Friday, April 9, 2010

The Case Against Emergency Preparedness

By now you've probably heard about the DA in Wisconsin who is threatening intimidating advising teachers not to teach the new state-mandated sex ed curriculum lest they be charged with encouraging minors to "engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender."

First of all, there are a few interesting facts to point out here. Apparently in the conceptual framework of right-wing nutjobs like Scott Southworth, sexual activity only ever involves victims and offenders. It couldn't be the case that both parties were consenting and interested and enjoying themselves.

Second, sexual activity is illegal for minors in Wisconsin. Is anyone else going WTF? about this? Everywhere I've lived before this is not the case, and the issue of statutory rape involves a certain age difference (usually 24 to 36 months), so that two kids messing around consensually can't be said to be violating any laws. But I'm told this is not the case in every state, so OK, in Wisconsin teens are legally prohibited from having The Sex. Technically this explains Southworth's view that sex between minors can only ever be a case of victims and offenders interacting. Or two offenders who are simultaneously victims since they can't consent to sex? Or something. And to me that means that the apparently-reasonable-when-it-comes-to-adolescent-sexuality state legislature should be working on overturning the existing law prohibiting sex between consenting teens. But I want to look at Southworth's underlying reasoning for threatening potential sex-ed teachers.

Southworth's claim is that teaching kids about contraception and safe sex is like teaching them how to make mixed drinks. It's illegal for minors to drink alcohol, so we shouldn't instruct them on how to do it. It's also illegal for minors to have sex, so we shouldn't teach them how to do it. This is what we like to call an Argument from Analogy. And you have to be very careful with these types of arguments. They're generally very psychologically compelling, and thus are widely used. But they often hide major flaws in reasoning, and are generally thought not to really prove that much amongst people who do logic and critical thinking for a living. So let's look at Southworth's A from A.

The entire argument rests on this claim: Teaching kids about safe sex is like teaching kids how to drink alcohol. But if you examine this claim closely you'll notice a problem. Teaching kids about safe sex is not the same as Cosmo Magazine cover featuring this article: Arouse him like crazy!  3 surprising pleasure triggers, How to hit his G-spot, Where he hopes you'll linger; and The most satisfying sex position: it turns him on and it feels awesome for you; and 45 ways to get even closer to him!teaching kids how to have sex. If you're interested in going after people who are teaching kids how to have sex, perhaps you should be scrutinizing the media they consume for so many hours of every day because, I hate to tell ya, that's where they're learning how to have sex. You wanna talk about sexual positions and sexual expectations within relationships and who owes what to whom and how to get your rocks off and how to please your man etc, etc, etc? Look to the movies and TV shows and magazines and websites and porn they're consuming, my friend. However, it's generally not the case that this kind of stuff is found in sex ed materials. Instead you'll usually find a lot of talk about how your anatomy works and how reproduction occurs and how STDs are transmitted and how the various forms of contraception work and maybe some talk about the emotional risks involved in sexual relationships. Which is rather different. So the claim that teaching kids about contraception is the moral equivalent of teaching them how to make a margarita doesn't fly. At all.

But what if it did? What if we just granted the claim that teaching kids about safe sex is like teaching kids how to drink alcohol and therefore we shouldn't do either one? What follows from this? Well, there's a lot of things that follow from it, and I doubt Southworth would be willing to go along with them. If we shouldn't teach kids about safe sex because we shouldn't teach them how to make mixed drinks, then we also shouldn't teach them about emergency preparedness. You know all those drills they do at schools now to prepare for a terrorist attack or school shooting? They outta be illegal. Why? Because if we prepare for a nightmare scenario like that, then we're also giving our stamp of approval to the actions of terrorists and school shooters. If there are any profoundly unhappy kids out there on the verge of bringing Grandpa's arsenal to school and blowing everyone away, by rehearsing what we'd do in the case of a school shooting, we're telling them it's OK to unleash the violence. And what about drivers ed? Let's talk about the parallel between sex ed and drivers ed.

In drivers ed you spend a lot of time talking about safety. You spend a lot of time talking about what to do if you get in an accident. Of course, nobody wants you to get in an accident. Indeed, everyone sincerely hopes you don't. But they also think you'll be better off in life if you do in fact know what to do if an accident happens. The problem is that deliberately causing a motor vehicle accident is a criminal act. So by Southworth's reasoning, if deliberately causing an accident is illegal, and drivers ed teachers are teaching new drivers what to do in the event of an accident, then drivers ed teachers are encouraging new drivers "to engage in [illegal motor vehicle accident] behavior, whether as a victim or an offender." See how that works?

