Sex Ed the Texas Way

Dallas wants to close the book on abstinence-only education. Texas keeps getting in the way.

"We have really high teen pregnancy rates, really high STD rates and one of the highest new-HIV rates in the country," Zavadil says. "We're clearly not doing a good job of educating our general population about how to keep themselves healthy."

Zavadil has two children, a 5-year-old and a younger child. She doesn't object to them being taught abstinence, per se: "If you say abstinence is the only 100-percent effective way of preventing pregnancy or STDs, that's true." But she wants that to be paired with accurate information about contraception and disease-prevention.

"How do we teach good decision-making?" she says. "In order to do that you have to provide comprehensive, accurate facts. You have to give accurate facts about STDs and all the options that are available for preventing them."

Which is why Zavadil and some cohorts — all members of the SHAC's small human growth and sexuality subcommittee — set out to do something about the state of the district's sex ed.

When Zavadil first looked at DISD's curriculum, she didn't think it was awful. "I'd probably be OK with my daughter being taught it," she says. "I'd be OK with it. But it could be better." She noticed that the graphics, statistics and some of the language about the differences between boys and girls were rather dated.

"We inherited it," Karen Burnell says of the current program. She's a coordinated school health specialist with Dallas ISD, one of the four people who make up the physical education department. Along with the department's director, Burnell has been guiding the SHAC through the process of choosing a new sex-ed curriculum.

No one's quite sure when or why the current sex-ed curriculum was adopted. The district health department theorizes that portions of it were written and implemented with some federal grant money that no longer exists, but they can't be sure. Wherever it came from, the curriculum seems freshly updated in spots — students are taught each year about sexual harassment, with language similar to what's in DISD's student handbook. But other lessons seem to be from another era entirely.

Basic sex ed starts in the fourth grade, with lessons on anatomy, peer pressure, boundary-setting and the meaning of sexual harassment. Messages about perceived, bizarrely stereotypical differences between girls and boys are also instilled early. A handout about puberty tells students that "even the slightest things can make a girl angry or sensitive to a situation." She also may "feel fine one minute and cry the next." Each of the six bullet points on girls, in fact, have to do with how totally moody they are. Boys, meanwhile, are encouraged to make close friends and not "keep all your feelings inside."

The word "condom" first appears in the seventh grade, in an illustrative little story about a girl named Jana whose boyfriend Lamar has been pressuring her for sex. One Saturday night, Lamar shows up with some condoms and tells her "that if she doesn't have sexual intercourse the relationship might be over." The seventh graders are asked to figure out how Jana can "refuse and keep the relationship."

Although HIV and AIDS are mentioned starting in grade school, it's not until high school that the curriculum mentions that using a condom might help avoid infection. The students are never actually told directly to use a condom to prevent HIV — that information is only available in the teacher training materials. Teachers are supposed to emphasize that condoms only work if they're used correctly each and every time, but teachers aren't required to show the students how.

There appears to be only one full lesson on contraception, to be administered sometime in high school. It's generally accurate, albeit brief, but does contain a number of outdated, incorrect assertions: that IUDs are not available for women who haven't given birth, and that the morning-after pill is "not available for general use" and is typically only used by rape victims. Both assertions have been untrue for at least five years.

Those are the things that Zavadil and Co. want to fix. And how hard could it be? If there's general agreement from the parents that more information on condoms is needed, that should be easy enough. Shouldn't it?

Not really. Even as the SHAC tries to swim a little further out into reality, that Texas undertow keeps dragging them back. A pair of bills in the State Legislature are pushing for an even more restrictive set of rules on what school districts can teach in sex ed. The legislation, by Representative Jeff Leach and Senator Ken Paxton, would prohibit "abortion providers and their affiliates from teaching sex education and/or providing family planning instruction in Texas schools." Parents would also be required to opt their kids in to sex ed, by signing a permission slip at least 14 days before any instruction. (DISD already does this, for reasons that are unclear; administrators say it's causing children to miss out on sex-ed instruction.)The bills are part of state lawmakers' ongoing assault on Planned Parenthood. The nonprofit provides some sex-ed materials to "a handful" of school districts in the state, says spokeswoman Sarah Wheat, and the material has to be approved by each district's SHAC. They're required by law to stress abstinence, like everyone else. But the hearing on Paxton's bill allowed anti-abortion activists ample room to air out some of their favorite conspiracy theories, ones the lawmakers seem to support.

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73 comments
bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

Ironically, the very foundation of Christianity is that abstinence does NOT work.

When god wants a woman to get pregnant, there's nothing any Republican preacher can do to stop Him.

ryan762
ryan762

"I'm just gonna tell you from my own personal life," the governor said finally, emitting a nervous little chuckle. "Abstinence works."

