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Y'know, because I have free time

So, I'll admit, I'm intrigued. Henry Waxman comes out with a real "Minority Report": a paper by the "Special Investigative Division" of the Minority Staff of the Committee on Government Reform, basically alleging that there are serious scientific errors in federally-funded Abstinence Based Education (ABE) programs. Both Heidi Bond and Amber Taylor write mocking, critical pieces based on this report. (Neither of them mention its rather partisan origin.) But most intriguingly, they both take the kind of risk that immediately pricks my ears up: relying on highly partisan source material without going back to the original sources.

Amber gets particularly upset about a story in a rather ridiculous little textbook called Choosing the Best Soulmate. (See UPDATE) Lest one think I'm actually for ABE, let me declare my skepticism here: given how little I think of most state-provided services, I'm not about to have a lot of enthusiasm for a textbook that purports to tell high school students how to find a soulmate. My guidance counselor wasn't much help in picking out a university: with due respect to the excellent faculty of my high school, they can stay far away from my love life.

Nevertheless, Amber's becomes annoyed at a paraphrase of a story found in CTBS. She cites the report:

One book in the “Choosing the Best” series presents a story about a knight who saves a princess from a dragon. The next time the dragon arrives, the princess advises the knight to kill the dragon with a noose, and the following time with poison, both of which work but leave the knight feeling “ashamed.” The knight eventually decides to marry a village maiden, but did so “only after making sure she knew nothing about nooses or poison.” The curriculum concludes:
Moral of the story: Occasiona l suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.

Heidi, on the other hand, is annoyed by a table. Again, she cites the report:
In a chart of the top five women’s and men’s basic needs, the curriculum lists “sexual fulfillment” and “physical attractiveness” as two of the top five “needs” in the men’s section. “Affection,” “Conversation,” “Honesty and Openness,” and “Family Commitment” are listed only as women’s needs.

Now, both of their critiques are rightfully mocking assuming that the report is accurate. On the other hand, a cursory look through the report shows that it's hardly a dispassionate, objective study. Waxman wasn't interested in writing a piece that was fair. (Nor, incidentally, would one expect to see something that came out of the Majority's version of a "Special Investigative Division" to be fair. Washington is a place with little respect for the facts.) I'm not sure that this assumption is warranted.

I've spent some time today looking into the background of the report, and learning some of the reasonable criticisms of it. This is difficult, of course, because partisans on both sides heavily invested in using questionable data to buttress their claims, and both sides are heavily adept at spinning. And there's a couple of areas seemingly uncritiqued on the blogosphere that I wanted to address. So I started writing a piece, but found that I couldn't finish it. Essentially, there's no way to evaluate claims like the two above without actually getting a copy of the original material, reading it, and seeing if Waxman's critique is correct.

So I've sent off to both publishers, and a couple of New York state organizations that use the materials, asking for scans or photocopies of the relevant sections. It's not that much work, and should turn up some interesting data. It turns out that some of the books are actually being purchased (I have no idea if they're used) in the school system where I went to high school, so if any of my old high-school friends, or even better, one of my old teachers, has any of the following, please get in touch:

Choosing the Best Soulmate, by Choosing the Best Publishing, LLC, page 51 (or, preferably, 50-53). It might be noted that this book post-dates the latest round of SPRANS grants, so hasn't really received federal funding.

WAIT Training, Abstinence and Relationship Training Center, page 199 (or, preferably, 198-200).

In the meantime, it's worth taking a look at the websites. Any site with that many kids grinning in an "I'm not having sex, and I'm happy and healthy, damn it" manner is deeply, deeply spooky. It brought back my worst memories of "Healthy Teen" handouts and the various other paraphenalia of middle- and high-school health classes. Is there any government grant we can give these people such that they can afford to get their marketing done by somewhere other than Stepford, Inc?


(Update: Someone has written asking how I know that the CTBS textbook is "rather ridiculous." I'm afraid that what I meant here was not as clear as what I said. As is clear, I've not read the textbook yet, merely the website advertising it. However, given my memories of quite a few "health" or "sex ed" textbooks, I can't think of one that wasn't rather ridiculous: they had a tendency to talk down to students, gloss over important distinctions... come to think of it, most of the things Waxman is griping about. And they mostly had freakishly-happy looking teens on them. I really didn't enjoy my Health classes back in middle- and high-school, and I'm afraid it came through here.)

Then again, unless the Waxman Report makes the entire Knight/Dragon story up out of whole cloth, I'm at least willing to give it this criticism: what in heaven's name is a book targeted at junior and seniors doing using such crap metaphorical fantasy stories in order to make its point? No student is ever likely to be a knight nor a dragon, unless Hollywood becomes suddenly prescient. Leave aside whatever it says about gender roles, why is this considered effective presentation in the first place?

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"A revised and updated curriculum that teaches teens how to have the BEST sex...by waiting until and in preparation for marriage!" Now, not being a lawyer I lack the full pedantry required for this. But doesn't the above imply that sex is OK if it's 'in preparation for marriage?' So, 'I know cocaine fuelled foursomes are wrong, but it's in preparation for marriage' might be an acceptable excuse? I look forward to your accounts of the textbook. (Nice spam blocking thing btw)
Follow up on the reaction to the Waxman report; there's some _really_ funny stuff in response. http://www.medinstitute.org/ seems to be a year-round abstinence advocacy group and appears to have an almost limitless flexibility of the intellect in explaining inconvenient facts. This spin in defense of "virginity pledges," e.g.: The percentage of those 18 to 24 years of age who had intercourse before marriage was 88 percent among pledge takers and 99 percent among non-pledge takers. Those who signed pledges were therefore 12 times more likely than non-pledge takers to be virgins at marriage.
TtP: As I said, one of the problems with doing this kind of research is that the advocates on both sides spin numbers pretty severely. That said, I'm not sure why you find that an "inconvenient" fact. I doubt it's "12 times more effective" simply because pledge-takers are going to be the type of folk less-likely to have sex before marriage anyway. But what one would really want to know--in terms of sexual health, anyway--would be whether pledge-takers who did have premarital sex delayed their first sexual experiences, and whether over a relevant period they had fewer sexual partners. But more to the point: what do you mean "year-round abstinence advocacy group"? I was unaware that these things are normally seasonal? ;)
Any luck getting pg 199 of the WAIT training? I received the email below from a WAIT trainer who says pg 199 doesn't even exist. Hello Lynn, The information that was reported in the Waxman report concerning the WAIT Training is, in part incorrect, and misunderstood. We did not write the curricula, we only teach it. However, I can tell you that some of the statements he made are NOT written anywhere in the curriculum and the pages he gave as reference to those statements don't even exist. Obviously, you are concerned or you would not have taken the time to write. So, if you would like to talk to a representative of WAIT Training to get to the truth of this matter, please call Joneen Krauth at 720-488-8888. I am sure she would be more than willing to go over any of the information you may have questions about. Thank you for your comments and I wish your daughter the best in her academic pursuance. Sincerely, Linda Cozadd, Executive Director Family Life Pregnancy Center Effingham Il
Unfortunately, my research on this has been put off in favor of my Note. The WAIT Training people most helpfully sent me copies of the pages I asked for, and I've written a bit of analysis on that, but I've yet to find a copy of the Choosing the Best Soulmate book. It's a bit annoying, really.

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