Thursday, January 24, 2008

What William Saletan Never Gets

Jan. 22 is the anniversary of Roe Vs. Wade and it’s typically a day for pieces about abortion. So of course Slate’s William Saletan felt the need to weigh in another moralizing piece about why don’t pro-choicers just don’t say abortion is bad (while trying to defend it). Many people have said what exactly is wrong with this strategy, better than I can. I think part of what bothers me/us-Saletan-haters the most about him, is that he thinks he’s pro-choice. But he’s not. He’s pro-choice with a side of “I want you ladies to feel really guilty about what you are doing.” He doesn’t view his own ideologically allies as the Right to Life association but I wish he would just own up to the fact that he’s not a pro-choice WRITER. I think it’s the bait’n’switch that bothers me more than anything about his pieces. It’s like listening to Joe Lieberman lecture the Democratic party about the right way to be a Democrat (to vote like a Republican).

So Saletan’s pieces are always coaching pro-choicers that the right way to be pro-choice is really to adopt the morals and language of the anti-choice crowd.

But the part of where he talks about teen sex really got to me because for the last two weeks I’ve been enveloped in the world of abstinence-only education programs. Yesterday, as a matter of fact, I was searching the internet for the most perfect example of how crap these programs really are. Something better than a program in Texas that tells sixth graders that “men sexually are like microwaves and women sexually are like crockpots….” Or the East Texas abstinence lecturer who uses (a quite common tactic) of tearing up two pieces of tape and as the tape collects dirt it shows how having sex with multiple people gives up your “stickiness” and you can no longer bond with another piece of tape. (Also a person who has lots of sex is full of dirt).

Here are some examples of abstinence lesson plans…can you spot what is wrong with them?

Worth The Wait

The curriculum explains that a mayor of a small town had a beautiful statue placed in a park, and told the townspeople that the lustrous golden metal would turn “a putrid shade of green if handled too much.” A year after the statue was erected, the mayor held a celebration in honor of the statue, only to find that the golden statue had turned green, because everyone had thought that “one touch would not hurt.” The story ends with the statement, “what each person thought was a harmless touch turned into the total destruction of a beautiful statue.” (Worth the Wait, Section 2-27) The curriculum makes a quick analogy to sexual activity: “sex is special. When someone is able to save this gift for his/her wedding night, it is a gift that is irreplaceable. However, if a person has had numerous partners and numerous sexual encounters, sexual activity loses its special quality.” (Worth the Wait, Section 2-27) Like much of the curriculum, the story portrays sexual activity as a destructive and harmful force and implies that those who have had sex outside of marriage are tainted—they have gone from lustrous and beautiful to a “putrid shade of green.”
Why kNOw?
The same lesson plan instructs teachers to construct an eighteen-foot long Speedy the Sperm © out of what essentially amounts to a pillow and a piece of rope. Speedy is designed to be exactly 450 times the size of a penny, because “the HIV virus is 450 times smaller than a human sperm.” (Why kNOw?, 8 th grade and high school, p. 96) The teacher is told to stretch Speedy © out to his full length, then hold up a penny and ask the students: “If the condom has a failure rate of 14% in preventing Speedy © from getting through to create a new life, what happens if this guy (the penny) gets through? You have a death: your own.” (Why kNOw?, 8 th grade and high school, p. 96) While the curriculum does not actually state that condoms may have holes large enough for the HIV virus to travel through, this is clearly the implication behind this activity.
Heritage Keeper
A similar message of shame regarding STDs is presented in the “Pink Water Game.” The teacher prepares one clear plastic cup that is 1/3 full with ammonia. Each student is given a cup that is 1/3 full of water. Students are told to “swap fluids” with one another and the teacher by pouring their liquid into someone else's cup and swirling it around. Each student is told to swap fluids with three other people. One student, however, is taken aside by the teacher and told to abstain from the activity. After all students have swapped, the teacher is instructed to reveal that one cup was “infected” and that students “will find out who has been ‘contaminated.'” (Heritage Keeper, Teacher Manual, p. 51) This is revealed when the teacher puts a drop of the chemical phenolphthalein in each cup. Those that have some ammonia will turn pink. The teacher then discloses the name of the student who was abstinent, notes that his cup is not “contaminated,” and points out that while other students probably felt nervous about getting tested, the abstinent students had no questions about the results of his test. Once again, the curriculum is setting up a dichotomy in which students who are abstinent are good and those who have been sexually active are, in this case, contaminated.
And this is just some activities; it’s not even the crap that the abstinence speakers spew to the kids. Don’t think these are just the “bad” examples. They’re all like that. They all use a fear-based curriculum that says sex is bad, you can’t possibly be responsible enough to avoid all the diseases we’re going to tell you about, and there’s no way you can do any kind of sexual activity that doesn’t involve penetration. (I swear the narrow view of what constitute “actual” sex, bothers me the most of all. The fact that some men never get the idea that sex can involve a penis *not* entering a vagina/mouth/anus and STILL BE SATISFYING SEX, bugs the hell out of me.)

