"The debate over whether to have sex education in American schools is over," we wrote last February `"Total protection," February 12-18, 2004`, quoting a recent National Public Radio/Kaiser/Kennedy School poll that found that only 15 percent of Americans support abstinence-only programs. We forgot to add, "except in Texas," where the State Board of Education is scheduled to vote November 5 on adoption of textbooks that may be purchased with state funds. Because Texas' market is second only to California, texts approved and adopted here often become the template for other states.
The same coalition of far-right activists that last year targeted evolution in science textbooks, would like to make the Lone Star state the vanguard of regressive sexual education for the next decade - the length of time textbooks are usually in circulation before being revamped. According to Planned Parenthood, which held a press conference on July 7 in response to pressure from social conservatives affiliated with organizations such as the Texas Eagle Forum and the Christian Coalition, publishers submitting textbooks for approval are self-censoring material they believe will be rejected by SBOE members such as Gail Lowe from Lampasas and David Bradley of Beaumont.
The candidates for adoption include Lifetime Health, by Holt publishing, Glencoe Health, and the Meeks Heit Health & Wellness. In chapters on preventing STDs or teen pregnancy, neither book discusses barrier protection methods such as condoms, or birth control options such as the pill, yet reminds young readers that "Abstinence from sex is the only method that is 100 percent effective ... "
Disturbing, too, is the emphasis placed in the textbooks on traditional marriage, almost to the exclusion of other lifestyle choices such as remaining single or same-sex partnership. What will teenagers do with the information that, for example, marriages that occur later in life are more likely to be successful when the textbooks don't offer any significant guidance on sexual activity except to promote abstinence outside of marriage? The issue left unadressed is whether it is realistic to promote or expect young adults to remain abstinent until their late twenties.
As OB/GYN Dr. Deborah McNabb put it at Planned Parenthood's press conference, "What if abstinence fails?" as it does 46 percent of the time, according to recent studies, and more often in much of Bexar County, where the teen birth rate remains between two and four times the national average. It bears repeating here, too, that studies have found that abstinence-only sex education is not effective in preventing sexual activity in teens.
The SBOE will hold a public hearing on the textbooks on Wednesday, July 14, at 9 a.m. A second hearing date is tentatively set for September 8, and community members wishing to speak must sign up by September 4. For more information on the Protect Our Kids Campaign to include medically accurate information about barrier protection and other contraception methods in state-approved textbooks, visit www.protectourkids.com. For more information on the textbook adoption process or to register for the September hearing, visit http://www.tea.state.tx.us/textbooks/adoptprocess/ or call 512-463-9601. •
By Elaine Wolff