Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What is so bad about knowledge?

The Utah State Legislature recently passed HB363, a bill that allows school districts to require abstinence-only sex education, prohibits the discussion of birth control and homosexuality, and also makes it illegal for teachers to answer student questions on these topics. Yes, you read that right. It makes some questions so off limits that the teacher cannot answer them under this law. Here is an excerpt from the bill: 

63 (b) [(i)  That instruction] Human sexuality instruction or instructional programs shall
64 teach and stress:
65 [(A)] (i)  the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and
66 fidelity after marriage as the only sure methods for preventing certain communicable diseases;
67 and
68 [(B)] (ii)  personal skills that encourage individual choice of abstinence and fidelity.
69 (c)  Human sexuality instruction or instructional programs may not include instruction
70 in, the advocacy of, or the discussion of:
71 (i)  the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior;
72 (ii)  homosexuality;
73 (iii)  contraceptive methods or devices; or
74 (iv)  sexual activity outside of marriage.
75 [(ii) (A)] (d) (i)  At no time may instruction be provided, including responses to
76 spontaneous questions raised by students, regarding any means or methods that facilitate or
77 encourage the violation of any state or federal criminal law by a minor or an adult.
78 [(B)  Subsection (1)(b) (ii)(A) does not preclude an]
79 (ii)  An instructor [from responding] may respond to a spontaneous question as long as
80 the response is consistent with the provisions of this section

Note that the lines I highlighted specify that questions can only be answered in accordance with the provisions set forth above, namely, no answers to questions that might involve intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, erotic behavior (could they be more specific?), homosexuality, contraceptives or sexual activity outside of marriage. So, what exactly can they teach or discuss? This is so open ended and broad in what could be prohibited that I can't imagine a school district would allow ANY sex ed, and might even want to limit biology and human anatomy curricula just so they don't risk a law suit. 

But even setting aside those concerns, there are a lot of other problems with this. Studies have shown that abstinence only programs are not useful. If you read through those articles, you will notice that there seems to be some correlation between abstinence only education and increased teen pregnancy rates. As the article points out, correlation does not imply causation, but the data should give us pause. One thing that has been shown is that focusing so much on the failure rates of contraceptives without giving any other information about them seems to make teens who are sexually active less likely to use any protection. 

Utah is a very conservative state which is dominated by the values of a largely Mormon population. Given that fact, I don't think Mormon legislators have really thought this through. One of the predominant doctrines of Mormonism is the concept of free agency, or the importance of allowing people to know right from wrong and then to make their own choices based on conscience. This is where I am a bit baffled by the support for this bill. How can people be expected to make good choices if you insist on denying them access to good information about those choices? Knowledge and information is not evil. Teens need to have good, reliable information about their bodies in order to be healthy as well as responsible. Tell them the whole truth, teach them your values, and then realize that they are not you. They are separate people, individuals with their own identities and their own decisions to make. They will make their choices regardless of whether or not they have been educated. Don't we owe it to them to make sure they have the tools to make the best choices possible? Will they make mistakes? Of course they will. We all do. But do those mistakes have to be made as damaging as possible?

I know some people have said that teaching comprehensive sex ed is just allowing kids to get out of the consequences that come from such behavior. Really? How does that make sense? Why would we intentionally make things worse for our kids if they make a mistake? If a child  foolishly touches something hot and gets a minor burn (even though they were taught to stay away), no one in their right mind would then hold the child's hand to the hot object until the burn became a third degree wound. That would be cruel and pointless. So if a child chooses to be sexually active before marriage, why would we want to increase the risk to them? How will they feel when they learn that those mistakes (if that is how you see them) might not have had to be fatal, (which they could be for kids who have unprotected sex) or might not have had to have life long effects for them or their unplanned/unexpected children if they had only been given all of the facts? 

As a loving parent I could not do that to my kids. Please encourage Governor Herbert to veto this bill.


  1. Tricia, I love this post. I remember learning a song in elementary school that went: "Knowledge is power, I know what I know! The more you learn the further you go!" Those cheesy lyrics have been stuck in my head for years. But I think they are true and right. But then again, that particular school was in California, you know, where are the evil liberals live. Maybe that's my problem, lol. Great post though, I totally agree.

  2. Thanks, Hillary. Keeping knowledge from kids just won't work in this situation. Humans are driven to figure these things out, you know? Good information leads to better decisions.

  3. Bingo and eloquent! I was thinking of writing up something for this and now I'll just link to your awesome post.

  4. Here I am, waiting for you to tell me how to describe. Excellent post, btw!!!

  5. Random Rebecca, I assume you meant subscribe not describe...anyway, when you comment there is an option to subscribe by email. I'm not exactly sure how else to do it. I thought there was a button for that. Let me know if you can't find it.