I honestly think that the truth that dare not speak its name is that most parents really don’t want their children to be virgins on their wedding night. Setting aside even the issue of virginity, what if you heard of a couple that was getting married that had slept with each other yet? Most people would not think that was a wise thing to do, get into a marriage without exploring that part of a relationship first to find out if you are even compatible.

But it’s like we’re in some kind of Peter Pan world where we all just clap our hands and pretend that the norm is not to have pre-marital sex (or not to have sex in high school). But we all have to hang on to this pretense because otherwise Tinkerbelle will die.

I strongly want to ask William Saletan when he lost his virginity and if it was before the age of 20, does he think his teenage sexual antics ruined his life? Because I think what a lot of people haven’t gotten over is the fact that teen sex may not be an inherently bad thing. The key word is “inherently.” Sex for 13 year olds is not a good idea. Some 17 year olds probably shouldn’t have sex. But in between there is a lot of healthy sexual exploration between high school and college that is actually positive and can be a maturing experience for understanding as much about yourself as growing up does.

But what Saletan doesn’t ever get, is that his ideological allies in abortion and teen sex, do not view the world the way he does. They have a rather unhealthy view of human sexuality, which is that it is inherently sinful except in marriage (and even then…unless you’re doing it to make babies…its still bad). Saletan lives in a dream world where there is a perfect compromise. He never gets that he doesn’t live in a perfect world and just because he thinks he’s being reasonable that if one side lays down their arms the other side won’t rush to fill it with a theocracy. Saletan might think that all teen sex is bad but early 20something sex is probably okay, if not healthy. But his allies don't. He doesn't get that.

Heh, as I was composing this post, I found this.


Anonymous said...

I think your tone indicates you know your side is losing the battle.

Jim in Cleveland

Anonymous said...

...and I'll use this as an excuse for to say
"Yay! State's Rights!"
"Yay! School Vouchers!"

Decentralization. Give everyone the chance to be a fool.

You see, that way, people have more choices, instead of the federal guv'mint dictating how to teach the childrens about the birds & the bees.

This is a reason why Federal standards for sex-ed are a bad idea. This decision is best left for local school boards, who are more in tune with their community, more responsive to their community.
If it's the Feds in charge, you'll be pissing off half the nation each election.

I'm sure the parents of San Francisco have different desires for their children's sex-ed than say the parents of SmallTownBibleBelt.

And then, we can do a little compare and contrast, and see in 10 years, which school did better.

Vouchers...let people opt out of the public school in their neighborhood if they don't like the policies.

(PS hey Jim, recently 1/20/08 I wrote about a republican senator investigating the financial standings of some evangelicals. I would be interested in your views.)

Anonymous said...

:-jon is on the money. Let the states decide whether they want abortion legal, how to run their schools, and what programs to teach their kids. And I would go further than vouchers on school choice. I would give everyone in the entire public school system (in my given locality) the choice of what school to go to.

Jim in Cleveland

Anonymous said...


I tried to comment on the blog entry, but I do not have a password. I don't want to use Newscat's blog to comment, but briefly--I agree with you 100% Complete oversight overstep.

Jim in Cleveland

Anonymous said...

we played a variation of the "pink water game" in my microbiology class.

Lesson...germs spread.

Anonymous said...

You are great! I love it! And if you take a look at my blog, you can also see what Saletan doesn't get.

I don't think San Francisco parents are THAT different from Bible Belt parents, though, in most major ways.

Also, we can all see how well the "states' rights" argument is doing on the same-sex marriage issue. It's not a panacea.