevitably led to unspeakable abuses.
According to McCain, it would be better to invest time, energy, and countless dollars in cyber-school, charters, and home-schooling. McCain's own website notes that he will "make real the promise of NCLB by giving parents greater choice." But apparently sex education, and defense against potential sex abuse, is not among the available choices. Instead, he would rely on his running mate's plans for sex education in schools. Palin's response to a 2006 Alaskan questionnaire designed by the "Eagle Forum," pro-family group, noted that "sex-ed programs would not find [her] support."
Obama's initiative to close failing charter schools and support high-quality afterschool programming are featured as his response to the need for this instruction at an early age. Obama/Biden's policy articulates very clearly their intention to stop forcing teachers to "spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests". So, gee, does this mean that teachers could help guide their students into making better choices all along their educational path, both with respect to sexual and safety choices as well as gaining an understanding of geography, like the fact that Iraq does not border Pakistan? Now there's an educational policy to stand behind.
Are we to assume that, under McCain, public school children will continue to receive instruction as-is? (He hasn't discussed his stance, or written it on his official web site.) Or is it safe to bet that they will instead be instructed in the abstinence-until-marriage track that has failed so miserably thus far? When it comes to education reform, McCain claims that he will allocate 60% of the Title II funding for teachers in challenging settings, in areas of math and science. Will that science include information about how a sperm travels to an ovum? Will that funding cover teachers who address the psychology of sexual assault? Will that funding dry up if creationism is less a part of the matrix than the difference between consent and rape? McCain refuses to outline any of these parameters.
Obama, on the other hand, voted clearly and decisively in Illinois Legislative Committee (2003) to support the modified sex-ed, based on the recommendations of education and public health groups, the Parent Teacher Association, State Medical Society and Public Health Associations of Illinois, and even the Illinois Education Association.
Creating educational opportunity includes creating educational safety. The old saw "knowledge is power" may be the most valuable thing to children in keeping them safe. Kindergarteners are just as vulnerable to sexual assault and molestation as eighth graders, if not more so. Instead of creating that educational safety, McCain and Palin would have our students learn from creationism that one day they will wake to find a rib missing and a new mate by their sides. They would have them learn that abstinence is the only acceptable option, despite what they see on television, in the news, and obviously in the prospective VP's family. (Let's be real here, a baby will be born and the news will discuss it - matters of the sanctity of her privacy can't be adhered to when the discussion is abstinence-education policy.)
So go ahead, give children that knowledge. Give them that power. And quit calling it plain old "sex-ed." We know from the Republican ticket that kids today know how to have sex. What we need them to know is outlined in the bill above: "exercising good judgment."
This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the policy differences between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. If you have a policy expertise and would like to participate, please see Calling All Policy Gurus.