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Sunday, April 21, 2013

The miseducation of Katelyn Campbell

Katelyn Campbell
Recently in West Virginia, a teenager objected to a particularly obviously problematic form of abstinence-only education. Wait, let me rephrase that-- "Lying, slut-shaming diatribe" would be a better name for it. And the teenager in question, Katelyn Campbell, knew that's what it was. She even used the word "slut-shaming," which is just excellent. It's like a teenager being taught to "consider the controversy" in her biology class when learning about evolution immediately saying "Intelligent Design, right? That's really what you're getting at. Right?" Only in this case, it's as if Intelligent Design was the only thing being taught. And evolution was presented as a pack of lies. And students who believe in it were chastised, shamed, and told that their mothers probably hate them.

Yes, one of the things Pam Stenzel, Christian sex educator, said during her presentation was "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you." Other common statements in her "educational" talks include gems such as:
  • “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” 
  • “Ladies, you contract Chlamydia one time in your life, cure it or not, and there is about a 25 percent chance that you will be sterile for the rest of your life.” 
  • ”That drug, that hormone, that pill, that shot that this girl is taking has just made her 10 times more likely to contract a disease than if she was not taking that drug.”
  • ”Students, condoms aren’t safe. Never have been, never will be.”
And my personal favorite,
  • "if you have sex outside of one permanent monogamous - and monogamy does not mean one at a time, that means one partner who has only been with you - if you have sex outside of that context, you will pay. No one has ever had more than one partner and not paid."
Campbell apparently knew about Stenzel and chose not to attend the assembly that she (Stenzel) would be speaking for at George Washington High School, where Campbell is a senior and student body vice president. Instead, she started speaking out about the issue and filed a complaint with the ACLU. This attracted the attention of the school's principal, George Aulenbacher, who called Campbell into his office and proceeded to lecture and, according to Campbell, threaten her
Aulenbacher called Campbell to the principal's office after she contacted media outlets about the assembly and said, "I am disappointed in you" and "How could you go to the press without telling me?" according to the complaint. 
He then allegedly threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted, and tell them about her actions. "How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?" he said, according to the complaint.
In case you're wondering, it's all cool with Welleseley.

And it's probably all cool with Katelyn Campbell as well. In addition to Wellesley issuing a public statement saying it is "delighted to welcome" her as a member of the class of 2017, people are clamoring to congratulate Campbell for her bravery and maturity in this matter. And she deserves every bit of it-- she's one of those rare high school students to whom it would even occur to consider that something like the tirade by Pam Stenzel at her school might not just be hard to sit through, not just unpleasant, not just wrong, but possibly illegal...and then actually do something about it. Become a student activist.

Jessica Ahlquist did the same thing, and endured endless harassment and threats for it. It doesn't look Campbell is going to have the same experience, though there has been some backlash in the form of a Facebook group originating in support of her principal. Aulenbacher's threat itself proved to hold no water, and from what I've read if he had been more familiar with Wellesley he should have known this himself, but the fact is...he didn't. He thought he could intimidate a student into shutting up about her objections to an assembly, and that it would be a good idea to do so. If this is all true, he appears to be one of those public school administrators who clearly views his position as one of domination rather than education, and therefore should not be in that role. But it remains to be seen what happens there.

