Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Death By Ignorance

I see in the Kansas City Star that the Kansas Board of Education, ever-vigilant to protect Kansas school-children from any education that can’t be traced directly from the Bible, may decide to require a parental permission form for children to sit through incredibly teen-age-angst-inducing sex education classes. Angst-inducing, indeed, but potentially life-saving, as well.

Well, it’s the beginning of the new school year here in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia, too. Busy, busy, busy! Lots of forms to fill out. “Student Code of Conduct Contract.” “No Child Left Behind Acknowledgment (With Military Recruiting Cluster).” “Food Sensitivity Form.” “Safe Schools Acknowledgment.” “Bus Schedule.” “Two Hour Delay Policy.”

Like I said, it’s a busy time. Children utterly tragedy-stricken because “I’m not in the same class as my best friend.” The already-churning virulent viral soup that seems to forever flow from every school, leaving some children to spend nine months out of every year with a permanent patina of crusted snot beneath their nostrils, like the vapor trails under George W. Bush’s nose after a wild twenty-something night in Old Matamoros.

Anyway, tucked away somewhere toward the bottom of the stack of forms, my wife found this: “Memorandum Regarding HIV/AIDS Education.” That form simply set forth the seemingly reasonable proposition that children attending public schools, from Grade 6 forward, would be taught about the disease known as HIV/AIDS in science and/or health classes. Just as other diseases and natural processes and really neat science stuff might be discussed. Influenza. Food Poisoning. Hurricanes. Plate tectonics. The groundbreaking discoveries of Gregor Mendel, or Linnaeus, or Kepler or Galileo. The mating dance of the common honey bee. What a bean looks like when it sprouts in a clear plastic cup. “What-will-surely-happen-to-you-Johnny-if-you-try-to-pick-up-a- rattlesnake.” Well, maybe not that last one. This is, after all, Appalachia, and there are places here where full-grown adults LIKE for Johnny to pick up that rattlesnake.

I guess it’s those same people whom we might expect to take advantage of something else mentioned in the memorandum, and the thing the Kansas story reminded me of: the fact that, pursuant to about six dozen separately listed West Virginia Code citations, parents can opt their children out of EVER being educated

Like me when I first read it, you decent, normal people, you liberals, you progressives, you Democrats, probably feel like you just ground your molars into a nasty hunk of gristle in the Thursday night pot roast. Sproing! And your lower mandible sets to vibrating and your ears flinch and you just sit there for a minute, waiting for the bone-jarring shock to pass.

But the shock doesn’t really pass, does it? In this case, you finally just find yourself sitting there: mouth hanging open, drool beginning to run and a mad little lunatic giggle rising from your diaphragm. And it turns into a full-blown guffaw as you realize that state legislatures all over the country, scared STIFF of groups that pass themselves off as being about “fambly valyooooz” have actually offered parents the right to sentence our own children to Death By Ignorance.

“Well, Bob, we can certainly teach our children about that AIDS thingy at home . . . or maybe at church. Pastor Whackbottom’s real good at that kinda thing.”

Really, Red State Mommy, can you? Can you REALLY teach little Johnny that, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, he can get a disease and DIE the very first time he has sex? Do you REALLY think, Religious-right Rita, that you can HANDLE a subject like that? Is that why the teen pregnancy rate in the red states is so much lower than in the blue ones? Oh. Wait a minute. It’s not. It’s significantly higher. Just like divorces and child sex crimes.

So, what, Rita, you couldn’t even tell your daughter how not to get all preggy? Or your son how not to get his little girlfriend that way?

“Well, Bob, we told her not to have sex. We told her Jesus wouldn’t LOVE her anymore if she had sex afore she’s a-married. What else didja want us t’do? By the way, ain’t the babies cute?! Me and my hubby, we uz plannin’ to retire in a few years. Reckon we won’t be doin’ that now! We gotta keep workin’ to support our baby . . . an’ HER babies. I think Wal-Mart’s gotta special this week on some o’ that baby formula they make over in China somewhere.”

Y’see how it goes. Hey, I’m progressive, and we’re not afraid to tackle tough topics with our kids. But the AIDS conversation? That’s a rough row to hoe, even for relatively enlightened human beings, let alone people who actually, really, honestly-and-for-truly believe the world got into the mess it’s in because some nekkid woman had a chat with a gossipy water moccasin.

But that “opt-out” exists. And it shows, for about the bajillionth time, that when it comes to family values, when it comes to being “pro-life,” the religious right is about as useful as a kickstand on a submarine. And it shows that our “pro-life” legislators can always, ALWAYS be trusted to do the WRONG THING when it comes to trying to save lives, can always, ALWAYS be trusted to choose jingos over real help, can always, ALWAYS be trusted to act from electoral fear instead of courageous intellect.

Let’s deal with this problem Head-On. This issue isn’t about HIV. It’s about condoms. And it’s about some weirdos who think condoms are worse than DYING FROM SEX.

Now, the other side, those bizarre little people who care more about microscopic wads of tissue than they do about fully formed human beings being blown to pieces in Iraq, or real, live American children who don’t have enough to eat every day, or, when they do eat, eat the from the endless, sugar- slammed, fat-filled slop trough that IS the American Fast-food Drive-through, they think things like opting their children out of HIV Education have something to do with “religious freedom.” But that position is, of course, a rotting corpse hidden in the pages of a Bible, wrapped in a flag and packaged for the sole purpose of garnering Republican votes. Because it’s fairly well established in this country, in our Constitutional Republic based upon Principles of Representative Democracy (that’s for the hardcore right-wingnuts who always love to scream about how “”Murrikkka ain’t no dee- maw-cursy”), an individual DOES NOT have the right to put loads of other people at risk based upon their own blinding, horse-gagging ignorance and obstinacy. Typhoid Mary, anyone? Ask yourself: would you find it a little extreme if, say, people who believed it was religiously forbidden to eat, say, raw vegetables, demanded that their children be exempted from learning about e-coli and how washing fresh vegetables will keep people from getting sick and maybe even dying? Of course you would! Because even if a few science-hating zealots didn’t like it, they could always remind their children at home or in church not to eat those forbidden fresh vegetables. Instead, we progressives cower in fear of the zealots, and our legislators enact policies that say “Abstinence from fresh vegetable consumption is the ONLY way to prevent e coli.” But there is a far greater good in helping protect the majority of our children from e coli poisoning than in allowing ignorance to foster sickness and death.

Every time these extremists from the Religion Industry sign this exemption form they do just that: foster sickness and death. They put my kids, your kids, all kids at hazard of a hideous, heart-rending death, a death that may not necessarily be absolutely preventable by so-called “abstninence,” but whose spread CAN be checked with something as simple as a condom.

Teaching little Red State Johnny and Janie about HIV and condoms isn’t going to kill them. Not telling about them can. And it can kill the normal peoples’ kids, too. And, being normal, YOU have the personal freedom to be infuriated by that.

- Bob Kincaid

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