Ignorance is not bliss
In Arkansas, there's a long-held tradition of handing down knowledge from one generation to the next.
Youngsters — girls and boys alike — learn the techniques of deer hunting alongside parents or other relatives. They know how to tie a knot in a fishing line when the crappie are biting. Many of them are driving down gravel roads between fields long before the state of Arkansas recognizes their legal status behind the wheel. Some youngsters can identify snakes, trees and fish with a glance, thanks to their careful family tutelage in the Natural State.
But across the state, there's a natural part of living that a lot of adults would rather avoid talking with their young'uns about: sex.
A couple of weeks ago, this newspaper published a story exploring how the state's school districts approach education on that issue. Perhaps as one would expect, it's a sensitive subject. Even among educators who lead classes on health, including sex education, one can sense a level of discomfort.
It's no wonder. Even if an educator feels a responsibility to fully inform students about sex, the issue is undoubtedly one that can put teachers in precarious situations. Every parent has certain ideas about what should and shouldn't be discussed, some to the point that they say the schools ought to leave those important discussions to the parents alone.
Oh, if it were only that easy. But too many parents are failing their kids by avoiding the topic altogether. Then, their hang-ups about what schools can teach further the ignorance that contributes to pregnancies and diseases that could mostly be prevented. According to 2015 statistics, nearly 38 out of every 1,000 teen girls in Arkansas became mothers. That compared to about 22 per 1,000 nationwide. Reports of sexually transmitted diseases among Arkansas teens are also higher than national averages.
Maybe ignorance about sex is just another Arkansas tradition we're handing down to our kids. When it comes to sex education, it seems some adults think, "I grew up literally groping my way around in the dark when it came to sex, and if it was good enough for me back when I walked to and from school uphill in the snow every day, it's good enough for my kids."
The recent story in these pages attempted to analyze how the state's school districts teach about sex. It seems the most significant message stressed throughout the state is simple: Don't do it.
That's an important message, one we hope Arkansas' teens hear and embrace. No curriculum and no advice from adults should actively encourage teens to engage in sexual activity. But the statistics don't lie. A lot of young people are sexually active even with the "don't do it" mantra ringing in their ears. And sadly, a good deal of their "knowledge" came from friends who prove to be equally ignorant.
Teaching abstinence is a strong and desirable message, but it's far from a complete message for young people. Too many times, young people whom adults have tried to frighten out of sexual activity are unprepared for the circumstances they get into and, presto, a lack of knowledge in the teen years leads to an outcome that is lifelong in its impact.
Sex between a male and female — and that's the kind of sex school districts are largely concerned with in terms of unwanted outcomes — is physiologically designed to result in pregnancy. That's a simple message that, believe it or not, is not getting through. Would it not be preferable for schools to arm students with real knowledge so they're not believing some of the incredibly stupid pieces of advice their friends are giving them?
Arkansas' children, in many instances, are having children. Or they're contracting diseases. And it's a sad state of affairs that can be effectively combated with knowledge.
Arkansas families cannot afford to continue practices that keep our state's kids ignorant. We've given up barefoot. Isn't it about time to also give up "pregnant" when it comes to our teens?