Alex Blaze

Right-wing politics: Part of the Real-life Abstinence-only Curriculum

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 06, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: 1950s, abstinence only education, Ann Coulter, comprehensive sex education, condoms, conservatism, politics, Rush Limbaugh, school, sex ed, std's

One abstinence-only curriculum used in 19 Texas school districts proclaims:

There are over 29 common STD's that today's teenagers are facing. 5 of them are incurable. A generation ago there were only 2 and both were curable!"

Part of how conservative politics is sold is by telling people that things were better off in some time in the past. Things were simpler, people were nicer, everyone knew their place, everyone was safe, and people were really happy.

In the blockquote above, which is patently false, I would imagine that a "generation ago" would refer to current high school students'parents. And that would mean that "a generation ago" refers to when the parents came of age, in the 80's and early 90's. Something tells me that there were a few STD's to be concerned with at that time.

Abstinence-only education based on rigid gender roles, junk science, homophobia, lack of respect for religious diversity, and an authoritarian message (Just don't do it, dammit!), is inherently conservative. In this, part 5 of my week-long series on the new Wiley and Wilson study on in-class abstinence-only education in Texas, I'm highlighting some of the other ways conservatives are using abstinence-only education to create the Rush Limbaugh crowd's next generation.

I suppose conservatives think that since they fought so hard for this funding, they might as well use it to their benefit.

This post is a secondary analysis of Wiley and Wilson's data (that is, it's not what they intended to look at when they wrote their study), and won't be as comprehensive as some of the other ones. But many of the quotations they presented showed these folks' true colors and ought to be discussed.

The blockquote before the jump claims that, in a certain time in the past, STD's didn't exist, presumably because people weren't as slutty. "Back in the day..." claims are important to conservatives because they show that their overly simplified world-view was at one point enacted, and was really, really good to people. That's the same reason they have to make up a lot of their claims about the past - things simply weren't simple back then.

Another program makes a similar claim:

When we [parents] were their age, we had no STDs to worry about that could kill us. Today, we list 7 in their world that can actually kill them....They constantly receive the message that "everything is acceptable today." But what they are not being told is that if they do what is so accepted today THEY COULD DIE!

Ahhhh... nothing says "credibility" like all-caps.

But where is that "message" coming from? I'm going to just guess that it's, as the Religious Right calls it, "the culture." Which means Hollywood, conservatives' whipping post.

Remember, kids, Hollywood values will kill you.

Authoritarian indoctrination rears its head in other ways. This program, made for 6th graders, feeds students a link between their morality and material wealth:

"WARNING! Going on this ride could change your life forever, result in poverty, heartache, disease, and even DEATH."

Conservatives love that line, and it's another one of the basic reasons they want to legislate morality. By keeping the debate on those issues, and the blame for people's own problems on the fact that they've engaged in premarital sex, were born out of wedlock, or are L, G, B, or T, they keep the attention off the systemic, material inequalities that enforce class boundaries.

In other words, poor people are poor because they deserve to be, not because the game is rigged against them.

Another program makes a slightly different claim, instead blaming criminal and "immoral" behavior not on education, cultural values, economic desparity, or other factors, but instead on the "absence of good character":

Destructive behaviors such as violence, dishonesty, drug abuse and sexual promiscuity arise from a common core--the absence of good character.

The fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives, when it comes to the criminal justice system, is that conservatives assume that we all come from pretty much the same backgrounds, so people who commit crimes do so because they're simply inferior. Liberals, on the other hand, think that criminal behavior comes from a variety of sources and that we can fight against it by addressing those causes. (Which gives them the "weak on crime" label that so many rebel against by demanding harsh prison sentences....)

Saying that anything that these folks don't like in others happens just because others don't have good character is a convenient way to both advocate "lock em up and throw away the key" and to ignore the systemic causes of crime that can be ameliorated. Throw in "sexual promiscuity" in there, and suddenly having sex at all outside marriage (which is how these folks define promiscuity) is compared to criminal behavior. And, if we gave these folks a chance, it probably would be criminal behavior.


What I'm saying here is more than "abstinence-only education is conservative." What I'm trying to get at is that one of the main reasons they fight for it is that it will perpetuate itself as well as their movement. Not only are they given money to go to schools and proselytize their views on sexuality and gender, they lace these messages with further conservative messaging.

Because, as we should all know by now, these issues aren't separate. The fiscal conservatism, the free market fundamentalism, the homophobia, the sexism, the attacks on the separation of church and state, the hatred of science, and the entitlement it takes to demand to teach these in school are all part of the same animal.

And the right knows it is, which is why they want to push their educational materials into public schools. It makes people more amenable to buying Ann Coulter books later on in life if they're already being fed the message that criminals are just bad people or that society turned to shit after integration, feminism, and sexual liberation. And they're more likely to assume that they can push their beliefs on others if those beliefs were so normalized that they were taught them in public school.

While teachers are going to, often without even thinking about it, give their political opinion or political slant on what they're teaching, bringing these abstinence-only education folks into schools is really just asking for trouble. It's something we should be paying attention to.

Read more on real abstinence-only programs:

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When I worked for the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Tucson, we were trying to get a bill passed that would require schools, if they taught sex education, to only teach "medically accurate" sex education. When I first heard that, I couldn't believe my ears, but it was true. The school districts of Arizona actually had to have a law tell them that you can't lie to students.

One of the more egregious examples was a textbook that stated that 2/3 of people sexually active outside of marriage would become HIV-positive within ten years even if they used condoms. In addition to being patently false and a horrible scare tactic (since those work so well with teens), it completely discouraged condom use. I mean, if you're gonna get AIDS anyway, why bother with condoms?

I don't think that law ever passed (it hadn't when I left) and Arizona continues to have one of the worst teen pregnancy rates in the country. That's really the proof that abstinence only doesn't work - states where it's the norm always have the highest teen pregnancy rates.

There has been under 40 years of recorded American or Western European medical history in which the most common STDs didn't include some incurable STDs with risk of fatality.

Until 1945 and the advent of penicillin, syphilis often had fatal complications, heart disease and degenerative brain disease being the most common.