April 21st, 2006

me at star

"Abstinence-only" makes it to Massachusetts

From today's Boston Globe:

Governor Mitt Romney yesterday announced that the state will funnel nearly $1 million in federal funds to a faith-based organization to teach abstinence to public middle school students in a dozen more communities across the state.

"We teach sex education, but there's no portion of sex education which talks about the advantages of waiting ... " said Romney. "We're saying let's provide an opportunity for parents and school districts to add abstinence to the curriculum. It's not abstinence only. It's abstinence also."
It will be the first time that the state will spend federal abstinence education funds in Massachusetts for classroom programs. The state has received $700,000 in abstinence money yearly since 1998, but the money has gone only toward a media campaign urging teens to wait before having sex.

The money will now go to Healthy Futures, a Boston-based agency that already runs abstinence programs in several dozen schools across the state. The program, free to the school districts, will be available to schools in 12 communities with high numbers of teen births, including Boston, Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn, said Rebecca Ray, Healthy Futures program director. The group, which currently gets some federal money directly, will contract with another agency to offer similar programs to students in the western part of the state.

This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time that Massachusetts has spent federal "abstinence-only" funds on classroom instruction. As I've mentioned several times in the past, I'm a volunteer facilitator for the Our Whole Lives grades 7-9 programs run through my church, so this is a subject of some interest to me. So I took a peek at the Healthy Futures website (http://www.healthy-futures.org) to see what they purport to teach.

As near as I can tell, Romney's claim that "It's not abstinence only. It's abstinence also" is wrong. I can't find the actual Healthy Futures curricula. However, the "themes and topics" of their classroom programs include:
1. Goals and Choices
Students identify goals and discuss how choices now can impact their ability to achieve their goals.
2. Abstinence
Abstinence and sexual activity are defined, stressing that an abstinent lifestyle is possible regardless of past choices. Students learn that sex is wonderful in the context of a faithful, lifelong relationship (i.e. marriage), but that there are physical and emotional risks outside of that context.
3. Physical and Emotional Risks of Adolescent Sexual Activity
Specific sexually transmitted diseases are discussed. Students learn how common STDs are, how STDs are transmitted, as well as the symptoms associated with specific STDs. Condom use is mentioned to raise awareness about the difference between protection and risk reduction.
Students discuss the different options available to a pregnant teen and the possible ramifications of each.
Students learn about the science of sex– how bonding occurs through sexual activity, how men and women bond differently, and the potential impact this bonding has on future relationships.
4. Relationship Education
Students learn to recognize qualities of healthy and unhealthy relationships. They identify creative and fun dating activities as well as ways to show affection that do not involve physical activity. Students also explore the qualities they would look for in a life partner.
5. Skill Building
Students learn about how to deal with pressure from themselves, others, and society through identifying ways to strengthen their willpower, practicing refusal skills, and discussing media messages about sexuality. They develop protective skills that will prepare them to handle pressures they might face by learning how and why to set physical limits in relationships and by discussing the influence of alcohol and drugs on sexual decisions.

There's nothing in there about any form of contraception - apart from condoms, which are only mentioned to "raise awareness about the difference between protection and risk reduction." Nothing about non-sexual physical activity. Nothing about gay, lesbian or bisexual activity, and nothing addressing transgendered issues. For that matter, they stress the risks of sex outside of marriage, without addressing the idea that there might be risks to sex within the context of a marriage. All those topics are addressed in the OWL grades 7-9 curriculum, so I know from personal experience that it can be taught. Further, the OWL curriculum also addresses each of the points in the Healthy Futures "themes and topics" - especially the bit about how one may always choose to abstain from sexual activity, regardless of one's past choices.

Seems pretty obvious to me that Romney is continuing to lay the groundwork for a 2008 run at the GOP Presidential nomination. It's just such a damn shame that he's more interested in placating the GOP right wing than in teaching the truth to the children of the Commonwealth.

Romney's press release: http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=pressreleases&agId=Agov2&prModName=gov2pressrelease&prFile=gov_pr_060420_abstinence_ed.xml

The full Boston Globe story (may require registration):

Healthy Future's description of their classroom programs for 7th grade through high school:
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