Sunday, January 30, 2000

The state lied to us about sex-ed

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio is hoarding $10 billion that was extorted by lawyers to punish tobacco companies, stop teen smoking and repay taxpayers for taking care of nicotine addicts who smoke themselves to death.

        But taxpayers will never see a dime. So I think we should use some of the cash to teach kids about safe smoking. Starting in fifth grade, they should learn to always use filters. Don't inhale. Try alternatives such as cigars and pipes.

        Students should handle cigarettes in class, and play games like “hide the matches.” Parents who object should be ridiculed as heartless prudes who don't care who dies from smoking.

        After all, 40 percent of teens say they smoke. You can't stop them. So show them how to use filters. It won't prevent cancer — but filters are safer.

        Sound bizarre? It is. Kids should never be taught that smoking can be safe. But substitute sex for smoking in this imaginary lesson plan, and you have the Ohio Department of Education's plan to teach “safe sex” with condoms, starting in fifth grade.

        Most of the plan, which was smuggled into Ohio with a $900,000 grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cannot be printed here. Families would be shocked and offended.

        It included how-to lessons on homosexual sex; exercises such as hide the condom on your body and invite your partner to look for it; class discussions to list gross slang for sex and body parts; lessons in oral sex and masturbation.

        And the ODE wanted every sex-ed classroom to have a new toy named “Woody.” The action figure they had in mind was not a cowboy in Toy Story. It was a wooden model for hands-on condom lessons.

        It's beyond bizarre. But it almost became a model for Ohio sex education, because bureaucrats hatched it behind closed doors, then lied when challenged.

        “What in the world was the department of education thinking? They can't be that stupid,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana. “Are there that many left-wing wackos in the department?”

        The new boss at ODE, Susan Zellman, arrived after the plan was written. She has reassigned staffers who came up with it. “I find it offensive too,” she said.

        The sex-ed plan was sanitized and re-labeled as “abstinence.”

        But at a hearing two weeks ago, to unfreeze the $1 million CDC grant that included health and sex education, lawmakers refused to vote — another way of telling the CDC to take their sex-ed plan and play hide the condom with it.

        “It was standing room only,” Mr. Jordan said. “No matter how the DOE tries to repackage this, they will see the same concern and outrage. Their credibility is so bad, I don't see how they can fix it.”

        Rabbis, doctors, church leaders and various AIDS and health groups spoke in favor. I wonder how many read past the dollar signs and zeroes to see what they defended.

        The other side was “Just moms and dads — mostly moms,” Rep. Jordan said. “We carried the day.”

        Rep. Jordan was doubtful when he first heard complaints about the sex-ed plan. But then he read it. “I was a wrestling coach for eight years at Ohio State, and it was worse than anything I heard in the locker room,” he said. “And the CDC is pushing this all over the country.”

        “They had a market strategy to deceive the public,” Rep. Jordan said. “That's what offended me most, when your government lies to you with your tax dollars. That's just wrong.”

        He credits ordinary citizens who fought to get the truth. “You guys really broke the whole story,” he said.

        He meant Enquirer editorial writer Linda Cagnetti — who read reams of state reports and pried loose memos and documents that exposed the “Programs That Work” lessons from the CDC.

        State officials were indignant; they said our editorials were wrong. But they found no factual errors.

        Although his office was swamped with calls after Linda's editorials were read on the radio by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the governor said he knew nothing about it.

        That's how most good people react when they are confronted by the safe-sex crusade to repeal moral standards that might stigmatize homosexuals, teen pregnancies and diseases spread by promiscuous premarital sex.

        All it takes for idiocy to prevail is for good people to do nothing. This time, sanity prevailed. But the battle is not over. The next question should be: So what are they smoking at the CDC?

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

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