Ig­no­rance is not bliss

El Dorado News-Times - - Opinion - — North­west Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

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?

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