Education Letter to the Editor

Other Reasons to Oppose Abstinence-Only Program

April 10, 2007 2 min read
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To the Editor:

Regarding “States Turn Down Abstinence-Only Grants” (March 28, 2007):

The problem I have with the government’s abstinence-only program for sex education, aside from its apparent coercive nature, is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ two required curriculum points relating to sex “outside marriage,” to quote the department.

I am firmly committed to the “faithful monogamous relationship” idea, which has been the basis of my own experience of over 13 years with my partner. We certainly have not experienced any “harmful psychological and physical effects” as a result of engaging in sex “outside of the context of marriage”; in fact, the contrary is true. The fact remains, however, that we live in a state where we are denied the possibility of legal marriage.

Thus two of the required eight points in the federal program denigrate our highly successful relationship because it does not meet the “expected standard” of “marriage,” despite the fact that it is a marriage in all but name (and legal benefits). For me, this is another reason to oppose the government’s program.

William R. Stewart

Arlington, Va.

The writer is the head of a private school in Alexandria, Va.

To the Editor:

So the “State Abstinence Education Grant program does not force an ‘either-or’ decision for how states approach teen-pregnancy prevention,” to quote a memo from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. And Harry Wilson, the associate commissioners for HHS’ family and youth-services bureau, claims that it’s “an absolute, flat-out lie” that “if you take abstinence money, you can’t teach comprehensive sex ed.”

“But,” said Alice, “isn’t this the same federal agency that made it very clear to the states that it wanted abstinence-only education? And the same agency that has been encouraging schools to use religious groups’ (oops—faith-based organizations’) programs that spout exaggerated and inaccurate claims about condom-failure rates?”

“I know what you’re thinking about,” said Tweedledum, “but it isn’t so, nohow.” “Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

“Oh,” said Alice, “I so love logic. Could we talk about the Reading Recovery program? I know of school districts that were forced to discontinue use of the program so their Reading First applications would be approved. ‘Not scientifically based!’ said federal officials” (“Out-of-Favor Reading Plan Rated Highly,” March 28, 2007).

Having clearly and repeatedly discouraged Reading Recovery’s use, the U.S. Department of Education now has to reconcile that bias with the What Works Clearinghouse’s finding of “positive” effects, no surprise given its participating students’ 32-percentile gain in general reading achievement over that of their nonparticipating peers. And now, Susan B. Neuman, a former Education Department assistant secretary, claims that federal officials never intended to discredit Reading Recovery.

“I was thinking,” Alice said very politely, “which is the best way out of this wood—it’s getting so dark. Would you tell me, please?”

Stephen K. Hess

Director of Curriculum and Evaluation

Frederick County Public Schools

Frederick, Md.

A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 2007 edition of Education Week as Other Reasons to Oppose Abstinence-Only Program

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