Jon Sanders

With the release of the Mathematica Policy Research study on select abstinence-only programs, and the resignation in disgrace of Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias, the comprehensive-ed movement is gearing up again. To put it lightly, the last two decades have been an increasingly difficult time for these educators and various affiliated profiteers from teenage sexuality. Starting in the 1990s, as Janice Shaw Crouse showed, teen sexual activity is down, teen pregnancies are down, and even teen abortions are down.

Despite these declines, however, the movement's pretext — "Kids are gonna do it anyway!" — continued to wow reporters. Now rumor has it that the movement is preparing to expand its educational franchise. They are preparing to promote several new programs based on the comprehensive-ed vision.

Granted, abstinence-only sex-ed programs are still the primary villain in comprehensive-ed world. But there are many other pedagogical approaches in a host of different subject matters that take approaches similar to abstinence-only — i.e., they teach kids to avoid dangerous activities. In comprehensive-ed pedagogy, instruction based on abstaining from risky behaviors is pie-in-the-sky, naïve and exclusionary. It doesn't reach the kids who are going to take those risks anyway. Those kids need to be taught the best ways to imperil themselves.

Take driver's education, for example. Current programs the country over are solely focused on having kids to abstain from illegal and unsafe driving. But since some kids are going to drive recklessly anyway, a responsible education program is going to try to reach those kids, too.

The comprehensive-ed approach to driver's ed would stress how good it would be for kids to obey posted speed limits, pass only in designated areas, not run red lights, and so forth. Having gotten that out of the way, it would move to the greater bulk of the course, for those who choose to drive dangerously. Kids would be taught to select cars with airbags and also learn about seatbelts, so that they have protection. They'd be taught "best practice" methods for "Safe Speeding," "Smart Drag-Racing," and "D-U-I Not D-I-E."

Then there's drug education. Surprisingly, most if not all public schools try to warn children away from using tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. That's it. Never mind that many kids already smoke, drink, and use drugs anyway. Those kids are clearly left out of the "Don't Do Drugs" approach to drug education. It's irresponsible and naïve not to teach kids safe methods of blackening their lungs and altering their consciences. The comprehensive-ed approach would rectify that troubling omission.


Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.