January 15, 2014 10:14:08 AM
The Columbus Rotary Club, like most civic organizations, keep to a pretty tight schedule during its weekly luncheons. The program starts promptly at noon and ends just as promptly at 1 p.m. Tuesdays are work days, after all.
Because of those time constraints, it is often difficult for the featured speaker to go into any great detail on the subject.
That was the case Tuesday when Linda Southward and Colleen McKee of Mississippi State University's Social Science Research Center went over data collected from the 2013 Mississippi Kids Count, an organization funded through grants that focuses on children's health, education, economic well-being and family/community.
For 45 minutes or so, Southward and McKee, breezed through the statistical information collected over the past year. It should surprise no one that few of the numbers were encouraging, although Southward did acknowledge that Mississippi has moved from 50th to 49th in the national assessment, which represents some progress, at least.
Despite the time crunch, there were two sets of data where the cause-and-effect relationship were clearly apparent.
First, the data shows that Mississippi has the second highest teen birth-rate in the nation. Nationally, the teen birth rate per thousand births is 31.3. In Mississippi, the rate is 50.2.
Second, in their polling McKee and Southward discovered that 92 percent of parents favored teaching kids about contraception in schools. In 2011, the Legislature passed a law requiring all school districts to choose a sex education policy. Districts could choose a program that included information about contraception, a curriculum called "Abstinence Plus" or an "Abstinence Only" curriculum that does not teach about contraception.
Yet while 92 percent of parents preferred "Abstinence Plus," only 47 percent of the state's school districts have adopted that approach. The Columbus Municipal School District and the Starkville School District are the only districts in the Golden Triangle that adopted "Abstinence Plus." Oktibbeha County teaches "Abstinence Only" for its lower grades and "Abstinence Plus" for older students.
Lowndes, Clay and Noxubee counties teach "Abstinence Only" for all students.
It leads to a reasonable question: If an overwhelming percentage of parents favor teaching contraception in our schools, why are so many school districts declining to do so?
The most likely answer is that those decision were not based on the practical reality of the crisis our state faces, but rather on the belief that if we teach children about contraception, we are somehow encouraging teens to have sex.
It is a deeply flawed argument, of course. Teen sex has never needed much encouragement in the first place. Second, our state has been teaching "Abstinence Only," officially or unofficially, since the inception of our school system. We see what the result of that approach has been -- a teen birth rate that has reached epidemic proportions. Every taxpayer in the state shares the social and economic costs of this epidemic.
If Mississippi is going to take this issue seriously, it must approach the issue in a direct, practical manner. Clearly, the same old approach will yield the same old results.
The time for moralizing over the behavior of our children has past.
It is time to face the practical reality. If we want to stem the tide of teen pregnancy and all the ills that come as a result, we must give our teens more information, not less.
It would be truly wonderful if "Abstinence Only" worked.
The data confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that it does not and will not.
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