Now I'll be the first to admit that comparing car accidents with consensual sexual activity is ridiculous on a number of levels. But this is all hypothetically based on Southworth's argument from analogy. And once you've consented to going into the land of bizarre arguments from analogy, you've pretty much consented to whatever absurd and stupak results that follow from such arguments. [Hint: the way to respond to me here is to point out that this last claim of mine amounts to a slippery slope argument...]

But even if we take a step back and use Southworth's own argument about alcohol consumption and sex, unreasonable things follow. For instance, even mentioning to minors the practice of using designated drivers, or calling someone for a ride, or electing to walk rather than drive when you've been drinking would be a criminal violation according to his reasoning. After all, minors aren't supposed to be drinking in the first place, so we're prohibited from talking to them about how to minimize the danger to themselves and others that can follow from drinking too much alcohol. In fact, the entire DARE program and the Meth Project and other similar programs will have to be cancelled, because telling kids about what meth use does to your body is a criminal act, given the fact that meth use is criminal.

Beyond that, what does this say about the nature of education? Generally speaking we think of education as something that prepares you for the future in some way. When students begin taking driver's ed, they don't actually have their licenses, and often aren't even old enough to have a license yet. Indeed, it would be illegal for them to drive by themselves right now, without a license. But we know that some day soon they will get a license, and we want them to be as safe as possible when that day comes. When kids take classes about how our political system works, they're not generally old enough to vote yet. Indeed, it would be illegal for them to vote. But we know someday they will be old enough to vote, and we hope they'll be conscientious, informed citizens when that time comes. When kids take Home Ec (or whatever they call it these days) they're not usually running a household yet, but we assume someday they will be. And so on. So here are a couple of other relevant things we know. Most people have sex at some point in their lives, and most people consume alcohol at some point in their lives. While we're in the business of teaching them how to be a citizen in a democracy and how to drive and how to run a household why not teach them how to be safe and make good decisions concerning sex and alcohol?

Of course, this all assumes that we're trying to be reasonable and realistic and actually prepare kids for the world in which they'll be adults, rather than trying to ram our own political agenda down the throats of others...

11 comments:

  1. Anonymous4/09/2010

    I missed the memo that we're now using "stupak" as a synonym for stupid, but I TOTALLY approve! Also, awesome post.

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  2. Great argument!

    *still trying to wrap my mind around "encouraging minors to engage in sexual behavior as a victim"*

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  3. Sex is illegal between minors in California,even if they both consent, even if they are the same age. I don't really understand it, and I can't imagine the law gets enforced in that way very often, but still.

    I love what you're saying here, especially about the other "prevention" programs like DARE that are in schools. I think if parents can opt their kids out of sex ed--probably they shouldn't, but they can--then there ought to be a sex-positive, Safe Sex and Other Good Things to Know course available to teenagers with sensible parents, and maybe this course could help kids understand that sex isn't usually like what they see in porn. I would have loved to have a class like that under my belt as a young adult.

    :)

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  4. there ought to be a sex-positive, Safe Sex and Other Good Things to Know course available to teenagers with sensible parents, and maybe this course could help kids understand that sex isn't usually like what they see in porn

    Yes! Exactly.

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  5. This really shows the flimsy reasoning people like this are willing to use to advance their dilemma. Being rational and consistent is not important to someone like this.

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  6. Michael4/12/2010

    It's like shooting fish in a barrel.

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  7. Anonymous4/12/2010

    This post should be subtitled "Critical Thinking is Fun!"

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  8. RangerRick4/13/2010

    @AssMan
    LOL! Thanks for the entertainment, dude.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. Southworth's claim is that teaching kids about contraception and safe sex is like teaching them how to make mixed drinks. It's illegal for minors to drink alcohol, so we shouldn't instruct them on how to do it. It's also illegal for minors to have sex, so we shouldn't teach them how to do it.

    This one part in particular got to me. We should be teaching our kids how to have sex AND how to drink. That doesn't mean we should be giving them tips on sex positions or mixing drinks... but they should be taught how to have sex and drink responsibly. The lesson is "you shouldn't do these things until they are legal and/or until you are ready (if ever) but when/if you do... do it safely." That includes sex education, but also stuff like drunk driving prevention.

    My daughter is only 10 and she doesn't know exactly how to have sex... but she has known for a long time how not to have unsafe sex.

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