Montanans are seeing a classic right-wing distortion campaign on sex education — much like we saw during the 2009 legislative session in Austin. You will recall that last year right-wing opponents in Texas screamed that medically accurate, evidence-based sex education would “promote recreational and gay sex.” Unfortunately, absurd scare tactics like that cowed enough lawmakers to kill legislation that would have improved the dismal state of sex education in Texas. Remember that a teen gets pregnant every ten minutes in Texas — a state with one of the nation’s highest teen birthrates even as more than 9 in 10 school districts teach no medically accurate information on contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
Now look at Montana. A bill introduced in the that state’s legislature would direct state education officials to provide additional sex education resources to school districts that request them. Seems reasonable, right? The state’s Office of Public Instruction has explained that this legislation would not mandate any specific kind of sex education. Indeed, the state’s Constitution forbids legislators from dictating the details of any kind of school curriculum.
So how is this modest proposal being treated by Montana’s Republican Party? A state party press release claimed that a specific sex education proposal under review by public school officials in Helena (the state capital) would provide “graphic, explicit” sex education, with the state GOP chair calling the proposed curriculum “extremist indoctrination.” Helena education officials say the proposed abstinence-based sex education policy has been grossly mischaracterized by opponents who want an abstinence-only program instead. (Sounds familiar, yes?) In any case, decisions about specific sex education curricula would remain, constitutionally, a local responsibility throughout the state. Yet the Montana GOP argues that the Helena curriculum “could spread to the rest of the state” unless Republicans win a majority in the 2011 state legislature.
That’s how the right distorts the debate over sex education, whether in Montana or in Texas. But you can help stop these distortions.
With the 2010 general election nearing, we urge Texans to ask candidates for public office what position they take on sex education. A statewide poll conducted for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund in May found that 80 percent of likely voters in Texas agree that high school classes on sex education should teach “about contraception, such as condoms and other birth control, along with abstinence.” Clearly, for most Texans arming young people with the information they need to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is just common sense. But do candidates for the State Board of Education, the Legislature and statewide office think keeping teens ignorant is the solution to the problem of teen pregnancy? Let’s find out.