 If only his parents had thought the same.

Five Rings Financial - Life Advisors
Five Rings Financial - Life Advisors

The U.S. policy debate concerning the most appropriate and effective type of sex education for school-age youth has raged for the past twenty something years. Parents are very concerned about how sexuality, the most intimate of human subjects, is taught to their children. Yet, schools are clearly making an exception to the normal health education standards in the way they teach sex education, which tells us there is an ideology or cultural shift influencing the teaching of sexuality education. The standard for health education in public schools is risk-avoidance. Whether the topic is illegal drug use, alcohol use, weapons, bullying or nutrition, the expected standard is abstinence from unhealthy behaviors. For instance, it is not acceptable to teach students what specific type of alcohol to drink to become less intoxicated. Nor is it acceptable for students to be taught about community drug dealers who may have safer drugs for them to buy. Risk-reduction is simply not acceptable teaching in health education. Students are taught to avoid the activity all together so they can avoid the risks associated with the behavior. But, when the teaching of sexuality is concerned, exceptions are frequently made. Teaching risk-reduction in sexual behaviors is acceptable and often promoted in public school systems where students are taught how to use condoms and contraceptives to decrease the risks associated with being sexually active. Abstinence education is not exclusively a Christian standard; it is primarily public health prevention, which requires risk-avoidance. With all of the physical, mental, emotional and social risks associated with early sexual debut and multiple sexual partners, there should be no deviation from teaching risk-avoidance.

Leah Ferraro
Leah Ferraro

Parents have to be responsible and teach their kids at home. Now I worry that what I teach may actually be undone at schools! What a disaster.

JohnWileyPrice
JohnWileyPrice

As long as Sandra Fluke gets her free birth control pills what difference does it make?

inevattable
inevattable

For anyone who lived through the 60s and 70s [an age that embraced a good bit of truthfulness], as dubya did, to turn sex-education into a exercise in fantasy is appalling.  Texas is a truth-starved-state and its politicians are going to make certain that it stays that way. 

Momto3inDISD
Momto3inDISD

I have a 19 yr old daughter who graduated from DISD and a 15 yr old and 12 yr old still in DISD.  I try to teach sex ed at home, but want the lessons reinforced at school.

My older daughter has friends who had pregnancy scares and didn't know what to do.  They had no knowledge of how their body worked and no info on birth control.  Boys need to know too.

If I could pay to have condoms avaiable in our school nurse's office, I would.

I hope a decent fact and science based curriculum can be found.  I am skeptical about Worth the Wait which wouldn't even show the whole curriculum to the advisory board.

pooua
pooua

You mean, in the Internet Era (bringing an end to the Cable TV Era), where anyone can learn virtually anything known to humanity, in a state and a city that boasts more strip clubs and sexually-oriented businesses than the US average, in the plastic surgery capital of the world, our children don't know something about sex? With modern teen roll models, like Lindsey Lohan, the "Jersey Shore" cast and constant sex themes in all forms of media, how is it possible that our children have misconceptions about sex? Well! This is awkward!

RadarGort
RadarGort

When the government school system teaches anything now, God and morality are usually left out.  Our children are not really emotionally ready for sexual relationships. But secular society encourages it and kids feel pressured into giving in.  Kids are taught today that their bodies are their own and that they have their right to do anything they want to including having sex.  We seem to have forgotten that it was God who made male and female and yes, God created sex.  But he created it with certain guidelines and responsibilities because He knows the strong emotional and physical  bond that humans can develop.  That's why He gave us the institution of marriage.  He encourages marriage between a man and woman  and He encourages them to stay sexual pure for each other until they marry.  Sex  outside of marriage often has negative consequences. ie: disease, unwanted pregnancy ,feelings  of shame or rejection.   If our children could only remember that their bodies are really not their   own but belong to their heavenly Father and that He only wants what is best for them.    It could save them a lot of heartache.

buscoody
buscoody

Skyline High School is in East Dallas.

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

You mean the stork didn't bring me from the Jesus Baby Store?  Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle. 

The reason I like Liberalism and reject Conservatism is that the American Taliban just isn't appealing to me.  Republican Jesus carries an AR-15 and will mow down anyone who disagrees with him, God only answers the prayers of the rich, and if you join the "right" church God will even give you money.  Republican Jesus thinks that violence is patriotism, but sex belongs to Satan.  Republican Jesus insists that what we do not know will never hurt us and that ignorance is bliss. 

Whatever in the world could be wrong with any of that? 

AMeaningfulLife
AMeaningfulLife

Aren't these little boys and girls adorable.  They know all about life and sex.  And the responses are charming.  TheIncredibleSulk must be a rapist, wanting to drag those pure people into the sexual orgy pile of filth.

