There's a serious values problem in the US driven by extreme conservatism. It's leading to big problems across education and public health. Tim McDaniel teaches high school science in Dietrich, Idaho. Part of teaching science to 10th graders includes a lesson on human anatomy. During his class, he used the medically correct term "vagina,' and a number of Idaho parents are very angry with him.
The complaints aren't limited simply to using that word, but include allegations that McDaniel also mentioned forms of birth control -- these are being described as "inappropriate' in the complaint -- that "inappropriate' jokes were told in class, and that a video depicting a genital herpes infection was used during the class.
Dietrich, Idaho is in Lincoln County, where 74% of the 2004 vote went to George W. Bush, while 69% of the 2008 Presidential election vote went to Republican Senator John McCain. One parent expressed that if "birth control' was going to be the topic of the class, she should have received prior warning so that her child could be kept out of the class on that day. McDaniel has explained that he includes discussions of birth control in the class because the health teacher does not, and that students are not required to attend class on that day.
Let's focus specifically on the anger over the term "vagina' being used in class. A number of parents objected specifically to the use of the word in class in the context of human reproduction. This is a real red flag. Since it is the medically correct term, the obvious question is: what term would be more appropriate? For a socio-political group that is very focused in other areas of life on marking the differences between men and women, being against the mere mention of one of the most notable differences between men and women seems hypocritical, but this level of hypocrisy pales in comparison to the next one I'll describe.
The education and subsequent public health repercussions of not teaching sensible sex education across the country are significant. The most notable is higher teen pregnancy rates in states that teach abstinence-only education, like Mississippi and Missouri, and this leads us to the "big" hypocrisy that eclipses the specific absurdity of stories like the Idaho "vagina' debacle: The same conservatives who, because of their so-called "family values,' want to reduce the number of abortions, are also opposed to the type of policy that reduces the number of abortions. This can be tracked via a very clear and sequential analysis. Additionally, there are higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI's) in these states as well.
Abstinence-only sex education has been long-known to be ineffective at preventing teens from having sex. Not having knowledge of proper pregnancy and STI prevention leads to more teen pregnancy and infections. By definition, one of the ways to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies -- the exact thing that conservative-led abstinence-only sex education leads to more of. Let's summarize:
The policies advocated for almost exclusively by conservatives, catalyzed by a combination of self-described "family values' and religiously-based "morals' lead to realities that conservatives oppose because of those same "family values' and "morals.' This does not make sense.
There needs to be more critical thinking about what is happening in schools and across the country when it comes to so-called "values.' While the word "vagina' was being protested for its use in Idaho, the NRA was robo-calling families in Newtown, Connecticut, the location of the recent Sandy Hook school shooting.
What was the content of the robo-calls, you ask? The calls were scare tactics and fear-mongering, specifically designed to scare Newtown residents about possible gun safety requirements being considered by Connecticut lawmakers. Many parents in Newtown reported that their young children answered the robo-calls from the NRA. We have a situation in 2013 America where the word "vagina' can't be used around 10th graders, but automated phone calls from gun lobbyists discussing the minutia of assault weapons are sent en masse to homes, and are fielded by children far too young, according to Idaho parents, to hear the word "vagina,' but not too young to have gun-related lobbying efforts start in their ear upon picking up the phone.
What's the good news? Many of these retrograde values are diminishing with time. Over time, support for abortion rights and gay marriage have increased steadily, both with more than 50% approval today. As more data is collected about the devastating effects of abstinence-only education, lobbying efforts to reform how the subject matter is taught continue to gain momentum. However, true solutions are still some time in the future, and we shouldn't forget the sad reality and hypocrisy that plagues many aspects of today's society.
David Pakman, host of the internationally syndicated political talk radio and television program, "The David Pakman Show," writes a monthly column. He can be reached at www.davidpakman.com.