Reuters, August 5, 2004
Texas Sex-Ed Textbooks Face
By Jon Herskovitz
DALLAS (Reuters) - The lesson for Texas teens
is that the only safe sex is no sex, and that
may be a lesson that heads nationwide.
Texas educators are debating what will be taught
in new sexual education textbooks for its high
school students. The 15-member Texas Board
of Education is considering and will likely
approve four books, all of which extol the
virtues of abstinence. Three make no mention
of contraceptives at all while one makes passing
reference to condoms.
Critics are crying foul, saying that a lesson
of abstinence alone is dangerous because it
could lead to more teen pregnancies and more
teens becoming infected with sexually transmitted
The battle in Texas has national implications
because the state is the second-biggest market
for textbooks in the United States. Books approved
by the state's school board are typically marketed
According to Centers for Disease Control figures,
Texas has been among the top five states in
the country for teen-age pregnancies for several
When he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush
pushed for an abstinence-based sexual education
curriculum. He raised his concerns to a national
level when he said in this year's State of
the Union address: "We will double federal
funding for abstinence programs, so schools
can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for
young people is the only certain way to avoid
sexually transmitted diseases."
National surveys indicate that a wide majority
of parents support a strong abstinence message
to teens in sexual education.
TEENS ADVISED TO GET SLEEP
The Texas Freedom Network, a group that regularly
battles social and religious conservatives
in the state, along with Planned Parenthood
and others are asking the board not to approve
the four textbooks under consideration.
They say the books are lacking. For example,
one textbook under review advises that a good
way a teen-ager can prevent a sexually transmitted
disease is to get plenty of rest so he or she
can have a clear head about sex and choose
"The key thing here is that the textbooks
do not contain a trace of information about
family planning and prevention of sexually
transmitted diseases other than through abstinence,"
said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom
Critics want the board to ask the publishers
to revise the books to include more information
on contraceptives, but the board is expected
to approve the books without changes since
officials say discussion of contraceptives
in their teachers' supplements is enough to
meet state curriculum requirements .
"There are other contraceptive methods in
addition to abstinence and you are just not
going to find it in these textbooks,"
Quinn said. He charged the textbook publishers
have engaged in self-censorship to appease
social conservatives in the state at the expense
of the health of Texas teen-agers.
The board will meet in September to discuss the
books and will vote on whether to approve them
in November. If approved, the texts are likely
to appear in classrooms in August 2005 -- where
they could be the standard text for about 10
Local school districts are not required to use
one of the new books but they receive state
funding to buy them if they do.
The publishers of the books are Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, Glencoe/McGraw Hill and Thomson
Some of the books currently in use in the state
have more information about contraceptives
than the books up for consideration, but once
the new books are approved, they will for the
most part replace all the current texts.
The education board has been at the center of
many political and religious battles over the
years including a recent proposal by evangelical
Christian groups to have the state's textbooks
include items debunking evolution,
Despite opposition, the sex education textbooks
under consideration are likely to get approval.
State Education Agency officials said mention
of condoms and contraceptives in the teacher's
editions or in supplements to the books enable
them to meet Texas curriculum standards.
Texas standards require sexual education books
to "analyze the effectiveness of barrier
protection and other contraceptive methods,
including the prevention of sexually transmitted
diseases, keeping in mind the effectiveness
of remaining abstinent until marriage."
ABSTINENCE IN TEXAS
Richard Blake, a spokesman for Holt, Rinehart
and Winston said his company offers a supplement
for students that goes into comprehensive detail
about forms of contraceptives.
The supplement for students is free with the
purchase of the textbooks. It is excluded from
the main text in order to offer flexibility
and meet the needs of school boards across
the United States that have differing views
on how to treat a subject many see as highly
"Teachers and educators across the country,
and not just in Texas, have told us they wanted
it this way," Blake said.
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