Some Issues Never Go Away: Sex Ed in Schools

In 1971, the Speech Department at the University of Oregon dispatched WC and a small squad of speech students on a series of road trips out into rural Oregon. John Day, Hereford, Echo, Baker, Oakridge, Prineville; a couple of dozen small towns mostly unknown outside of Oregon. The mission? To reassure the taxpayers that UO wasn’t all long-haired radicals determined to burn down the campus. Someone on the Speech Department faculty decided the best way to do it was conduct have UO students conduct a debate before the citizens on … wait for it … sex education in the Oregon public schools. See? Some issues never go away. The highlight of those 1971 efforts was probably Mason Williams‘ dad standing up in an Oakridge auditorium screaming obscenities at WC’s poor young debaters.

Our friends in the Alaska Legislature are so satisfied that Alaska’s kids are fully informed about sex today that it’s okay to create more barriers to sex education in the public schools. The State Senate Education Committee passed an amended version of HB 156 that includes a provision requiring classes on sex education to be taught by a person with a valid teacher license. Planned Parenthood and its proven resources need not apply.

Now HB 156 originally dealt with federal education mandates and academic performance measures. But now that Senator Dunleavy (R, Wasilly) is done with it the bill also provides:

  • a provision requiring classes on sex education to be taught by a person with a valid teacher license. Teaching of sex ed will be done by a teacher with a Type-A certificate.
  • school boards would be required to approve any sex ed curriculum, literature or materials related to sex education, human reproduction education or human sexuality education.
  • parents would be permitted to have their children opt out of tests, activities and programs
  • schools would be required to give parents two-weeks notice of sex ed courses or activities.

Alaska must be doing really, really well at protecting its kids if we can afford to create all those barriers and requirements, right? Wrong.

Alaska’s performance on a national basis is abysmal. At best, we score in the bottom third. Alaska ranks 12 out of 51 in rates of teen pregnancy, for example. Alaska is the undisputed worst state for sexual assault. Rural Alaska Natives, whose smaller school districts would be hit hardest by these requirements, have some of the highest rates of teen sexual activity, teen pregnancy and sexual assault.

Ironically, Senator Dunleavy represents Wasilla. The Mat Su Valley is arguably the teen pregnancy capital of Alaska; certainly, it is the home of the poster child for teen pregnancy, Bristol Palin. So why are Senator Dunleavy, Senator Cathy Giessel (R, Anchorage), and Senator Charlie Huggins (R, Also Wassily) making sex ed harder?

There are two reasons.

First, these senators are still drinking the Planned-Parenthood-Is-Evil Koolaid™. They don’t accept that the videos about misuse of fetal materials were faked, even though there are criminal charges pending against the zealots who perpetrated the hoax. Planned Parenthood is evil in their small, closed minds. So it must be kept out of the schools. Never minds that the NRA, directly and indirectly responsible for something like 33,000 firearm deaths a year, gets a red carpet treatment. Logic and consistency, and for that matter critical thinking, aren’t personal strengths of these distinguished public servants.

Second, sex education is seen by a certain kind of Republican as a subject that should only be taught in the home, not in the public schools. Never mind that parents demonstrably do a really, really bad job at it. You don’t have to look further than Alaska’s teen pregnancy statistics to know that. Hell, you don’t have to look further than Bristol Palin. Letting parents “teach” sex ed is a proven failure. Because they don’t.

So the hot button debate in 1971 gets raised again, pinned onto an innocent bill on school performance standards. Because folks like Senators Dunleavy, Giessel and Huggins put their political agenda ahead of the best interests of Alaska’s kids. Again.