Writing@CSU Home Page | Writing Gallery | Talking Back | Volume 4, Issue 1

logo“Government Funding 'Ignorance-Only' Programs”

Jennifer Tippett

            In schools across the country, teenagers are being taught that it is possible to contract HIV/AIDS through sweat or tears, according to report prepared for Representative Henry A. Waxman (“Government” 26). However, according to the American Social Health Association, “ HIV can be transmitted through the blood, sexual fluids, or breast milk of an HIV-infected person”. There is no mention of sweat or tears to be found. So who is allowing teenagers to be taught inaccurate information? The answer is the government of the United States. The misinformation regarding the transmission of HIV/AIDS is only one of several errors found in federally funded sexual abstinence curricula. Despite these instances of errors and myths, the government continues to fund these programs. Under the present administration, $170 million dollars will be spent in the fiscal year 2005 on abstinence only programs alone (“Government” 3). These programs teach teenagers that their only option is to say “no” to having premarital sex. Information about contraceptives and safe sex is not provided. The government should not fund abstinence only programs, and should instead put this money towards a program that really will help keep teenagers safe. The government needs to start listening.

            In the United States, democracy is the chosen form of government. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a democracy as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” So it would be logical to assume that those elected into power are there to speak for the public and to follow their guidance. This is not the case with abstinence only programs. Surveys of parents, teachers and teens show overwhelming support for comprehensive sexual education which would highlight abstinence, but would also include medically correct information concerning contraceptives and pregnancy (Camp). According to the Gallup Poll, “Forty-six percent of respondents chose that option [comprehensive], while 15% chose an "abstinence-only" approach that does not dispense information on contraception, and 36% selected an approach that put less emphasis on teaching abstinence and more on teaching teens to make responsible decisions about sex”. From this poll, it is obvious that supporters of abstinence-based programs are in the very minority of the public. A survey done by the Department of Public Instruction in North Carolina found that a survey “showed parents want sex education to begin earlier, to involve more class time and to include more information about contraceptives and the prevention of sexually transmitted disease” (Associated Press). Yet the percent of teachers teaching abstinence programs has increased from 2% in 1988 to 23% in 1999 (Camp). Why is this? The government has made abstinence programs part of a financial incentive. Schools that have less funding are given federal money and free abstinence curriculum if they agree to teach these, and only these, programs. There is no federal program pushing sexual education programs. This incentive has worked, and now one-third of schools use free or donated curriculum (Richards para.13). So despite much evidence that the general public is against these programs, the government continues to throw money into them and push them onto poorly funded schools. This has created problems for teachers as well.

            Federally funded also means federal rules. Teachers are forbidden to venture outside of the given curriculum. Students are told to ask a parent or counselor if they have any further questions. Isn’t the government over stepping their bounds here? “ One in four teachers reported being told not to teach about contraception; one in three said they did not teach about contraception because they feared ‘negative community reaction’” (Pardini 2). According to research by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, teachers do not feel that students are receiving education that they need (Pardini 1). Teachers can even be fired for straying from the curriculum. One health teacher from Florida was fired in January for demonstrating proper condom use with a banana (Parker 1). Teachers should be able to provide their students with accurate information without fear of losing their jobs. However, the curriculum that teachers are handed is not accurate at all.

            Teachers are forced to tell students “sexual activity is ‘a monogamous relationship within the context of marriage’ and that sex outside of marriage is likely to be ‘psychologically and physically harmful’” (Pardini 2). This part of the curriculum pushes teachers to tell students that homosexual relationships and premarital sex are not acceptable, even if the teacher does not believe this is true. The recent report on abstinence programs ordered by Representative Henry A. Waxman also finds that “stereotypes of men and women are taught as scientific fact” (“Government”3). These programs teach students that “women are in need of financial support and men need admiration” (“Government” 3). According the web site of Advocates for Youth, abstinence only programs “[teach] abstinence as the only morally correct option of sexual expression for teenagers” (1). Teachers are given a curriculum “ which by law may not include information about contraception beyond failure rates” (Pardini 1). One last problem with these programs is that they are often given with a strong dose of religion. Most of these programs rely on “virginity pledges” that force the student to swear “to God” not to have sex (Burd). This is clearly an example of an infringement of the separation of church and state. If a deeply religious family sends their children to a private religious school, that is one thing, but to have religion being taught in public school classrooms by a teacher who may or may not believe what he/she is teaching is quite another.

