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Bennett on AIDS: Excerpts From the Booklet

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Following are excerpts from "aids and the Education of Our Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers," released last week by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

'The Key Fact'

Education has played an important part in the battle against aids, and it must continue to do so. The federal government and many state governments and localities have launched aids-education programs for the public and for young people in schools. Adults need to know the facts, the often unwelcome facts, about aids. They need to know what kinds of behavior put them and their children at risk of contracting aids. And they need to know what measures offer real protection and what measures offer false security.

The key fact young people need to know is this: there is much they can do to avoid contracting aids. Most cases of aids result from behavior that can be avoided. ...

Because aids is most commonly spread by intimate sexual activity with an already infected person, aids is one more reason to examine what we are teaching our children about responsibility and sexuality. ...

Among many other reasons for postponing premature sexual activ8ity--in addition to the reasons adults have traditionally offered and still should offer--aids offers one more compelling reason. The stark message is this: if you have sex with a partner infected with aids, there is a chance you will get the virus and that you will die from it.

Risk to Minorities

Black and Hispanic young people have been much more affected by aids than young whites. Although they make up only 23 percent of the U.S. population between 5 and 19, they make up 57 percent of the reported cases in that age group. Eight out of 10 children under the age of 5 with aids are black or Hispanic.

On Teaching About Condoms

The use of condoms is now frequently recommended as a means of reducing the risk of both contracting aids and spreading the disease. Many people, for moral or religious reasons, oppose encouraging the use of condoms. Others are eager to make condoms widely available, even or especially to young people. In any case, if the use of condoms is to be discussed with young people, such a discussion must include the recognition of certain facts, should take place with the approval of parents, and should occur in an appro4priate moral context. In particular, young people must know that the use of condoms can reduce, but by no means eliminate, the risk of contracting aids. ...

Any discussion of condoms must not undermine the importance of restraint and responsibility in the minds of young people. It is important to remember that condoms have long been widely available and that most teen-agers know about them, yet the teen pregnancy rate has still risen. This is not only because condoms do fail, but also because teen-agers who know about condoms often fail to use them. Teen-agers' beliefs and convictions about proper sexual behavior are more effective in shaping their behavior than mere knowledge about devices such as condoms. Indeed, promoting the use of condoms can suggest to teen-agers that adults expect them to engage in sexual intercourse. This danger must be borne in mind in any discussion.

Right and Wrong

Studies have shown that children who firmly hold to the principles of appropriate social and moral conduct are less likely to act in ways that would place them at risk of becoming infected with aids. The most important determinant of children's actions is their understanding of right and wrong. Parents, schools, and community organizations that work with children must instill firm standards of conduct that include respect for personal well-being and the well-being of others. ...

Setting an Example

Parents and school personnel should be aware that they very much influence young people's behavior. Adults who try to live in accordance with moral standards, take care of their health, and engage in a monogamous relationship provide an example to young people of how to avoid the risks of contracting aids.

Effects of Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is one of the strongest influences encouraging students to engage in promiscuous sex and drug use. In addition, older students who have already engaged in these practices reinforce the view that sexual intimacy and drug use are the norm. Adults must counteract these influences.

Sex Education

Many young people remain largely ignorant about aids. Some American teen-agers are risking infection with the aids virus every day because of their involvement in high-risk activities. ...

Parents and schools should provide up-to-date information about what the aids virus is and how it is spread. Ordinarily, in the schools, this would be a part of sex education, which generally begins in junior high school. ...

Children, even at a young age, are exposed to information about aids. Television commercials, news broadcasts, and casual conversations will give them bits and pieces of the aids story that may frighten them without informing them. ... Adults need to help children articulate their fears and help correct their misperceptions. ...

Responsible sex-education courses should not hesitate to teach children that sexual restraint is the best standard to follow. Sexual intimacy should be presented as more than merely a physical or mechanical act.

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