I imagine people like this are on divorce #3 and live a life seeking instant gratification.  Pathetic existence.

amanuesis
amanuesis

You have no regard for pesky details like facts and reality. As abstinence has been made the focus, teen pregnancies, disease, abortions, and teen parenting has gone out of control. You know why simpleton? Because teaching abstinence doesn't work. The ironic part is, while you simple conservatives are so busy trying to tell the rest of society what you think it should be doing, your innocent 14 year old is probably sexting and setting up her first sexual encounter while waiting for her dumbass parents to finish giving their little speech. And if and when you find out your daughter had unprotected sex yesterday with some random, Pimply freshman, you'll be trying to shove a Plan B down her throat like you were trying to give your dog his worming medicine. The solution to all society's illness is to get rid of the disease called clueless conservatism.

amule_82
amule_82

@Five Rings Financial - Life Advisors Teaching abstinance only sex ed IS NOT WORKING. I repeat, IT IS NOT WORKING. Human beings (and every other creature on earth) have hormonal urges to reproduce, they do not, however, have a naturally occuring biological chemical that is released into their brains instructing them to drink and take drugs.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@Five Rings Financial - Life Advisors 

A fine example of a Christian, pretending that the rest of us share his sick, twisted, faith.

randi.trollop
randi.trollop

@Five Rings Financial - Life Advisors___Thank you for the public service announcement from the religious right, whose mottos seems to be, "Ignorance is bliss."

ryan762
ryan762

@JohnWileyPrice It is horrible that someone would expect insurance premiums to cover prescription medication.


Anybody who lets their insurance company pay for any medical procedure or medicine are definitely slutty freeloaders. Insurance is only supposed to collect premiums. They're not supposed to pay for anything.

randi.trollop
randi.trollop

@pooua Sorry to quibble, but S. Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world.

amule_82
amule_82

@RadarGortMarriage does not guarantee sex will not have negative consequences, disease, unwanted pregancy or feelings of shame and rejection. But a good solid lack of education and experince almost certainly will. If god had intented us to not have sex in our teenage years, why on earth did he/it make those years the ones where we are most hormonal and sexually charged? It makes no sense, NONE of it makes any sense.

LunchroomLady
LunchroomLady

@RadarGort Ahhh, the preface to the "Breed 'em but don't feed 'em" sermon.  Is it Sunday already?  Man, that was a short week.

scottie1620
scottie1620

@RadarGort Did your priest tell you to say that while he had you bent over receiving the "Word of God?"

fracquestions
fracquestions

@RadarGort Well, that's YOUR interpretation, anyway. Not everybody believes as you do.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@RadarGort If he only wants whats best for children, then why are millions of them dying of hunger across across the world?  

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@gordonhilgers Seems like you have a pretty radicalized view of conservatism.  Just as many conservatives have a radicalized view of Democrats.  The reality is that true conservatism is defined by: "lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (as retirement income or health-care coverage)" (Merriam-Webster).

True liberalism is defined as "political ideology with its beginnings in western Europe that rejects authoritarian government and defends freedom of speech, association, and religion, and the right to own property".

I venture to guess that you're misguided about the definition of each.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@AMeaningfulLife 

Happily married to my first and only wife of nearly 20 years.

Don't worry though, I had plenty of sexual partners prior to that, and having had a good strong educational foundation in biology, sexual ed and birth control, I was able to avoid risky sexual behavior and its pitfalls such as unwanted children and STD's.

By the way, we're trying to educate the children of the reticent so they DON'T end up with unwanted children or STD's.

Why do you hate knowledge and education?  

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@AMeaningfulLife well aren't you a charming lad, calling someone a rapist bc of their opinion?    You must always be wonderful in bed,  I imagine you lying flat on your back while your husband pokes you with no passion so he can create 2 offspring 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin 

God is only responsible if the outcome is good

Free will is the origin of all evil and God cannot be held responsible for your own bad decisions.

Move along . . .

pooua
pooua

@ScottsMerkin More people are dying from obesity than from starvation, all around the world. This world has not experienced a natural famine in a century. Most of those cases of starvation we see are the result of wars or politics; our world has become too small for natural disasters to keep an area in famine. Enough charitable organizations exist that food is available to anyone in need, if humans don't interfere with the delivery.

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

@mcdallas @gordonhilgers--Well, well, well.  The "other wing" of Conservatism speaks-out.  And speaks-out.  And keeps speaking-out.  What Conservatism is really about, of course, is the politicization of commercial activity, at least when it's not simply a reactionary response to what the liberal democratic tradition has managed to accomplish, especially via modern-day Liberalism and Progressivism.  When we talk about "lower taxes", what we're really talking about is dismissing our obligations to the famed "social contract"--in which we trade some of our independence in order to pool our resources to achieve goals as a united nation-state.  That said, by borrowing from the banks instead of relying solely on taxpayers for revenue, don't you think the government is trading-away our national sovereignty?  I sure do.  And when we talk about limiting governmental regulatory activity, we're actually talking about dismissing political inclusiveness that protects the people and helps coordinate economic activity in favor of values that exclude everything but profit. 

