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Jewish World Review
February 5, 2010 / 21 Shevat 5770
Another Undead Conservative Idea
Barack Obama assumed the presidency determined not just to promote
certain policies but to tidy up our minds as well. Some things we'd been
saving, like conservative ideas on national defense and such, would have
to go. Those were "the failed policies of the past," and he would not
tolerate people clinging to them. Obama enthusiast and New York Times
editor Sam Tanenhaus thought he was writing an epitaph when he published
"The Death of Conservatism" six months ago.
But we have not cooperated. More to the point, the facts have not
cooperated. That $787 billion stimulus that was guaranteed to keep
unemployment at 8 percent or less is now regarded by 75 percent of
Americans as a corrupt flop. Seventy-one percent say underwear bomber
Abdulmutallab should have been handed over to the military. And 58
percent say he should have been waterboarded.
Now we learn, from a study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent
Medicine end ital that another prematurely buried conservative idea,
abstinence education, works very well indeed.
The Obama administration had disdained and defunded abstinence education
in favor of "evidence-based" programs to prevent teen pregnancy. (Note
the assumption that liberal ideas are founded on evidence whereas
conservative ideas spring from prejudice, ignorance or downright
orneriness.) No one study settles things, but this one, conducted by an
African-American professor from the University of Pennsylvania, will be
hard to ignore.
Between 2001 and 2004, John B. Jemmott III and his colleagues studied
662 African-American sixth- and seventh-graders (average age 12). The
kids were randomly assigned to one of four programs. The first
emphasized abstinence and included role-playing methods to avoid sex.
The second combined an abstinence message with information about
condoms. The third focused solely on condom use, and the fourth (the
control group) was taught general health information.
Over the course of the next two years, about half of the kids who
received the condom instruction and half of the control group were
having sex. Forty-two percent of those who got the combination class
were sexually active, but only 33 percent of the abstinence-only group
were having sex. Additionally, and this confounds one of the myths of
the condom pushers, the study found no difference in condom use among
the four groups of students who did engage in sex. "I think we've
written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the
nature of the evidence," Jemmott told the Washington Post. "Our study
shows this could be one approach that could be used."
Elayne Bennett, founder of the Best Friends program, is delighted that
the Jemmott research reinforces her experience with mostly
African-American adolescent girls. Offering a mixed program of
mentoring, dance, music, and role-playing, Best Friends and its new
spinoff, Best Men for boys, has had two decades of success in helping
kids abstain from sex, drugs, and alcohol until they graduate from high
school. She has found that the kids desperately want someone to tell
them it's OK to postpone sex. It's a commentary on our times but there
it is we need special programs to give kids permission to say no.
"The opponents," Bennett notes, "have popularized three words,
'Abstinence doesn't work.'" But her program and others like it have
excellent track records. Every previous study showing the effectiveness
of abstinence programs has been picked apart for one trivial flaw or
another, but the new research seems airtight.
People usually form their opinions first and look only for evidence that
supports their prejudices. That's another reason the Jemmott research
deserves respect. He didn't conduct his research to support abstinence
education. He's simply reporting on what works.
It's always been an open question whether supporters of so-called
"comprehensive sex ed," with its heavy emphasis on "safe sex" and
condoms, actually believe in abstinence at all. They always argued that
"no matter what we say, the kids are going to have sex anyway so they
might as well be safe." But they never adopted that logic with, say,
cigarettes. They didn't lobby for mandatory filters on the grounds that
the kids were going to smoke willy-nilly.
Well, this will be a test. The Obama administration has vowed to fund
"evidence based" programs. Will they reverse their decision to
completely defund abstinence ed?
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