Sep 112012
 

“Teach abstinence”, said the rather quiet man in the back of the crowded classroom. “Teach abstinence and don’t even let students know about contraception – knowing will just encourage promiscuity!”

I blinked, and almost said, “You’re kidding!” but didn’t, because he wasn’t. Roots of Health teachers, Belle, Emily, and I were conducting a workshop for teachers in a university in Puerto Princesa. It was the first session at the college and our purpose was to acquaint the teachers with the kind of materials that we teach when we handle reproductive health sessions in college classrooms. We had begun the workshop by introducing the Human Rights Framework, and had started off with an exercise in which the faculty participants listed as a group what they saw as their own, and their students’ Human Rights. The Right to Education, and the Right to Freedom of Speech were both high on their lists.

So what was this all about? It turns out this teacher was part of a group whose system for teaching about sex was focused on abstinence only education. Fair enough, but I have been a teacher for more than forty years, and I have never ever questioned the wisdom of sharing information, and the rights of students, children, anyone, to know things. I’ve never before heard anyone speak up for ignorance!

Can you teach abstinence? I don’t think so. You can preach abstinence, but in my experience few college or high school students will listen to you. Studies (as well as our own data) show that students who know more about reproductive processes, and responsible parenthood and contraception, are less likely to be sexually active, or they become sexually active at a later time. Recent studies have also found that the Philippines has the highest teen pregnancy rate in southeast Asia, clearly demonstrating that not teaching kids anything is not effective in helping them delay and practice safer sex, or in helping them avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Roots of Health / Ugat ng Kalusugan has really good curricula that we teach in Filipino, for both high school and college students. Our classes are interactive and fun, and the students really come alive – sometimes even groups of students that the regular teachers have described as “dead ball.”

We teach college students to think critically and carefully about their relationships, and to consider all the extra responsibilities that come with sexual relationships. We ask them to write down whether or not they are ready for sex, and why or why not. Most of them say they are not ready for sex. One day however, they will be ready, and where will they get answers to their questions then?

We teach them about their reproductive systems, and how pregnancy happens, and how it can be prevented. Yes, we do show them condoms – as well as pills and DMPA. And then we teach them about sexually transmitted infections. This is the topic on which there are the most questions!! And those that they don’t want to ask in class they text to our hotline. The fact that students have so many questions shows that young people want to learn, but don’t have access to trusted sources of information.

Our data show that our curricula are successful, and we are very willing to share these with the Department of Education or any interested schools. But one thing I learned from my 30 years of teaching in the Ateneo – and from the magnificent showing of Ateneo professors who signed on to support the RH Bill – is that education and especially reproductive education will always be a site of struggle. There will always be teachers with different ideas, teachers who want to do it some other way. Ateneo’s Father Bernas, whom I have admired for many years for his pronouncements on the separation of church and state, has already said Catholic Schools will want their own reproductive health curriculum. Fine. No one wants a state-imposed curriculum. But even within Catholic Schools, there will be disagreement, and there will be struggle, and conflicting ideas. Some will be labeled subversive, and some just plain cantankerous. But that’s okay – that’s what education is supposed to be. It is supposed to be the arena for critical thinking, debate, new ideas, even ‘subversive’ ideas. That is what keeps society alive.

And the right to education, like the right to free speech, is a basic right, a Human Right. It is a right that should not be denied.

Susan

  • Thank you very much for your article which shows your commitment and work to our people of Palawan. I glad about your concluding comment on the right of free speech which all of us have learned as a basic right.

    It is in this spirit that I would like to express my thoughts as I agree very much to the idea that the state does not have a right to impose its own vision of formation to the children. It is the primary right and duty of the parents. Not even the church can claim that right for itself. Her role is only secondary.

    What you said about preaching and teaching is quite confusing, however, as if they are two different things. The formal content however of preaching is really to teach. But thanks to the many preachers (excluding of course Fr. Bernas) that a derogatory connotation was concluded especially by the young. This is the same effect that is elicited from the tagalog word “sermon” as it increasingly posses a negative meaning,

    This is not meant to be so. Preaching like freedom of speech is also a right and in fact a duty of ministers. Allow me to express that it is coming from a role of a prophet that is to teach what God, whom one represents, wills or wants. Preaching or sermon is always done in the context of expressing God’s will, handed down through the holy books which all religions have. In fact it is to make alive again and meaning the will of God in the present times.