            Finally, there is the biggest problem of all. Study after study has found no scientific evidence that shows abstinence only programs are doing what they claim to do. Research done at Columbia University determined that although abstinence only programs that called upon teens to sign pledges vowing to remain virgins until they marry worked for some teens, but those who broke their pledges were one-third less likely to use contraceptives when they engaged in sexual activity than teens who did not sign pledges (Pardini 4). Advocates for Youth conducted a study of 11 programs over a five-year period. All 11 showed few short-term benefits and none could prove long-term benefits. Over 100 medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Pediatric Association, support sexual education over abstinence programs. The quote from The Institute of Medicine, which is the organization charged with advising the government on matters of public health, found on Advocates for Youth’s web site sums it all up very nicely:

The Committee believes that investing hundreds of millions of dollars of federal and state funds over five years in abstinence-only programs with no evidence of effectiveness constitutes poor fiscal and public health policy… Congress, as well as other federal, state and local policy makers, [should] eliminate requirements that public funds be used for abstinence-only education. (qtd. in Wagnor 2).

            In this country, the people elect representatives to speak for them and to make choices that are in their best interest. The government is making a clear error in judgment by spending money on programs that are not what people want, that teach myths and inaccurate information, that force teachers to teach something they do not believe, and that have no scientific backing. The solution to all of this is actually very easy. All of the money currently reserved for abstinence education should be spent on what is known as “comprehensive sexual education”. This type of sex education would emphasize abstinence, but also give accurate information with regards to contraceptives, abortion and premarital sex. Again on Advocates for Youth’s web site according to the Institute of Medicine,

[E]xpert panels that have studied this issue, have concluded that comprehensive sex and HIV/AIDS education programs and condom availability programs can be effective in reducing high-risk sexual behaviors among adolescents. In addition, these reviews and expert panels conclude that school-based sex education and condom availability programs do not increase sexual activity among adolescents. (Qtd. in Wagnor 2).

            In the case of abstinence only programs, the correct choice is very clear. The government needs to stop pushing these programs on the public and start funding a program that works.

Works Cited

American Social Health Association. “Information to Live by: HIV/AIDS.” ASHA. 24 April 2005 <http://www.ashastd.org>.

Associated Press. “Survey, Advocates Seek Broader Sex Education Course.” The Associated Press State and Local Wire. 7 Feb.2005. Academic Universe. LexisNexis. Colorado State University, Fort Collins,CO. 24 April 2005 < http://0-web.lexis-nexis.com.catalog.library.colostate.edu>.

Burd, Meg. “What They Don’t Know...” Rocky Mountain Collegian 8 April 2005: 4.

Camp, Sharon L. “The Sex Education War Continues.” The Washington Times 22 April 2005: A20. Academic Universe. LexisNexis. Colorado State University, Fort Collins,CO.25 April 2005 <http://0-web.lexis-nexis.com.catalog.library.colostate.edu>.

Crabtree, Steve. “Teens on Sex Education: Abstinence-Only or Safe Sex Approach?” Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing 8 March 2005. Academic Universe. Lexis.Nexis. Colorado State University, Fort Collins,CO. 25 April 2005 <http://0-web.lexis-nexis.com.catalog.library.colostate.edu>.

“Democracy.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4 th ed. 2000.

Pardini, Priscilla. “Abstinence-Only Education Continues to Flourish.” Rethinking Schools. Winter 2002/2003 <http://www.rethinkingschools.org>.

Parker, Ray. “ Collier School Board Fires Gulf Coast Sex Ed Teacher.” Naples Daily News. 31 Jan. 2005 <http://www.naplesnews.com >.

Richards, Cindy. “Bush’s Cheap Sex Ed No Bargain.” Chicago-Sun Times 16 March 2005: 51.

United States. Hose of Representatives Committee on Government Reform-Minority Staff. The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence Only Education Programs. Dec. 2004. 25 April 2005 <http://reform.democrats.house.gov>.

Wagnor, James. “Teens Need Information, Not Censorship.” Advocates for Youth. 24 April 2005 <http://www.advocatesforyouth.org>.