Obama: Sex Before Reading?

A new John McCain ad belittles Barack Obama’s legislative achievements on education reform and includes this gem:

Obama’s one accomplishment? Legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergartners. Learning about sex before learning to read?

TPM’s Greg Sargent finds the charge “false” and “pernicious.”  He cites this passage from the bill, as circulated by  McCain’s staff:

“Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV.”

Sargent notes that Obama camp’s explanation that the bill “would simply add instruction on disease prevention to already existing Illinois sex-ed standards.”   Indeed, Team Obama is calling the charge “perverse.”

“It is shameful and downright perverse for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls – a position that his friend Mitt Romney also holds. Last week, John McCain told Time magazine he couldn’t define what honor was. Now we know why,” said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.

Taking legislative language and votes out of context to exploit cultural divides is so routine that it’s hard to get particularly excited by this. Indeed, the ad’s not totally unfair.

While I’m generally pro-sex ed, it strikes me as bizarre to mandate teaching kindergartners about STDs.  Making them aware of sexual predators is, sadly, probably necessary.  But are six-year-olds really having unprotected sex and sharing hyperdermic needles?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rick DeMent says:

    To clarify Obama supported

    “age appropriate” sex-education for children as a means of teaching them what was proper or improper touching, as well as to protect them against pedophiles”

    So James if you have some evidence that Obama actually supported teaching kindergartners about STDs that would be news we could all use. but I read the same article as you and the point I made above was pretty clear so I’m not sure how you got that characterization …

  2. James Joyner says:

    Rick: How do you read the sentence, “Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV” without concluding that he intended teaching kindergartners (i.e., “K”) about STDs?

  3. carpeicthus says:

    K-12 is a common designation. For your comments to make any sense, you will have to show me a comprehensive sex education course offered to kindergartners. You’re not usually daft, don’t be now.

    The McCain campaign is disgusting. I never thought I’d be pining for the days of Atwater.

  4. Michael says:

    Indeed, the ad’s not totally unfair.

    In what possible way is it not totally unfair?

    While I’m generally pro-sex ed, it strikes me as bizarre to mandate teaching kindergartners about STDs.

    No, teaching kindergartners about sex is bizarre, teaching them about STDs if you are going to teach them about sex anyway is reasonable.

    At what point in Obama’s bill did it require, suggest, of even imply that children would be taught about sex any earlier than they already were? All it says is “If you’re going to talk to any of these kids about sex, you have to warn them of the dangers too”.

  5. Anderson says:

    For your comments to make any sense, you will have to show me a comprehensive sex education course offered to kindergartners.

    Exactly. It’s like saying “If kindergartners are given cars, then the cars must be American-made.”

    Nothing in that sentence requires or implies that 5-year-olds will be given cars at all.

    Sorry to see JJ tolerating this kind of thing. Apparently it’s just politics, so who really cares.

    “What is truth?” asked jesting Pilate, and did not stay for an answer.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    I’ve looked at the amendment. Link at bottom. The amendment changes the designation of sex ed as a grades 6 through 12 program to K through 12. I’m not sure why it was moved from 6 to K. The other changes don’t strike me as odd, or at least reasonable people may differ.

    What is problematic about the bill from an Illinois perspective is that it is an unfunded mandate to local school districts. The last provision of the bill says the State is exempt from having to pay for the mandates. Local school districts in Illinois also have some leeway on how they approach sex ed, so mandating that a local school district do sex ed in a certain way is going to be a problem; not paying for it would be worse.

    The bill passed Obama’s Committee, but he was not the sponsor. I assume he voted for it, but the website is silent. It did not even get a vote in the full Senate, so I’m not sure if this counts as an accomplishment in any event.

    link

  7. Hunter says:

    carpeicthus: does a legislature ever fully design education programs? It was my understanding that legislation such as this simply sets up the guidelines for said programs. I also think the ad is deceptive but pretty much par for the course.

  8. Michael says:

    The amendment changes the designation of sex ed as a grades 6 through 12 program to K through 12. I’m not sure why it was moved from 6 to K.

    I believe it added provisions to teach children about inappropriate toughing and sexual predators, which is something that should be taught (in an age appropriate way) below the 6th grade.

