Great article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today about the Christian anti-abortion group, Thrive St. Louis, that has finagled its way into 75 public schools in the St. Louis area where it teaches a values-heavy version of sex education as part of a program titled Best Choice. I won’t go into the gory details – you can read them in the original article, but this snippet gives you an idea about how this group deals with the need to remain impartial when it goes about fulfilling the provisions of the Missouri law that mandate teaching abstinence (the Best Choice, get it?) as a preferred method of birth control:

Another activity to demonstrate the effects of having had sex with more than one person involves chewing cheese crackers and spitting them into a cup of water, which is then poured into another student’s cup. All the while, one student’s cup of water remains pure.

Slut-shaming, right? Which is not, as Leora Tanenbaum suggests, just “a catchy way to signify old-fashioned sexism,” but is a profoundly harmful approach to human sexuality for both boys and girls.

I know that there are lots of folks who might want their children to get this message along with the conservative Christian world-view that it reflects, but lots more don’t. Public school sex education must be factually correct and as neutral in its approach as is possible – even though ideologically driven legislators feel empowered to mandate the teaching of “preferred” sexual behaviors. Religious folks should be teaching their values at home.

Nor is the Thrive approach necessarily a very good way to insure adolescent abstinence. Parents who defend the program might want to take into consideration the fact that heavy-handed efforts to influence their children’s behavior might backfire. There are likely many reasons why abstinence programs don’t do much to dissuade kids from experimenting with sex, but trying to stack the deck in an obvious way definitely doesn’t help.

When I was in the sixth grade there was a law in my state (perhaps a federal law?) that mandated teaching about the evils of communism and the glories of capitalism. The result of the ham-fisted approach that was preferred? A few of my peers in the late sixties and early seventies ended up dedicated Maoists, quoting from the Chairman’s little Red Book. More of us, myself included, endorsed democratic socialism. I would probably never have become interested in the issues of distributive economics had lawmakers not decided that my little brain needed to be bent – hammered, actually – in what they believed to be the right direction. I should probably thank whoever was responsible for those inept educational modules.

Another example is provided by the efforts to combat drug abuse. All the overkill and false facts about how marijuana, for example, was the sure path to hard drugs and a life of squalor were obviously over the top – and all too often delivered by folks who had no qualms about several before-dinner martinis or a few too many beers on the weekend. Consequently, the ubiquitous anti-drug indoctrination programs only served to make even justified warnings about far more problematic drugs suspect to many young people. The final  fillip: it now looks like marijuana will sooner or later become fully legal nationwide.

Get the point? Obvious propaganda rarely works and more often than not renders the purveyors of false or one-sided information suspect. To be effective you have to demonstrate that you deserve trust which means putting all the cards out on the table.

Of course there’s another dimension to the whole issue which is that while Missouri law mandates teaching abstinence as the preferred birth-control method, it doe not mandate that other methods be ignored. Quotes in the Post-Dispatch article imply that while Best Choice goes after the evils of unmarried sex like gangbusters, it does not deal with the full range of important sexual issues – the variety and relative effectiveness of birth control methods, gender identity issues, etc. Children in many St. Louis schools are being given incomplete, often harmful information that disrespects the values of many families. That’s not right.

And guess what? We’re paying with our tax dollars for this indoctrination program. Thrive can offer the Best Choice program to schools “free of charge” because it receives federal funding to do so. We’ve all heard about “faith-based” initiatives. Looks like maybe what we really need is a little more separation of church and state.