Long: Education key to solving social issues


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If teens are educated on contentious issues, they will learn to make the right decisions.

Craig Long

Here in America we seem to be awfully conservative. Not in the sense a Republican claims to be, but in regards to how our society operates. We cower in fear at the hint of nudity and the expression of human beauty on TV, and we balk at the mention of weapons and drugs in music. The worst thing about the whole topic of censorship in this quasi-Victorian age we seem to live in is that we are making problems worse. Important issues, dealing with more than song lyrics or TV content, which we face, are institutionally ignored to the detriment of our youth.

Take sex ed. Most parents don’t like the idea of their children running around, acting promiscuously, before they’re ready. I understand that. But isn’t the problem that they aren’t appropriately educated by the time they start doing so? Hormones, which generally drive sexual urges, don’t wait for the teen to be completely aware of sex’s multiple consequences. So why is it a big deal for kids to be educated correctly about it?

According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 21 states currently mandate sex ed. How it is done varies largely from state to state and district to district. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 34 percent of secondary school principals in 2002 described the sexual education classes taught in their school as abstinence-only.

It seems as though many people think that talking about sex and educating on the topic of safe sex will make it more likely for students to engage in sexual activities. Thus, they try to ignore the issue completely. For the students in those schools, the hormonal urges are the same. They sat through a course that tried to vilify pre-marital sex, making it taboo. It makes sex dangerous. It makes sex, well, sexy. And worst of all, it makes them ignorant of the consequences of sex and ways to engage in sexual activity safely.

It absolutely slaughters these teens’ ability to make an informed decision for themselves, forcing them to rely on faulty information from peers and urban legends about sex (how to prevent pregnancy or STIs).They take that information as fact until they prove it wrong themselves. If the topic were discussed fully, openly and without stigma, perhaps they would still fornicate. The hormones wouldn’t change. But the ways in which they choose to act may change, resulting in fewer teen pregnancies and STIs that could easily be prevented.

The same goes for alcohol. When underage drinkers consume alcohol, they are more likely than adults to drink heavily (according to a Department of Justice study done in 2002). By making drinking taboo, you drive it into cornfields where everyone is pressured to overconsume. These kids may then routinely drive home to meet curfew.

In Iowa, that means county roads filled with deer and covered in gravel. It is a situation designed to end in tragedy, all because of the irrational fear we have of alcohol even in controlled environments in the home. If a teen is taught how to drink safely, and it isn’t something taboo, they’re less likely to make dangerous decisions on their own. They’re less likely to drink and drive if they know how alcohol really affects them, and they are more likely to understand where their limits are without risking severe alcohol poisoning.

Drugs are a different type of beast than alcohol, though. I don’t advocate that parents teach their children how to do cocaine safely at home, nor should they be taught the best place to inject heroin. But education is still of the utmost importance.

Drugs are increasingly available to teens. By not acknowledging that they exist, the potential for devastating activities motivated by curiosity is high. Acknowledging they exist, expounding their dangers and actively engaging youth about them, are the best ways to head off any curiosity. Fortunately, in my experience, hard drugs aren’t such a problem with most youth — yet. But we must absolutely prevent them from going down the same path that sex and alcohol have gone, lest the problem grow. If teens know as much about the side effects of drugs as they do their intended effects (which they’ll hear from whoever introduces them, I’m sure), they are armed with what it takes to make the right decisions.

If we, as a society, begin to acknowledge these issues as pertinent, they will begin to be fixed. By ignoring them, pretending they don’t exist or taking a hard-line stance on them, you simply feed ignorance and adrenaline. We must be proactive if we wish to control these issues and induce safer activities in younger generations. Our biggest weapon as a society is education and we simply ignore it, afraid that knowledge will corrupt these people — the same people on whom we impress the value of education and the importance of knowledge in the real world.