Posted by Ryan Morgan on February 20, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Another oldie but goodie - Let's go back to the West Wing
During Season 1 (Episode 13 - Original Air Date: January 26, 2000), the West Wing featured a story line about a sex education report. The opening scene (transcript below) is between the Deputy Cheif of Staff, Josh Lyman (JL) and Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (CC):
JL: We've got a bit of a sticky wicket... We want Congress to sign off on funds for 100,000 new teachers. They say fine, but you've got to stipulate that in sex-ed classes...
CC: I would have no problem passing such a class
JL: We commissioned a report about a year ago on sex education in public schools and, well, this is it.
CC: What's it say?
JL: It says basically that teaching abstinence-only doesn't work. That people are going to be prone to have sex whether they're cautioned against it or not.
CC: What do they recommend?
JL: Something called Abstinence-Plus
CC: Abstinence-Plus? What's that mean?
JL: Well, Sam's renamed it "everything but."
CC: "Everything but?" So they want teachers to teach...
CC: And so the "sticky wicket" joke was...
JL: A regrettable pun
As the episode continues, C.J. becomes more engrossed in the issue, and begins to pester the President to read and respond to the report. At one point, there is a short scene in which an aide sits in the Oval Office and has "what I can only assume is a very 'comfortable' conversation with the President."
As is typical with this show, there are political moves and backroom meetings that eventually find senior staff meeting with Congressional Republicans. The Majority leader tells them that they need to put the sex-ed report on the bottom of the agenda. Why? "I don't want the debate. Nobody does. Nobody wants to support it, nobody wants to oppose it. Nobody wants the debate."
I admit, it's difficult to fight for comprehensive sex education. Especially when all the scientific evidence supports teaching young people about all the possible risks and protection options available to them. And when research shows that teaching young people how to make healthy decisions decreases the rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Finally, C.J. gets the President (PB) to react to the report:
PB: It's not going to play well at a PTA meeting. It says we should be teaching kids to have sex.
CC: It does not.
PB: Of course it doesn't, but that's how it's going to play.
CC: The report is very direct, sir. It says withholding knowledge about having sex doesn't prevent teenagers from having sex, it prevents teenagers from having sex safely. And it says offering information about sex doesn't increase the rate of sex, it increases the rate of protected sex.
As is typical with sex education, the report was "stuck in a drawer" and discarded in favor of other political objectives. It doesn't seem to matter that millions of young people's futures will be forever changed because of information being withheld from them.
"It eludes me"
To know that we have evidence proving that comprehensive sex education (which includes lessons on health relationships, abstinence, contraceptives, and communication) helps decrease harmful rates of unintended pregnancies and STDs and we VOLUNTARILY withhold it from young people is baffling. We are basically lying to our kids and expecting them to figure out this game on their own.
Although early in the series, this episode of the West Wing is a perfect reflection of the discussion we're currently having in South Carolina. No one wants to talk about sex education, but the issue is here, and we need to talk about it.
This episode also features a story line about a hate crime bill, the result of a young gay boy being tortured and killed by his classmates because he was gay. This is a mirror of the Matthew Shepard tragedy from 1998