Sex-Ed Gate

If this National Review article was intended to validate the notion that Barack Obama wants to teach kindergartners all about sex it seems to have the opposite effect.  Instead, it reinforces the idea that the Illinois bill in question is basically a Rorschach test for what people think about sex ed more generally and hardly evidence of poor judgement or a lack of values on Obama’s part.   At best you can say that although substantively it was quite misleading the McCain ad was in the very strictest sense technically accurate with regard to the bill.*

Read the whole thing, but this passage is key to understanding what this is about:

After the ad controversy erupted, I asked the Obama campaign to suggest who I might interview for more information. I particularly wanted some sort of contemporaneous account showing that Obama voted for the bill because of its inappropriate-touching provision. The campaign suggested I call Ken Swanson, who is head of the Illinois Education Association and a 20-year veteran of teaching sixth-graders.

…“The intent of the language and inclusion of kindergarten was simply to make it possible to offer age-appropriate, not comprehensive, information for kindergartners so that those young children could be given basic information so that they would be aware of inappropriate behavior by adults,” Swanson told me. “Certainly, it was never intended to be some sort of inappropriate information that might be appropriate for junior high or high school students.” McCain’s accusation, Swanson told me, was “bogus.”

I suggested to Swanson that the bill seemed to provide for HIV education for youngsters before the sixth grade, and perhaps as early as kindergarten. “As I recall the discussion, there was a conversation where in different places in the state — that was something that should be left to local circumstances,” Swanson told me. “What might be appropriate in an urban inner city might not be appropriate in a rural community. I don’t recall anybody, from our perspective, having a one-rule-fits-all vision.”…

Anyone who has ever drafted a law will relate to the challenge of balancing flexibility with legislative intent.   But more to the point, anyone who has spent a lot of time in and around different kinds of schools and different communities will realize that, sadly, what Swanson is driving at is the reality — a lot of kids are exposed to sexual activity and risk at too young an age (and suburban parents, you’re not immune).  By giving local school districts flexibility on this issue will some cross the line?  Of course.  But as a matter of public policy, that seems a lesser risk (and one that can be ameliorated) than either doing nothing or constraining them.

Not an easy issue for public officials to talk about (and not made any easier now by the McCain campaign) but while technically this bill was about sex ed for kids from kindergarten through high school, in practice there is a lot more nuance than that.  But as is usually the case, nuance is scarce commodity by this point in a national campaign.

*Update:  Per a few notes, perhaps I should have made even more clear that this sentence referred to the part of the ad about sex ed, the subject of this post, not the entire ad.   The other claim in the ad, that the bill was Obama’s only accomplishment on education is false.

8 thoughts on “Sex-Ed Gate

  1. USAmomof4

    What no one seems to mention is that the bill would pave the way for a change in the curriculum that was being taught. The Obama campaign itself referred to SIECUS which does spell out in detail what is considered “age-appropriate”, even for children as young as 5. No matter how you vote or how much you despise the other side of the political coin, please check out the rest of the story at the SIECUS link below and read it in its entirety. Is this curriculum only about protecting young children from inappropriate touching? Is some of this information really appropriate for the age group indicated? If it were YOUR child in the Illinois school system, how would you want your Senator to vote?

    http://www.siecus.org/_data/global/images/guidelines.pdf

  2. Foo Bar

    George Bush’s federal government is funding K-12 HIV education right now via the CDC and the NASBE. So if John McCain reallly doesn’t want any sex education for kindergartners, he should have been trying to stop this CDC program long, long before he started complaining about the bill that Obama voted for but which never passed.

    More info available here.

  3. jane doe

    ah, yes; the obligatory slight to “suburban parents”

    oral sex in middle school!

    suburban parents without a clue!

    yes indeed, we suburban parents need 25-year old graduates of ed school to fill us in on the nature of sex and young adolescents ….

    … because after all none of us ever had sex at a tender age or knew anyone who did

    plus we’ve never “drafted a law” and thus can’t “relate to the challenge of balancing flexibility with legislative intent”

    we can barely even read that sentence, in fact!

    so thank you, eduwonk

    i stand apprised

    i am thankful that we have sensible and nuanced union leaders like Ken Swanson to solve the problem of “a lot of kids [being] exposed to sexual activity and risk at too young an age” through age appropriate sex education in grades K-12

  4. John Dewey

    Now Jane, let’s not be too hard on the Eduwonk. He and the other policy wonks really mean well. The legislative process is understood only by special people. Whenever I meet seasoned Hill and DC veterans, I’m careful to talk about my reactions to what I think is nonsense in very nuanced (I learned that word by reading Eduwonk by the way), and self-deprecating comments which never fail to bring a smile and the following response: “This must be a learning experience for you.”

    I recently wrote an open letter to Senator Obama–not on sex education–but on his choice of Jeanne Century to advise him on education matters. (See http://ednews.org/articles/26924/1/Open-letter-to-Barack-Obama-from-John-Dewey/Page1.html)

    Writing that letter was quite a learning experience for me. I hope reading it is a learning experience for others too.

    In the spirit of accepting well-meaning condescension,
    I remain,
    Faithfully yours,

    John Dewey

  5. Andrea

    I am more astonished each and every time I see that ad. I just kind of stare at the TV thinking…Not even John McCain believes this sh*t! How can the general public buy into it… then I realize that there are those who not only believe it, but talk about it as if it were an actual fact. So sad.

  6. SoycleSponS

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