  9. DMan says:

    Like many of the commentators have pointed out, JJ is acting like the McCain campaign and missing the the distinguishing feature in the bill that requires all courses be “age appropriate”. If you read the bill you’ll see this fundamentally obvious point declared numerous times.

    Once example:

    All course material and instruction in classes that teach sex education and discuss sexual activity or behavior shall be age and developmentally appropriate.

    I guess when you are so quick to accept that lying about your opponent’s record is just politics as usual, you are probably just not all that interested in the truth anyway.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    I am more inclined to believe it is a poorly written bill. My read of the bill is that if a school taught kindergartners about sexual predators, they would also be required to teach about STDs, discussion of sexual abstinence, all forms of contraception with their pros and cons, financial responsibilities for out-of-wedlock children, laws against sex with a minor, male accountability, etc.

    It’s true that the bill would require the materials need to be age appropriate, but you have to teach all of these mandates too.

  11. Michael says:

    PD Shaw, I’m not sure anybody would construe teaching about sexual predators with “comprehensive sexual education”. Schools may be required to teach evolution as part of any “comprehensive biology curriculum”, but nobody(*) says they’ll have to teach it to kindergartners who are learning the names of farm animals.

    (*) An absolute statement, I know, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there claimed such a thing, but I’m being optimistic here so don’t burst my bubble.

  12. Rick DeMent says:

    James,

    I would read further …

  13. Chris says:

    In fact, teaching children the proper words for body parts, Vagina, Penis, Anus, etc is very important. Has anyone seen what defense attorneys do to abused children wo can’t give distinct and clear testimony? Also it is much easier to diagnose medical issues when a child can be concise. So yes, some sex education before reading is absolutely necessary.

  14. carpeicthus says:

    I guess it’s sort of obligatory to note that McCain apparently hasn’t learned to read by age 72, but I hoped he’s learned some sex ed by now.

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    How do you read the sentence, “Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV” without concluding that he intended teaching kindergartners (i.e., “K”) about STDs?

    I read it exactly as it is worded.

    If grade K has no sex ed, then the legislation does not apply.

    If grade 1 has no sex ed, then the legislation does not apply.

    If grade 9 has sex ed, then the legislation applies.

    If grade 12 has sex ed, then the legislation applies.

    Nothing shocking really. I agree taking things out of context is common, but it is a bit distasteful in this case IMO.

  16. PD Shaw says:

    If grade K has no sex ed, then the legislation does not apply.

    Yes, but the change is what is odd. Without the amendatory bill, sex ed for grade K was not contemplated and probably not authorized. If the bill had passed, sex ed would be an option for schools teaching grade K.

  17. Billy says:

    To those who think that Obama did anything wrong with this bill, or that McCain or his campaign are at all justified in their tactics here: you’re a friendless, fat piece of crap manchild who prefers to constantly distract himself by obsessing over childish bull#!&% rather than affecting any real, meaningful change in your pathetic trainwreck of a life. You’re emotionally stunted human garbage who will die alone of chronic food overdose. Nobody would find your body for weeks because your myriad dysfunctions and infantile preoccupations have driven away anyone who would ever care about you.

  18. Anderson says:

    Nobody would find your body for weeks because your myriad dysfunctions and infantile preoccupations have driven away anyone who would ever care about you.

    Now I’m worried — where is Bithead on this thread?

  19. Adam says:

    Well hey, come on now, you can’t actually criticize McCain for this ad, that wouldn’t come off as fair and balanced.

    I mean, we shouldn’t inject common sense or logic into politics because then we might actually elect someone running a campaign that is actually based upon substance rather than fear of sex.

    Great job, James. You really were fair and balanced, way to help the machine.

  20. Mark Jaquith says:

    It’s a non-issue. It just says that if any class has a comprehensive sex education component, it has to discuss X, Y and Z. It doesn’t prescribe the teaching of X, Y and Z to kindergartners unless there had been an independent effort to teach “comprehensive sex education” to them. Which is absurd, and doesn’t exist. Saying “K-12” is just a way of deferring the decision on when to give kids “comprehensive sex education.” That’s totally appropriate.

    The ad is extremely dishonest.

  21. Neo says:

    http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/93/SB/PDF/09300SB0099lv.pdf

    13 … Each class or course in comprehensive sex
    14 education offered in any of grades K -6 through 12 shall
    15 include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted
    16 infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread
    17 of HIV.

