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Girls need hope beyond the kitchen

April 01, 2006|By Sam Birnbaum

Based on recent letters in The Herald-Mail, it seems to be the view of many Washington County residents that the county's high rate of teen pregnancy is primarily the result of a lack of information given to teens in the school system's sex education program. As a local youth who attended Boonsboro High School from 2001-2005, I can state that while deficiencies in the schools' sex education programs do play a role in the teen pregnancy epidemic, they are essentially symptomatic of a larger problem.

The prevailing sentiment among adults seems to be that teenagers are engaging in promiscuous sex and thus getting pregnant because they do not know the dangers of sex and the hardships of teenage motherhood.

Naturally, if this is so, the school system is to blame for not providing teens with sufficient information. In my personal experience however, the vast majority of teens know precisely the risks of promiscuous sex; they just choose to ignore them. Moreover, I found the sex education curriculum at the high school level to be exceptionally informative in regard to the dangers of sex and teen pregnancy.

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Another local school of thought regarding this issue is that teen's parents are to blame for not instilling the "proper" moral values in their children.

If teen pregnancy is not clearly the fault of the school system or the parents, than who is to blame? The answer, in my opinion, is everyone. Washington County itself fosters a number of conditions that make teens more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.

Most adults in Washington County seem to hold the view that sex before marriage is morally objectionable and wrong. My guess is that this view is rooted in the Conservative Christianity characteristic of the area, but it is really of no matter.

The idea that sex for teenagers is absolutely bad is manifested in the Washington County Schools Sex Education Curriculum. Our schools teach teens that abstinence is the only appropriate choice for them to make. In the roaring cauldron of hormones that is high school, this message carries almost no weight. Teens regard the pro-abstinence messages they are fed as out of touch with their reality and disregard them.

Sex-education teachers are further constrained by restrictions in the curriculum that prevent them from giving accurate and complete information about birth control. Teens are taught ad nauseam about the horrors of various STDs, but are not told how a condom works. What birth control information is given is often incomplete and unrealistic.

On a higher level, teen pregnancy is a result of a culture which disregards the importance of education and intellectualism, particularly for females. In my time at Boonsboro High School, I noticed a trend: The girls who got pregnant were usually not the ones who enrolled in advanced classes and held leadership positions. In contrast, most teen mothers came from the school's vocational tracks and were not usually considered as being academically "gifted."

It is not my intent to suggest that there is a direct correlation between intelligence and pregnancy rates, but rather that girls who appear destined for college don't get pregnant because they have something more important waiting for them. Other girls, who have no readily apparent rosy future feel as if they have less to lose and are thus less sexually careful.

It is our collective fault as a society that these girls are put in positions where they feel that teen pregnancy is not such a terrible alternative.

Our "rural" culture is astonishingly backwards with regard to women's rights. From a young age, many girls are taught, by both parents and by society at large, that they are not meant to go to college and that their role is to finish high school, marry, and raise a family. The girls who break this mold and do go to college generally are able to do so because they were raised in more progressive families that encouraged their academic talents. Other, less fortunate girls enter high school with the expectation that they will soon begin raising a family. For these girls, teen pregnancy is merely an early start to what they have always been taught is their societal role.

If we are serious about curtailing teen pregnancy, our first step must not be critiquing our school system or individual parents, but rather ourselves. As a culture, we must accept that teens will have sex and resolve to provide them with adequate and accurate information about birth control. We must make sure that all girls know that they can go to college and have futures outside of the kitchen.

Until we do this, it is ridiculous to think that we are doing any more than enacting stopgaps and half-measures while avoiding the real problem.

Sam Birnbaum attended Boonsboro High School from 2001-2005 and now attends St. Mary's College

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