S-x: No Longer Banned in Boston

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Massachusetts now has a word for it: Sex

Striking a blow for clarity of language, the state's board of education decided late last month to add the words "sex education'' to an eight-page set of guidelines for health-education grants designed to address such problems as AIDS and teen-age pregnancy.

In explaining to school districts how they could qualify for state aid for comprehensive health-education programs, the original draft of the guidelines implied that such instruction was expected to deal, in part, with sex.

But the education-department officials who drafted the document chose to couch references to the topic in more indirect terms.

The districts' programs, the guidelines stated, should focus on "the dynamic relationship between physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.'' They should also "encourage self-esteem, competence and coping skills, decisionmaking and conflict resolution.''

"Sex education'' was left unmentioned.

When the draft reached the state board for adoption, however, Mary C. Wright, one of the members, noted that a major goal of the health-education effort was stopping the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Since AIDS can be transmitted through sexual contact, she argued, AIDS prevention requires sex education.

"Sex education is what we are really talking about, so why not state it directly?'' Ms. Wright asked.

The board agreed.

William Lutz, chairman of the committee on public "doublespeak'' of the National Council of Teachers of English, applauded the action.

"If a policy does not use clear language, those charged with implementing the policy have to interpret it on their own,'' he said. "That leads to confusion and inefficiency.''

"You cannot take a political statement and put it into practical effect if people can't understand it,'' he continued.

Mr. Lutz warned that those who try to obscure their meaning through unclear language are doomed to fail.

"What [the Massachusetts officials] were trying to do, by avoiding the phrase, is not draw attention to their policy,'' he said. "By doing it that way, however, they achieved the opposite effect: They drew attention to it.''--R.R.

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