  22. unspun says:

    HARD EVIDENCE: OBAMA supports SEX ED for Children Ages 5-8 — advertising and instructing – without saying “dont’ do it.”

    http://www.rightpundits.com/?p=2017

    Actual Illinois State Senate bill here:
    http://www.ilga.gov/legislat ion/fulltext.asp?DocName=&SessionId=3&GA=93&DocTypeId=SB&DocNum=99&GAID=3&LegID=734&SpecSess=&Session

    And the “age appropriate” guidelines which accompany these bills are thus:
    http://www.siecus.org/_data/global/images/guidelines.pdf

    Developmental Messages: Level 1 (ages 5-8)

    • Each body part has a correct name and a specific function.
    • A person’s genitals, reproductive organs, and genes determine whether the person is male or female.
    • A boy/man has nipples, a penis, a scrotum, and testicles.
    • A girl/woman has breasts, nipples, a vulva, a clitoris, a vagina, a uterus, and ovaries.
    • Some sexual or reproductive organs, such as penises and vulvas, are external or on the outside of the body while others, such as ovaries and testicles, are internal or inside the body.
    • Both boys and girls have body parts that feel good when touched.• Vaginal intercourse — when a penis is placed inside a vagina — is the most common way for a sperm and egg to join.
    (Page 26)

    Developmental Messages, Level 1 (ages 5-8)
    • Most children are curious about their bodies.
    • Bodies can feel good when touched.
    (Page 51. Interesting language, “Most children are….” Wouldn’t be any peer pressure there, now would there?)

    Topic 2:Masturbation

    Subconcept: Masturbation is one way human beings express their sexuality.
    Developmental Messages:
    Level 1

    • Touching and rubbing one’s own genitals to feel good is called masturbation.
    • Some boys and girls masturbate and others do not.
    • Masturbation should be done in a private place.
    (Pages 51-52)

    Topic 3:Shared Sexual Behavior

    Subconcept: Individuals express their sexuality with a partner in diverse ways.
    Developmental Messages:
    Level 1
    • People often kiss, hug, touch, and engage in other sexual behaviors with one another to show caring and to feel good.(Page 52) Topic 5:Human Sexual Response Subconcept: Female and male bodies respond both similarly and differently to sexual stimulation.
    Developmental Messages:
    Level 1
    • Both girls and boys may discover that their bodies feel good when touched.
    (Page 54)

  23. SJC says:

    Obama’s argument in defense of his voting to pass this bill as he states it was simply to open up the teaching of what was appropriate and inappropriate touching to children specifically kindergartners, to protect them from predators and molestation. Does anyone realize that the argument set forth by Obama and the Obama campaign to counter the McCain campaign ad, belies and undermines the very argument Obama sets forth? This is the argument being repeated by Obama’s defenders and parroted by his surrogates and the media [CNN, MSNBC, and most disappointing the alleged non-partisan group factcheck.org], (add-infinitum).

    On their website factcheck.org covers this issue in the article “Off Base on Sex Ed”. In the article factcheck.org spends the bulk of its discussion misdirecting the reader and misrepresenting the ad by filling their article with the defense that Obama has previously put forth and leveling the strongest charge against the ad for its claim that this bill was “Obama’s one accomplishment”. Granted this statement is a bit of dramatic license open to subjective interpretation by those viewing Obama’s record. However what is not open to interpretation is the degree to which factcheck.org misrepresents the ad and misdirects the reader in it’s zealous defense of Obama by stating that Obama “does not support elicit sex education to kindergartners” a charge one would assume by the statement was presented in the ad but when viewed was never stated nor leveled by the McCain campaign! This is a talking point put forth by Obama and his campaign and parroted by factcheck.org in deliberate defense of Obama. And since when did factcheck.org employ mind readers and individuals that are able to divine the inner motives of Senator Obama to what he does or does not support in his heart. It’s in his actions that he needs to be held accountable not his statements of defense after the fact. Let his actions speak for themselves. Factcheck.org needs to stick to the facts of candidates actions not what they say were or were not their motives in defense of their voting record. Did Obama vote for this bill or did he not and did it or did it not contain a “Comprehensive Sex Education Program” for Kindergartners. Regardless of whether it was to be age appropriate or not and regardless of what Obama’s intentions are or are not is not relevant in coming to this fact.

