Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Kindergarten Condom

Last week John McCain released an ad attacking BO for his failure to do anything to improve education. The ad points out that his one and only accomplishment in this field is to support comprehensive sex education for kindergarteners.

Within moments of the ad’s appearance, the BO campaign called it “shameful and downright perverse.” The legislation in question, a bill in the Illinois State Senate that was supported but not sponsored by Obama, was, according to Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, “written to protect young children from sexual predators” and had nothing to do with comprehensive sex education for kindergartners. Daily Kos wackjobs were quick to jump on, calling the ad "racist" and "pro-pedophile."

If this claim from the BO camp was true, it would not mitigate the charge that BO failed to improve the dismal education provided by public schools in the primary topics they are responsible for teaching: math, English, science, history, geography, etc.

But the claim is not true.

The bill in question was Senate Bill 99, introduced in the Senate in February 2003. I encourage anyone interested in the facts about what BO supported to read the bill.

A press release announcing the introduction of the bill quoted the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Carol Ronen, as saying, “It teaches students about the advantages of abstinence, while also giving them the realistic information they need about the prevention of an unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.” The release contained no mention of sexual predators or inappropriate touching.

The bill appears to have three major purposes:

1. To mandate that information presented in sex-ed classes be “factual, medically accurate, and objective”. Fine.

2. To increase the number of children receiving sex education. To do this, it amended the existing law requiring the teaching of sex education, contraception, and AIDS prevention. The old law covered grades 6 through 12. That was amended to cover Kindergarten through twelfth grade.

3. To remove value-based language from the existing law. For instance, the following language was removed from the existing law:

Course material and instruction shall teach honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage.
Course material and instruction shall stress that pupils should abstain from sexual intercourse until they are ready for marriage.
Classes shall emphasize that abstinence is the expected norm in that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against unwanted teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
That language was replaced with the following:

Course material and instruction shall include a discussion of sexual abstinence as a method to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Course material and instruction shall present the latest medically factual information regarding both the possible side effects and health benefits of all forms of contraception, including the success and failure rates for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Near the end of the bill there is one paragraph addressing inappropriate touching:

Course material and instruction shall teach pupils to not make unwanted physical and verbal sexual advances and how to say no to unwanted sexual advances and shall include information about verbal, physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance. The course material and instruction shall contain methods of preventing sexual assault by an acquaintance, including exercising good judgment and avoiding behavior that impairs one’s judgment. The course material and instruction shall emphasize personal accountability and respect for others and shall also encourage youth to resist negative peer pressure. The course material and instruction shall inform pupils of the potential legal consequences of sexual assault by an acquaintance. Specifically, pupils shall be advised that it is unlawful to touch an intimate part of another person as specified in the Criminal Code of 1961.
But this paragraph is not the primary or central focus of the bill, as BO suggests.

In the wake of the recent controversy about this bill, Senator Martinez, one of the bills sponsors, was asked about the purpose of the bill:

I told Martinez that reading the bill, I just didn’t see it as being exclusively, or even mostly, about inappropriate touching. “I didn’t see it that way, either,” Martinez said. “It’s just more information about a whole variety of things that have to go into a sex education class, the things that are outdated that you want to amend with things that are much more current.”So, I asked, you didn’t see it specifically as being about inappropriate touching?“Absolutely not.”

Careful reading of the bill brings me to the conclusion that the bill is about much more than preventing inappropriate touching. It mandates that topics such as contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases be taught to Kindergarteners in Illinois’ public schools. That is BO’s sole contribution to improving the education of Illinois’ kids. I wouldn’t be proud of it either.

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