My fight began when my 13-year-old
daughter came home from her public school about a month ago with a pamphlet
she wanted me to sign for extra credit points in her health class. Being
the person I am, I read the pamphlet and then I read the worksheets
she had worked on in health that day. Then she and I had a very lengthy
The topic for the day? Pledging
virginity until marriage.
As I wrote in an earlier blog, the pamphlet and the worksheets were
being utilized as a piece of an abstinence-only-until-marriage program
that had begun that day in her health class.
There are two main reasons
why the fight I am now engaged in against this program is one that every
parent should pay attention to. First, the content of the program
that was being taught to my daughter was unconscionable. Abstinence-only-until-marriage
programs use guilt, shame, and fear to encourage our children to apply
a particular agenda to their lives. According to these programs,
only monogamous, heterosexual, two-parent, married families are acceptable.
I tried to imagine how a student with loving parents at home who happen
to be a same-sex couple would feel learning these lessons. How
would the child of divorced parents or a single mother feel? For the
many students in my daughter’s school who self-identified as gay,
or the countless who are raised by a single parent, I wondered just
what effect this might have on their life and sense of self worth.
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Tami Sanderson of Loveland, OH is outraged when her 13 year old daughter comes home from school with a virginity pledge and materials promoting abstinence from sex before marriage. The Governor of her state has refused all federal funding for these programs which don’t work. But Tami is having problems convincing her local school board to stop using these materials.
The content of these programs
is often driven not by the desire to protect and educate young people,
but to surreptitiously promote a certain set of religious beliefs.
In my case, the organization doing the promotion is the Pregnancy Care of
Their abstinence-only-until-marriage program utilizes worksheets, games,
videos, and trainings from similarly aligned group; Heritage Community
A review of this South Carolina-based organization’s
curriculum by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the
United States (SIECUS) found that it relies on messages
of fear and shame and promotes biased views of gender, marriage, and
pregnancy options. As an example, one lesson instructs young women
that they "have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t
invite lustful thoughts" while implying that young men cannot control
their own sexual behavior. Programs like this, that foster myths
and stereotypes, should have no place in our schools.
We need education that protects
all students regardless of choices they or their parents have made by
educating with facts. Forcing an agenda that aligns with a particular
moral code of conduct – specifically one that aligns with the far-right
wing of the Christian church and ignores the diversity of religion,
culture, sexual orientation, and race – is totally unacceptable.
The second reason that parents
should be concerned about my fight is that I have become all too familiar
with the phrase "you can’t fight city hall." I have found
that the established institutions – in this case the district administration
and school board – will fight with every ounce of their breath to prevent
full, truthful disclosure and the right of a parent to participate in
her child’s education. This was evident during the meeting with
my curriculum board and the three members of Pregnancy Care of Cincinnati
Ministries who apparently were invited to convince me that we should
teach kids that sex should only be engaged in within the boundaries
of marriage. I felt that my input was not taken seriously, and
that I was included not as a parent with a valued opinion, but simply
in order to placate me.
Since the beginning of this
ordeal, I have made 52 phone calls, researched for countless hours,
spoken to over 30 students in my school district, and attended the curriculum
board meeting at the board of education. I have made a request for
the curriculum used in my daughter’s school, but the district’s
superintendent says he can’t give it to me because it is copyrighted.
Pregnancy Care of Cincinnati Ministries has also told me they are consulting
with their attorney about my request and will get back with me in a
few days. Copyright or not, I certainly have the same right to
see this curriculum as I would to see a copy of my daughter’s math
I have done all of this in
an attempt to get someone to listen, to usher in change regarding sex
education on the part of my local school district. My attempts
have fallen on deaf ears.
Judith Pindell of Advocates for Youth in Cleveland explains how faith-based organizations, flush with federal money, can bypass state policy to implement fear and shame-based abstinence programs in public schools.