    You said that it is not possible to teach abstinence? Clearly, you don’t think so. I respect that, but in my experience abstinence could be taught but in the context of the virtue of chastity, i.e., love. It could be taught not as a negative reality, especially with regards to sex, (one which is hinted in your topic, although abstinence has a wider scope, like abstinence from movies, soft drinks, etc) but as a positive expression of human respect and even respect to the spouse. When there is true love, this love could be expressed usually by the marital action, but love could be expressed in some cases, through its abstinence, for example when the partner is sick or fertile as would natural planning, would certainly teach.

    Yes, one could teach abstinence not as a negative denial but a positive expression of true love. We don’t need even preaching or preachers to do it. It is a very human, positive value and it makes a person more humane in loving.

    If in case you cannot teach abstinence, it does not mean that it could not be taught. Many young people, even in Palawan already live this positive respect. It is better called chastity and to be chaste, one has to be a loving person, (not think only of her/his pleasures). In order that a person really loves, we could not deny him/her to express that love though chastity and abstinece. For sure, if you try, you could also teach abstinence along this line.

    Thanks again for helping Palawan.

    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful reading and response. I have no doubt that there are Preachers who can make the point for abstinence forcefully and make it stick, at least for some. On the other hand most of our students have heard parents, teachers, and priests “preaching” this idea, and yet the rate of teen age pregnancies is rising. I myself have a bias towards interactive education, in which students are fully engaged, thinking, interacting, being challenged, simply because I think they learn more that way. I also have more faith in moral positions reached by the individual concerned than those derived from others. The determination to remain abstainent until marriage seems particularly shaky — I have heard many students take this position and then suddenly “fall pregnant”. So there are many unknowns about making this position stick. I guess we all have to take the road we think is best and hope we actually influence the students. Thank you.

    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful reading and response.  I have no doubt that there are Preachers who can make the point for abstinence forcefully and make it stick, at least for some.  On the other hand most of our students have heard parents, teachers, and priests “preaching” this idea, and yet the rate of teen age pregnancies is rising.  I myself have a bias towards interactive education, in which students are fully engaged, thinking, interacting, being challenged, simply because I think they learn more that way.  I also have more faith in moral positions reached by the individual concerned than those derived from others.  The determination to remain abstainent until marriage seems particularly shaky — I have heard many students take this position and then suddenly “fall pregnant”.  So there are many unknowns about making this position stick.  I guess we all have to take the road we think is best and hope we actually influence the students.   Thank you.

  • End in sight

    To me this topic is about morality. Morality can’t be taught, like you said, but can be preached. And what that means is that when a person has a religious foundation, they have a reason for morality, and, I believe, they have a real chance of living morally. Buy I am not taking about acting religious, like going to church or giving alms. I mean having a rebirth, new life, start-over kind of power encounter with God. In the Bible, there is a story about Paul having the Damascus road experience. In truth, that should happen to everyone who wants to be Christian or Catholic.

    Because without religious grounding, there is no way to have a moral society. So whether you try to tell a high school kid not to kill people or rape people, he can always just say, “why not?”

    Rule of law? Okay, so legally forced morality can kind of work just like in Singapore and in Davao. But that approach is not perfect since 40% of the people don’t inherently obey laws (see MBTI “SP” who make up 37.5% of society).

    As a Christian myself, I can say with certainty that BEFORE I was born again, I did not have the capability to be moral. But when I traded in my old life for a new one, I got a better deal whereby I now have the Holy Spirit to allow me to do things I could not do on my own.

    For example, I am a virgin and I am a 42 year old American male. (PS. I am not fat, he he.) But I could never have committed to abstinence in my own strength. But with the power of God, I can. I would also never try to teach others to be abstain from sexuality unless they were first born again… because I believe they will not be able to succeed without the Holy Spirit.

    So, since I am a born again, I feel compelled to teach other born again people to abstain until marriage. AND I feel the need to share with people who ask me how to remain pure. And I tell them, “you must first be born again. Then, let’s talk about morality.”

    For those who reject Christianity, should they be taught condoms, pills, IUD, abortion? Sure. Since I think that’s the best they can hope for. (I don’t say that with arrogance, but with a resolved sadness.) I would wish that all could be free like me, and not being subject to random mating outside the bounds of lifelong commitment. But not everyone likes God and His ways. That’s just the world we live in.