October 14, 2004
By Melissa G. Pardue
For many students around the country, textbooks aren't exactly a
source of excitement. But for many Texas parents, they're the
source of a brewing controversy. And the debate it has touched off
could have repercussions nationwide.
concerns the updating of health textbooks -- in particular, the
chapters dealing with sex education. The Texas board of education
has held two hearings to help it decide how to vote on Nov. 5, when
board members will rule on whether to replace health textbooks now
in circulation with updated texts, beginning in the 2005 school
The stakes are high. Texas is the country's second-largest buyer of
textbooks (after California), and publishing companies often market
the books that Texas adopts to the other 49 states.
The updated texts
could be required to include information on abstinence as well as
medically accurate information on sex education. That means facts
on the ineffectiveness of condoms and other forms of contraception
in preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy.
The current textbooks fail to explain that abstinence is the only
100-percent effective method to prevent STDs and pregnancy.
Nationwide, 10 scientific studies prove that abstinence
education reduces teen sexual activity and dramatically
decreases out-of-wedlock childbearing.
Texas has proven to be a leader in updating its curriculum
guidelines to reflect the effectiveness of the abstinence message.
State officials now require high-school health texts to "analyze
the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and
other contraceptive methods." On Nov. 5, the board of education
will determine whether the four health texts up for consideration
meet this and other requirements.
Of course, certain contraception-promotion advocates (such as
Planned Parenthood) claim the texts don't have enough information
about condoms. They say abstinence education is dangerous and could
lead to more pregnancies and STDs.
They also claim the new textbooks wouldn't contain any information
on contraception. But that's misleading. Such information would be
included in the teacher's manuals and in separate student
supplements, so teachers would have the flexibility to raise
sensitive topics such as contraception at the appropriate time.
The danger of early sexual activity is much greater than the
supposed dangers of abstinence education. It leads to higher levels
of child and maternal poverty, elevates the risk of STDs and often
leaves teenage girls depressed, even suicidal. It also contributes
to marital failure in adulthood.
Most sexually active teens say they wish they had waited until they
were older before engaging in sexual activity. Nearly two-thirds of
sexually active teens express regret about their initial sexual
Unfortunately, nearly all government-funded comprehensive sex-ed
courses -- many of which are misleadingly called "abstinence-plus"
programs -- contain little, if any, reference to abstinence. They
may mention it briefly, but it's often presented as something that
(wink, wink) kids in the "real world" will ignore.
though, is what some of these comprehensive sex education programs
do contain: Explicit demonstrations of contraceptive use --
especially condoms -- and direct encouragement to experiment
sexually. Such programs contain little or no encouragement
whatsoever for teens to delay sexual activity until they're
A recent Zogby poll found that three out of every four parents disapproved
or strongly disapproved of "abstinence-plus" curricula. About the
same number say they want their children to receive an authentic
abstinence education. An overwhelming 91 percent say they want
their teens taught that sex is best when it is linked to love,
intimacy and commitment -- qualities most likely to occur in a
In general, abstinence education curricula provide valuable
character education, relationship education, marriage preparedness,
refusal skills, action and consequence education, parent-teen
communication skills, and factual information on STDs and the
ineffectiveness of condoms. Contrary to the claims of abstinence
critics, most schools that use an abstinence curriculum still teach
basic information about contraception, but they teach it in a
different class so they won't undermine the message of abstinence.
The vast majority of parents strongly support this
The Texas health education guidelines are a welcome change from the
messages of promiscuity and irresponsibility our teenagers have
been getting for the last three decades. Many educators and state
legislators have finally decided to provide what parents clearly
say they want. If those voices are heard, next year's students will
learn that true abstinence is the best policy.
Melissa Pardue is the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellow in Social
Welfare Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire
For many students around the country, textbooks aren't exactly a source of excitement. But for many Texas parents, they're the source of a brewing controversy.
Melissa G. Pardue
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