In the meantime, there's so much discussion about Pam Stenzel and her message. In this instance, her visit to George Washington High School was funded by a local Christian organization called Believe in West Virginia, and probably cost between $3,500-5,000. She has a DVD called "Sex Still Has a Price Tag" which she sells to public schools for $30 a pop. She claims to speak to over 500,000 young people a year, at both public and private schools. She attended Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is supposedly a product of rape and then adopted (as described in her talks), and previously worked at crisis pregnancy centers (pseudo-clinics which are frequently run by pro-life groups and are known for providing pregnant women with false or misleading medical information to encourage them not to abort). The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States' (SIECUS) says of Stenzel:
Pam Stenzel
Pam Stenzel was one of the first individuals that SIECUS became aware of who made a career of traveling from school to school providing abstinence-only-until-marriage assemblies and presentations. The influx of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding has meant that more schools are able to pay for these kinds of services (or receive them for free as part of a grant to a local community-based organization, crisis pregnancy center, or church), and Stenzel and her peers have been very popular in recent years. There is much to suggest that there is now a network of abstinence-only-until-marriage speakers that help promote each other’s work and materials.
This comes from a lengthy and comprehensive review of her "Sex Still Has a Price Tag" video, which includes several fact-checks of statements she makes concerning birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, and notes that
Pam Stenzel does not attempt to hide the fact that her performance is designed to scare young people. She begins by telling her teen audience, “If you forget everything else I told you today, and you can only remember one thing, this is what I want you to hear. If you have sex outside of one permanent monogamous—and monogamy does not mean one at a time—that means one partner who has only been with you— if you have sex outside of that context, you will pay.” The rest of the presentation hammers home this concept by telling young people exactly what form this payment may take from unintended pregnancy, to STDs, to emotional heartbreak, to death. 
Ms. Stenzel’s tone throughout her presentation can best be described as punitive, as though she knows that some of the teens in this world (and some members of her audience) have had or will have sex outside of her parameters, and she wants them to know that they will be punished. Moreover, by suggesting that these teens deserve punishment, Ms. Stenzel presents a world view in which virginity is the only measure of a person’s character and moral judgment, and sets up a dichotomy between those who are “good” and those who are “bad.”
The review is worth a full read, though if you're anything like me, it will make you angry.

I can't help but mentally compare it to the DARE program, in which I recall being told outright that consumption of any illegal drug will cause you to become immediately addicted to it, which means that all people who use illicit drugs recreationally are addicts. That's an easily disconfirmable claim, even without consuming any such drug yourself-- all one need do is observe some users of illicit drugs who are not, in fact, addicts. However, Stenzel's "If you have more than one sexual partner, you will pay" lie is better and worse at the same time, because it's so much more easily disconfirmable. This statement can be shown as nonsense by simply observing that practically all Americans have sex before marriage, and multiple sexual partners in their lifetimes, and yet they don't appear to be "paying." At least, not in any way that is causally distinct from the way in which those precious few one-partner-forever people (or, of course, the lifelong celibate) are not "paying." As I've written before, waiting to have sex until you're married doesn't protect you from anything. And having a single sexual partner who has also had no other sex partner but yourself may protect you from STDs, but a) this describes practically no one, and b) Stenzel denies this, but condoms do work. Quite well, actually. These two facts together ruin her entire thesis. Further, the most common STD which most people get actually isn't that bad. Most people who contract it won't even know they have it. As SIECUS says,
In truth, the majority of HPV infections cause neither genital warts nor cervical cancer but, instead, resolve themselves spontaneously without medical intervention. Even HPV infections that cause warts can resolve without treatment. And, if young women do contract one of the strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, it typically takes 10–15 years once cervical cells begin to change before invasive cervical cancer develops.
So interestingly, in the process of de-stigmatizing premarital sex in response to people like Stenzel, we end up de-stigmatizing STDs as well. It's not that STDs aren't bad, of course, but they're not as bad as people like Stenzel like to portray, and worst of all of course is the fact that she continually emphasizes (erroneously) how bad STDs are while also denigrating effective means of protecting against them. This is moralizing standpoint, not a fact-based standpoint. Clearly, facts are not the important thing here. You don't tell people how to prevent house fires by telling them never to buy a house, or denying the efficacy of fire extinguishers.

In a few different places while reading about this story, I've seen people say that if you object to what Stenzel does, you must be fine with telling kids to have sex. You're endorsing an "anything goes" mentality. I'm not doing anything of the sort-- I know what I want teenagers to know about sex, and it isn't "Go forth and screw without regard for the consequences." At bare minimum, I want them to know the truth...yet I'm starting to wonder if that's asking too much.

Not only is Stenzel hiding facts from the kids she supposedly teaches; she's indoctrinating them with falsehoods. Harmful, counter-productive falsehoods. We really need to stop this practice of just inventing catastrophes and pretending that they're inevitable for kids who do whatever we don't want kids to do. Kids will see through this, because a) they're not stupid, and b) they grow up. And when they do, they will come to question everything they've been taught because this particular thing has been shown to be so absurdly false. And while I'm all in favor of thinking critically and questioning authority, it would be nice for public school students not to be taught complete nonsense which forces them to eventually learn the value of such things for themselves, gradually and painfully. That isn't education. Let's not stand for it.

1 comment:

  1. Condoms don't work? Then why did my wife not get pregnant until we purposely stopped using them for the purposes of getting pregnant? WTF?!?

    ReplyDelete