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What began as a debate over condoms and schoolchildren soon erupted into a full-scale battle about the purpose, cost, and place of public education.

In the April 1994 issue of Harper's, the writer Anthony Giardina travels among cornfields and tobacco barns to witness "something akin to a war,'' as the small town of Hatfield, Mass., rises up to fight over the future of its children's schooling.

The school committee had voted in 1992 to make condoms available on demand to all students in grades 7-12.

But when an ensuing election resulted not only in the addition of two anti-condom candidates to the school committee but also the rejection of a much-needed property-tax increase to bail out the local high school, the author maintains that education was made to pay for deeper community schisms.
He writes: "[I]n this conservative little Brigadoon, an ancient, long-unquestioned social contract--that a town should pay for its children's free public education--is now, like a lot of national assumptions, up for grabs.''

Mr. Giardina discovers in Hatfield a town like many across America, stuck at the tail end of an economic boom and scrutinizing exactly where its tax money goes.

As younger parents and older voters squabble over the social mission of schools, however, students have watched the basics of their education turn to luxury.

The elementary music teacher was promptly cut to solve budget problems, and the school library can stay open only through volunteer support.

Parents and schools across the county, Mr. Giardini concludes, must face the "packed, underfunded hours,'' of the school day to determine what can reasonably, rightly be accomplished in public education.

"If we can inoculate turkeys before they reach five months old, surely we can properly vaccinate our children before they turn 2.''

Donna Shalala, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, cites an exemplary record of poultry immunization to frame her argument for early and thorough immunization of all U.S. children in the Winter 1994 issue of America's Agenda.

Only 50 percent of American children under age 2 are properly immunized, a statistic the Secretary says is "unacceptable'' and "shameful.''

Citing policy in the works under the Clinton Administration, Ms. Shalala outlines a $770 million immunization package and the "health security act'' as hopes for a healthy future for America's children.

But she also calls for immediate action and envisions the message of proper immunization writ large across society, from television spots to storefront windows, until it is "as well known as Mickey Mouse, Big Bird, and Barney.'' --CHRISTY J. ZINK

Vol. 13, Issue 31

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