Bennett Defends AIDS Booklet As Message of 'Moral Realism'
Washington--Secretary of Education William J. Bennett defended his controversial new guidelines for teaching schoolchildren about aids in a speech last Wednesday before a group of family-policy researchers.
The guidelines, which were released earlier this month, warn educators and parents that "appropriate social and moral conduct" is the only sure way of avoiding the deadly disease. (See Education Week, Oct. 14, 1987.)
The booklet also plays down the role of condoms in preventing the disease, pointing out that adults who teach that condoms can help avoid aids may be tacitly telling children that they are expected to be sexually active.
Critics of the booklet said that advice was both "moralistic" and ''unrealistic." In making such recommendations, they said, Mr. Bennett had ignored the fact that many teen-agers are already engaged in sexual activity and are putting themselves at risk.
As one National Education Association official said, "We owe it to those who do not choose abstinence to talk about other ways of preventing the disease."
In his response to such criticism last week, Mr. Bennett said: "There is a difference between moralizing and realism."
"We do not think we're being moralistic when we talk about being morally responsible," he said. "In fact, I like to think of what we're doing as moral realism."
"Aids is a behavior-related disease and the only way we can avoid it is by changing behavior," he reiterated. Mr. Bennett made his remarks during a speech before a meeting of the Family Research Council here. Based in this city, the group describes itself as a social-policy think tank that specializes in the dissemination of research on issues affecting the family.
According to an Education Department spokesman, 272,000 copies of Mr. Bennett's new handbook will soon be mailed to every school principal, pta president, state and local school superintendent, and school board in the country. In addition, the department has already responded to 27,000 requests for the guidelines.