Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: Sex Education and Sarah and Bristol Palin

Posted at 4:14 pm, September 8th, 2008
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

As a grandfather of eight inquisitive kids, 14 and under, I’ve had my share of squirmy moments. “Pop, what’s Viagra?” I hope now that none of my grandkids quiz me about Levi Johnston and what exactly he did that led to his warm greeting by John McCain at the Republican convention.

Some in the media would quickly change the subject. Of course, Johnston and his bride-to-be are not running for office, and shouldn’t be hounded unduly by the press. But neither should they or the Palins be spared relevant questions. After all, this is a country with one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the developed world. The Guttmacher Institute pegs it as “almost twice as high as those in England, Wales and Canada, and almost eight times” as high as in the Netherlands and Japan.

This is also where sex education in the schools is a hot public issue. Alaska’s Republican Party recently declared in its platform: “We support requiring active written parental consent prior to teaching any sex education curricula. Any such curriculum must be abstinence-based.” The Guttmacher Institute reports that 35 per cent of school districts with sex education programs “require that abstinence be taught as the only option for unmarried people and either prohibit the discussion of contraception altogether or limit discussion to its ineffectiveness.”

Abstinence-only instruction is not favored by most U.S. adults, who, by a wide margin, support a comprehensive approach that includes teaching both abstinence and other methods of avoiding unwanted pregnancy. Sarah Palin is an abstinence-only advocate despite the Guttmacher Institute’s conclusion that, after years of evaluation, “there is no evidence…that abstinence-only education delays teen sexual activity…and [it] may delay contraceptive use among sexually active teens, increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy.”

While not office-seekers, Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin are newly-minted public figures, They shed their status as private citizens when Sarah Palin or her managers knowingly thrust them into the public eye, thus inviting press coverage. Palin herself publicized her unmarried daughter’s pregnancy. It would be altogether proper, and useful, for the press to inquire into the sort of sex education Bristol and Levi received in their schools. And since Sarah Palin has brought attention to her role as a mom, it would not be out of line to ask how she handled that parental responsibility.

Just as relevant would be reporting about how Bristol and her husband-to be plan to put a roof over their heads. A major consequence of premature parenthood is the big financial burden young parents assume. So, by all means, publicize Levi Johnston pumping the hand of John McCain but also report how he and his spouse-to-be intend to support their family.

Sarah Palin almost seems to give the impression that her daughter’s pregnancy is a blessing. In our sex-drenched society, that’s not the message adolescents need. The press should unsparingly report the facts about unplanned adolescent parenthood even if it counters the happy-face politician Palin would put on it.

6 Responses to “Sex Education and Sarah and Bristol Palin”

  1. Thomas says:

    A few things: Sarah Palin is not the embodiment of the Alaska Republican Party’s platform and is not an abstinence-only advocate. There is no evidence that abstinence-only education actually increases the rate of teen pregnancy. Bristol Palin received a “comprehensive” sex education in her school. The suggestion that an inquiry into the sex education provided in the Palin home is somehow fair game is novel; we’ve had presidents and vice presidents with children before, and yet this question has never been asked–what’s different now? Surely success in using contraception is as newsworthy as failure. The suggestion that it is any of our business how Palin’s child and her husband-to-be intend to live is really a stretch. Is there anything about them you do think is out of line?

    As for the last paragraph: of course her daughter’s pregnancy is a blessing. It’s not an unmixed blessing, but it is a blessing. What’s controversial about that?

  2. Cheese says:

    Thomas, the key is that SHE, Sarah Palin, made her daughter’s pregnancy a public item. It was not journalists who went out to find it out. She herself brought it to bear, which does end up making it fair game, whether we like it or not. Probing unnecessarily is where it’s out of line on the media’s part, but as far as I’m concerned, this is a failure of judgement on her part because she decided to make her daughter’s pregnancy public…and not just public, but nationally public. As far as I’m concerned, the issue should be: Why did she feel the need to destroy her own daughter’s privacy just to take pride in the pregnancy to make an attempt at a point?

    Anyone doing such a thing has just made a world-class blunder, and as such, is unqualified for any kind of public office.

  3. Mark says:

    Cheese must live in such a large and comfy bubble of a world. It is patently obvious to anyone who has ever seen a political campaign of any type why Sarah Palin proactively revealed her daughter’s pregnancy. Had she not, Palin’s political opponents (including Cheese) would now be criticizing her for the pregnancy AND accusing her of trying to shamefully cover up the facts. No, this was OBVIOUSLY not a blunder of any kind. It was an attempt to present the issue with transparency and grace, rather than hide in shame from what would certainly be twisted for political gain by Obama supporters. Would Palin be more qualified for public office if she had not revealed her daughter’s pregnancy?

    On the other hand, some hold the position that an unwed teen pregnancy in the family shows poor judgement which alone disqualifies Palin. To them I would ask if we should also disqualify Barack Obama from the campaign, since he has been raised by a mother with the exact same poor judgement. Obama’s mother conceived him as an unwed 17 years old — undoubtedly transfering some of that same poor judgement to her son in his upbringing. On that basis, I’m sure Cheese would agree Obama is unqualified for any kind of public office.

    And also, Cranberg’s next post will no doubt call for the press to unsparingly report the facts about Obama’s unplanned adolescent conception even if it counters the happy-face political spin Obama would put on it. Oh, I forgot — Obama doesn’t talk about such things openly like Palin has.

  4. Douglas says:

    Ignoring the propriety of dragging Bristol Palin into the political turmoil, I’d like to see someone actually discuss the issue of sex education and its effects. I am an “old guy”, schooled back in the 50s and 60s. We had no real sex education while I was in school. Strangely enough, we had a low incidence of unwed pregnancies. We did not have “the pill” and our contraception methods were pretty much limited to condoms. We knew about them and we knew where to get them. No one needed to teach us how to put them on, trust me. But why are the pregnancy rates so high (though they have dipped in recent years)? If sex education works at all, why have pregnancy rates increased at all since it has become prevalent in our schools? I think any discussion of sex education must address that question objectively.

  5. Thomas says:

    Cheese, the once-esteemed NY Times had an article on Sarah Palin and her son Trig today. The author interviewed the mother and family in the adjacent rooms, presumably to confirm that Sarah Palin is in fact the mother. When that’s the world we live in–once respectable newspapers chasing transparently false rumors–there’s no much privacy for Sarah Palin to protect. The other candidates of course have faced no such invasions.

  6. Janice Byer says:

    “The other candidates of course have faced no such invasions.”

    I assume Thomas is being sarcastic, though I wonder, considering his false accusation of “happy-face political spin that Obama would put on” his own unplanned conception.

    The “unsparing report of the facts” of his mother’s adolescent pregnancy was laid out by him in “Dreams of My Father”. These facts have also been covered by The Washington Post, Time Magazine, and NY Times, to name just three, none of which sentimentalized it like Bristol’s pregnancy has been by Republicans declaring it a miracle (!) and an affirmation of life (duh) and otherwise denying how hard it must be for her and Levi, neither of whom have yet finished high school.

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