Commentary Magazine


Topic: Secretary of Education

On Sex Education

A front-page story in yesterday’s Washington Post reports:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth and seventh graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active. The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work.

“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”

For those of us familiar with the remarkable work of Elayne Bennett’s Best Friends program, this study, while encouraging, is not surprising. Abstinence education, done in the right way, can have an important and positive influence on teens. It rejects the fatalism that says they all do it, that nothing can be done, that we are powerless to shape the conduct of our children. Like the best abstinence education programs, Best Friends takes seriously the moral education of the young and their well-being.

Elayne Bennett’s husband, Bill, when he was secretary of education, gave a speech in which he laid out a few principles that speak to the task of educating children about sex, principles he believed should inform curricular material and textbooks. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bennett at the time.) First, Bennett said,

We should recognize that sexual behavior is a matter of character and personality, and that we cannot be value-neural about it. Neutrality only confuses children, and may lead them to erroneous conclusions. Specifically, sex education courses should teach children sexual restraint as a standard to uphold and follow.

Second, in teaching restraint, courses should stress that sex is not simply a physical or mechanical act. We should explain to children that sex is tied to the deepest recesses of the personality. We must tell the truth; we must describe reality. We should explain that sex involves complicated feelings and emotions. Some of these are ennobling, and some of them – let us be truthful –can be cheapening of one’s own finer impulses and cheapening to others.

Third, sex education courses should speak up for the institution of the family. To the extent possible, course should speak of sexual activity in the context of the institution of marriage. They should stress the fidelity, commitment, and maturity required of the partners in a successful marriage.

Bennett went on to say

All societies have known this [sex is a quintessentially moral activity] and have taken pains to regulate sexual activity. All societies have done so, sometimes wisely, sometimes not, because they have recognized that sex is fraught with mystery and passion, involving the person at the deepest level of being. As John Donne wrote, “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow.” Poets and philosophers, saints and psychiatrists have known that the power and beauty of sex lie precisely in the fact that it is not like anything else, that it is not just something you like to do or don’t like to do. Far from being value-neutral, sex may be the most value-loaded of any human activity. It does no good to try to sanitize or deny or ignore this truth. The act of sex has complicated and profound repercussions. And if we’re going to deal with it in school, we’d better know this and acknowledge it. Otherwise, we should not let our schools have anything to do with it.

That sounded right to me then; it sounds right to me now. And it appears as if the landmark study overseen by Professor Jemmott confirms the wisdom of those words.

A front-page story in yesterday’s Washington Post reports:

Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth and seventh graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active. The findings are the first clear evidence that an abstinence program could work.

“I think we’ve written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence,” said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. “Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used.”

For those of us familiar with the remarkable work of Elayne Bennett’s Best Friends program, this study, while encouraging, is not surprising. Abstinence education, done in the right way, can have an important and positive influence on teens. It rejects the fatalism that says they all do it, that nothing can be done, that we are powerless to shape the conduct of our children. Like the best abstinence education programs, Best Friends takes seriously the moral education of the young and their well-being.

Elayne Bennett’s husband, Bill, when he was secretary of education, gave a speech in which he laid out a few principles that speak to the task of educating children about sex, principles he believed should inform curricular material and textbooks. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bennett at the time.) First, Bennett said,

We should recognize that sexual behavior is a matter of character and personality, and that we cannot be value-neural about it. Neutrality only confuses children, and may lead them to erroneous conclusions. Specifically, sex education courses should teach children sexual restraint as a standard to uphold and follow.

Second, in teaching restraint, courses should stress that sex is not simply a physical or mechanical act. We should explain to children that sex is tied to the deepest recesses of the personality. We must tell the truth; we must describe reality. We should explain that sex involves complicated feelings and emotions. Some of these are ennobling, and some of them – let us be truthful –can be cheapening of one’s own finer impulses and cheapening to others.

Third, sex education courses should speak up for the institution of the family. To the extent possible, course should speak of sexual activity in the context of the institution of marriage. They should stress the fidelity, commitment, and maturity required of the partners in a successful marriage.

Bennett went on to say

All societies have known this [sex is a quintessentially moral activity] and have taken pains to regulate sexual activity. All societies have done so, sometimes wisely, sometimes not, because they have recognized that sex is fraught with mystery and passion, involving the person at the deepest level of being. As John Donne wrote, “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow.” Poets and philosophers, saints and psychiatrists have known that the power and beauty of sex lie precisely in the fact that it is not like anything else, that it is not just something you like to do or don’t like to do. Far from being value-neutral, sex may be the most value-loaded of any human activity. It does no good to try to sanitize or deny or ignore this truth. The act of sex has complicated and profound repercussions. And if we’re going to deal with it in school, we’d better know this and acknowledge it. Otherwise, we should not let our schools have anything to do with it.

That sounded right to me then; it sounds right to me now. And it appears as if the landmark study overseen by Professor Jemmott confirms the wisdom of those words.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.’” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ –  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.’” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ –  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.