San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 18th, 2010
Editorial: Supporting 'abstinence plus' in schools

By the San Marcos Local News editorial board

The San Marcos CISD Board of Trustees will take up the possibility of adjusting its sex education policy at Monday night’s meeting. At issue is a change from the present policy, which is to teach abstinence only, to an “abstinence plus” program that also includes teaching about contraception. We support the change to abstinence plus.

We’re not delighted that it should fall to the schools to address teen parenthood in San Marcos, or any other town, but teen parenthood exerts enormous social costs on the community and there simply isn’t any better place in the public to address it. And this matter does need to be seriously addressed, because it lies at the heart of what holds back this town and the people who live here. We do not believe that teaching abstinence only is a serious or realistic bid to reduce incidences of teen parenthood, which looms as one of this city’s fundamental problems.

Too many teenaged parents aren’t ready for the responsibility, which involves bringing human lives into the world without asking them first, then too often consigns these children of children to lives of violence, poverty, dullness and stupefication because these parents who lack physical and emotional maturity also are distracted from developing bankable skills, so their kids are forced to develop without sufficient adult supervision or edifying horizons.

Some young parents fight the good fight, and some children of teen-aged parents are well raised by grandparents. But, over and over again, studies point to the deleterious consequences of teen parenthood for the parents, the children and the community at large, and we see confirmation in the street every day. The studies tell us what ordinary life makes evident — that children of teen-aged mothers are disproportionately subject to poor cognitive development and are more likely to drop out of high school, that they are more likely to be born prematurely and at low birth weights, that the sons of mothers who are 17 and younger are three times as likely to wind up in prison, that teen-aged mothers receive less adequate prenatal care, that the children of teen-aged mothers are more likely to be unhealthy and to suffer from abuse and neglect, that children of teen-aged mothers are more likely to grow up poor, that these children of children are at greater risk of being unable to modulate affect (the outcomes include flattened affect and aggressive behavior), and that the daughters of mothers who are 17 and younger are more likely to have children when they are 17 and younger, so they perpetuate the cycle.

Now, it’s way too easy to moralize these outcomes and their causes, but we cannot ignore the resulting social problems and their consequences. It’s true that teenagers have the right to bring children into the world. It’s also true that the larger community has the right to discourage it, frown upon it and do our level best to keep it from happening. Unlike teenagers with naive and romantic notions of parenting, the larger mature community knows that in that future lie sad outcomes for the individuals directly involved, to say nothing of the enormous costs to the commonweal.

If it doesn’t address teen-aged parenthood, either through the schools or by some other means, then the larger community is left to either suffer the problem —  which involves high costs for social services, public safety and lost economic opportunity — or ignore the problem — which is practically impossible because we are moved by human deprivation and crime. It is better to minimize the problem in the first place by our best persuasive methods, as it is our adult responsibility to keep children from making terrible mistakes of which they are otherwise unaware. And those, especially on the school board, who either actively or passively advocate teen-aged parenting, by whatever means or for whatever reasons, owe the larger community a thorough explanation of how to defray the inevitable social costs.

We agree with those in the community who believe matters such as sexual behavior, contraception and responsible parenting are best addressed in the home and by informal society, but we part company when they dogmatically insist on it, because such insistence fails to apprehend social reality and, in essence, accomplishes little more than to wish the problem of teen-aged parenting would just disappear. Some families simply aren’t equipped or disposed to impart those lessons. In some families, as we mentioned earlier, teen-aged parenting is the cause of its own effect. And the sexualization of children, in the mass media and otherwise, convinces us that informal society is not to be trusted in this matter.

Among the reasons why children in families of some affluence delay parenthood is their understanding that they have a standard of living to protect. Teenagers in poverty aren’t so motivated. If they can even envision a compelling, alternative future, their folkways don’t present much guidance for obtaining it. One local educator, who has worked at high schools as different as wealthy Westlake and low-income Lehman, put it as well as anyone could: “Rich kids make plans for the future. Poor kids try to get through the day.” We’ve got a lot of poor kids at San Marcos High School. The lowest figure we’ve seen, from Newsweek, said 48 percent of the school’s students are economically disadvantaged. We’ve also got a lot of teen-aged pregnancy in San Marcos CISD. Since 2002-03, as district enrollment has held steady at about 7,400 students, the school district has averaged 74 pregnancies per year.

In addition to broader horizons and a larger palette of constructive options, better off teenagers also have a wider variety of recreational opportunities. So, poor, energetic, awakening teenagers with nothing better to see or do are more prone to resort to sex, which doesn’t get any better just because you have money in your pocket, and they are less likely to understand contraception or the opportunities lost to teen parenting. Facile moralizing doesn’t address that commonplace reality, which is why such moralizing doesn’t understand that preaching abstinence to the exclusion of anything else doesn’t and can’t work. We shouldn’t be even a little bit surprised that Texas, where most schools teach abstinence only, is third nationally in teen pregnancy and teen birthrates.

We want to see the problem of teen parenting in San Marcos addressed aggressively on every front, to the furthest extent that decency, love of liberty and realism about teenage psychology will allow. That means teach abstinence, it means teach contraception, it means teach the outcomes of teen-aged parenting, it means teach adoption, and it also means bending over backwards, if we must, to expand productive opportunities for young people of limited means.

School officials now are proposing to teach sex education year around at the high school and place it on the master schedules in middle school. We applaud that initiative. We’d be happier if it didn’t come to seriously addressing sex education in schools, but we, as a community, need to address serious problems seriously, and the school district’s proposals are a step in the right direction.

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0 thoughts on “Editorial: Supporting 'abstinence plus' in schools

  1. Very well written.

    I’d love to see more focus on the notions presented in the 4th from final paragraph. GIVE OUR KIDS A FUTURE TO PROTECT and they will be more inclined to do so – some via abstinence and some via contraception. Without a compelling reason not to get pregnant (and “because we said so” is not compelling), all the information in the world on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy will do very little (if anything). In fact, I would be curious to know how many of them are actually unwanted.

    Sorry about the all caps. I hate that, but thought it was warranted in this instance.

  2. A brilliant editorial, which would be brilliant anywhere in this country and many others (maybe not those that are taking the hide off us in science, math and technology–too busy???).

    Puhleeeese, not the Church (whose, exactly, could we pick?). Religious morality has not been absent as this problem grew to dominate all our lives. The church buildings are, and have been, there every Sunday. The moralists have not gone out of business; in fact, it is a growth industry, being morally superior. This issue is about our collective future.

    Gummint can’t deal with it either, Spanky! Schools can help kids understand clearly and let THEM make choices, even as they inevitably do when they are left ignorant. The moral authority in my mind, maybe only mine, says we are actively committing and perpetuating a grievous sin to let our internal infection fester unchecked while the “discussion” rages. Sexual morality, like any other, happens when and where and why it happens, seldom consistently and not universally or uniformly. Can’t be taught effectively. Can’t be forced.

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