Why we still need OWL, part II

The school newspaper controversy in nearby Mountain View, which I reported on in this post, got picked up today by the San Jose Mercury News in an article written by Sharon Noguchi: “Mountain View High School newspaper’s sex stories raise parents’ ire”.

The Merc tries to remain objective, but they’re obviously on the side of the student journalists who dared to report on some of the realities of teen life today. In her news article, Noguchi writes: “But the debate also illustrates the gap between adult and teen conversation and mores.” As a columnist, Scott Herhold was able to state his opinion boldly: “A group of parents crawled from their caves to protest that the student journalists had taken things too far — that the stories promoted unprotected sex and imperiled futures. In truth, the articles in the Oracle, the student newspaper, were fairly tame….”

Herhold goes on to point out the heroes of the story, the people who protected the rights of student journalists, and who stood up for what was right instead of caving to intolerant parents and religious views: “The heroes were the administrators and educators who stood up for the paper, led by Superintendent Barry Groves. At the meeting, Groves praised the journalism department and said, ‘There’s nothing I would have taken down.'”

Residents of Los Altos and Mountain View might want to take a moment and write a note of support to Barry Groves. You can find his email address on the school district Web site.

Further reading: You can read the Oracle online here. The Los Altos Town Crier published my letter to the editor on this topic, under the title “Minister supports sex education for teens” (“Look, Mildred, those crazy Unitarians are at it again”), and for the sake of the record I’ll include the full text below the fold.

To the editor [of the Los Altos Town Crier]:

I’ve been following the controversy around the articles on sex and sexuality in the “Oracle,” the Mountain View High School newspaper, as reported in the “Los Altos Crier.” Our church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, serves both Los Altos and Mountain View, and we have a number of young people attending MVHS, so this issue is of particular interest to me. Our faith community strongly supports comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents at a developmentally appropriate level. Research into teen sexuality consistently shows a fairly high number of teens engage in sexual intercourse or other sexual acts during their high school years, probably more than half of all teens. While I certainly believe it is best for legal minors to postpone all such sexual activity until adulthood, given the high level of sexual activity among teens I also believe that as a public health matter they should have accurate information about avoiding sexually transmitted infections, and avoiding pregnancy.

Indeed, our church believes this strongly enough that we provide comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents using a highly regarded curriculum titled “Our Whole Lives.” We also offer copies of the renowned book on teen sexuality, “Changing Bodies, Changing Lives,” to the families of all early adolescents in our programs. While the number of teens we see go through our programs is too small to serve as an adequate sample size, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that providing comprehensive sexuality education actually reduces and postpones sexual activity.

While much of the opposition to the “Oracle” article seems to stem from persons voicing specific religious views, I would like to make it clear that there are other religious views that strongly support comprehensive sexuality education, both in the classroom, and through other outlets such as the school newspaper.

Rev. Dan Harper

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