    Defenses on behalf of Obama where also reiterated by Viveca Novak of factcheck.org when she appeared on CNN. Viveca Novak states: “What he (Obama) wanted to do was to increase the range of some form of sex education, K-12”. This is a clear admission yet minimized and obviously parsed by Viveca that Obama wanted to expand sex education to kindergarten when it was previously only available to grades 6-12. The parsing comes in when she minimizes using the words “some form” because she knows this is a comprehensive sex education bill. Viveca Novak continues, “But the thing he (Obama) was interested in having kids at a young age learn about was inappropriate sexual advances that might be made against them”. This is clearly the talking points of the Obama campaign reiterated by a so called non-partisan group factcheck.org, voiced by Viveca Novak!

    Going back to the “Off Base On Sex Ed” article factcheck.org goes on to concede under the heading “A Factual Failure” that the words “Comprehensive Sex Education” “does appear in the bill”. Factcheck’s wording would lead us to believe that this is simply an insignificant phrase in the bill. Only after reading the actual bill one can come to no other conclusion than that this bill is the very definition of the words “Comprehensive Sex Education”. It contains no less than 46 imperatives using the emphatic word “Shall” to command that all individual criteria particulars be taught and met in this Comprehensive Sex Education Program. No less than 46 because the counting was ceased after starting into the top of page 5 with 3 more pages not counted! Granted there is some repeating of the articles in the bill but no one can conclude after reading it that it isn’t truly comprehensive and all particular sections must be met and taught and it gives no allowance for leaving any particular untaught. The factcheck article continues ending this statement with the strong claim that “little else in the McCain claim (commercial) is accurate”. There is a major problem with this statement! First off Factcheck misdirects by going after the issue of “Cherry-Picking Quotes” that are placed at the beginning of the ad and are not substantive to the ad’s overarching claim. Secondly factcheck abdicates its responsibility to impartiality by a direct attempt of burying the reader in an avalanche of misdirecting issues never addressing the fact that (Obama is for comprehensive sex education to kindergartners according to his vote on this bill)! The article throws Allen Keys and Mitt Romney in the mix who have also laid these charges at the doorstep of Obama’s voting record but factcheck.org now refers to the charges in the ad and those made by Keys and Romney as “allegations” but never goes on to disprove the charges against Obama. These are subtle tactics thrown in to subconsciously sway the reader into thinking that the charges are unfounded without actually having to state that fact. However no matter how minimized or obscured factcheck.org has tried to make it, according to Viveca Novak “Obama wanted to … increase the range … of sex education for Kindergarten” when he signed the bill for “Comprehensive Sex Education”. Viveca Novak confirms and agrees that the main claim of the McCain ad is accurate!

    Reviewing Obama’s defense argument it is obvious from his statement that he has the desire to disparage and dispel his detractors. For what enlightened individual would wish ill will on a 5yr old by withholding the knowledge granted by Obama’s wisdom that would save them from a pedophile! The only problem is that this is a spurious argument at best and an outright deception at worst because Senator Obama knows that this bill gives no allowance for the teaching of only that limited part of the curriculum, for there is no provision in this bill that allows the teaching of only one portion of the whole. Read the bill, it states as previously mentioned, X, Y, Z “Shall” be taught. All listed elements “shall” be taught in an age appropriate manner, whatever that means (completely subjective, open to interpretation by whatever political, social, sexual, and religious leanings you may or may not subscribe to). Ergo Obama knows that this bill allows for a back-door entree and necessity of the whole curriculum being taught to k-12 if any part of it were to be taught, hence the word comprehensive as in “Comprehensive Sex Education Bill”. His argument that he was only looking at the need for these little ones to be protected by teaching them only that paticular part of this “Comprehensive Sex Education Bill” does not hold water for that part can not be taught in an isolated manner according to this bill! This was an obvious attempt by an liberal legislator to slip this pernicious leftist agenda bill under the radar of an unwatchful public (I do not exclude myself from this group). This was a bad bill, badly written and signed by an even more convoluted Senator Obama who needs to be held accountable for his voting record. It goes to the judgment of a man who at best is deceiving himself and at worst is trying to deceive us!

    Keep that Kool-Aid away from your lips, No matter how enticing and sophisticated it’s allure!

    Next time I’ll tell you how I really feel!