And, since our nation's military expenditures are larger than the next 10 nations on the list together, it's obvious that what's really happening there is called extraction, otherwise known as "private profit via public expense", a real problem when America goes to war for private profit. 

As far as "personal responsibility" goes, the hijacking of individualism into a reduction that defines it merely as "self interest", what we're actually doing is leaving the individual to fend for him- or herself against mammoth economic forces that are both unpredictable and dangerous to our well-being as a nation-state.  The "personal responsibility" selling-point is, moreover, nothing but an excuse to privatize social welfare programs for purposes of profit, absolutely a contradiction of social welfare programing that was designed to protect the elderly, the infirm and the poor from the rapaciousness of the market. 

But if you want to buy the substitution of unregulated capitalism for democracy, best of luck.  You can run but you cannot hide. 

scottie1620
scottie1620

@mcdallas @gordonhilgers There is another word to define "True Conservatism" - Fascism. But, after Hitler gave Fascism such a bad name Fascists have to find other ways to define who and what they are, and "True Conservative" is their modern buzzword.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@mcdallas @gordonhilgers "True Conservatism" is a lot like "Communism" - neither exists in the real world. Both are theoretical. Name me one single time that ANY Republican "Conservative" has EVER acted in a truly conservative way. You cannot do so because it has never happened. It is just a buzzword they use to deceive dumb people into following and supporting them.

Show me just one example of a true Communist society larger than some hippie commune. You cannot do so because it does not exist. Any country with a government cannot possibly be Communistic because in a Communist society there would NO government, and no need for a government. Instead, we have benevolent (like Great Britain) and dictatorial (like China or North Korea) socialist countries, the latter being totalitarian and the former deriving its powers from the consent of the governed.

AMeaningfulLife
AMeaningfulLife

@mcdallas @gordonhilgers Isn't it interesting that the stereotypes the liberals put forth are based in fantasy?  I haven't seen a Conservative with an AR-15 mowing down anyone - ever.  Jesus does not care whether a person is a Liberal or Conservative whatsoever.  That Jesus teaching on morality and a meaningful sexual relationship creates such vitriol and falsen accusations says much more about his character than someone elses.

AMeaningfulLife
AMeaningfulLife

@ScottsMerkin @AMeaningfulLife "Dragging folks kicking and screaming" sounds pretty rapist oriented to me.  What do you think the statement means?  It certainly does not convey acceptance of those who would be left alone in th their abstinent life choice.  Does it?

pooua
pooua

@amule_82 25,000 people out of 7 billion people is not a famine or widespread starvation. It's hardly a statistical blip for the number of people who die *every day*.

amule_82
amule_82

That is completely untrue. Approx 2.8 million die per year as the result of obesity related complications, 25,000 people starve to death EVERY DAY. Where do you get your statistics from? Mine are from the World Health Org.

pooua
pooua

@bifftannen @pooua @ScottsMerkin The Dust Bowl was a drought, not a famine. There was no widespread starvation.

Science cannot do anything that God did not give it. Science discovers what God created.

bifftannen
bifftannen

@pooua @ScottsMerkin Did you miss the Dust Bowl? Hint: it was less than a century ago.

Either way, that is because science initiated an agriculture revolution. Not god.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@pooua why did he allow them to eat to much?  why didnt he save them?  Why did he allow for fast food that is terrible for you?  Why why why.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@pooua so then why does god allow children to be FAT, how dare him

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@gordonhilgers there's a lot of room in the middle of the political spectrum  Thanks for stretching the far left edge to make even more.

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@gordonhilgers I think you literally need a soap box.  Thanks for the talking points.  And for disproving any far-reaching notion that we can have an adult discussion here (except, of course, regarding "adult" topics, and even then it's a stretch).

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@scottie1620 @mcdallas @gordonhilgers Scottie, your assertion that Fascism is defined as "lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs " is so off-base that it's comical.  This is an adult conversation...the kids' table is down the hall.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@scottie1620 @AMeaningfulLife was that suppose to be funny?  Palin jokes are about 3 years out of date now, and its awesome that you chose the easiest target.  simpleton i guess

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@AMeaningfulLife so you are against giving your kid choices and educating them fully?  You are telling them how they have to live?  Reality is a lot different outside the walls of the house you raised your kids in.  Congrats your kids Im assuming are in the very small percentage of kids that remained abstinent till marriage

 
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