America’s marquee ‘Children don’t count’   

David Strand

Oh, it’s so painful! Deep in our guarded innermost self, we believe something with great passion. Evidence to the contrary cannot shake our firmly held conviction. We cover our ears, our eyes and from our mouth erupts some primordial sound to render our senses numb.

“Don’t show me proof that my belief is wrong. Don’t confuse me with facts. My mind is made up.”

Our precious America, we are taught, is the exception to the world. No other nation can even come close. Tragically, a great many children suffer from a denial of the reality in our country.

The evidence is confirmed by new studies reported in the mainstream media. In March the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of a study of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) among teenage girls. It was a shock. One in five white teens and half of African-American young women are infected with a STD. Across all groups the incidence was one of every four teens, and climbing!

In April, the America’s Promise Alliance released a report showing that only half of students in public schools in America’s largest cities earn graduation diplomas. In 17 of the 50 largest cities the graduation rate was below 50 percent and as low as 25 percent. Overall the high school graduation rate across the nation is barely 70 percent. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, founding chair of the alliance said, “When more than one million students a year drop out of high school, it’s more than a problem, it’s a catastrophe.”

Despite decades of feeble attempts to improve our public schools, the downstream consequences for the criminal justice system have been devastating. It is literally busting at the seams.

The May 10 issue of The Economist poses the question about America, “Land of the free?” From 1980 to 2006, the prison incarceration rate exploded by more than quintupling, to the highest prison inmate rate in the world. In spite of massive confinement construction, the U.S. federal prisons are now filled to 131 percent of capacity.

Meanwhile, these critical issues that plague our children are absent from the presidential campaigning that floods the media. Only when John Edwards was in the race was there any emphasis on the problems of at-risk families and children. In endorsing Barack Obama, Edwards extracted a promise that this issue will not be forgotten. I have heard little about it since.

Some prominent people have tried to prevent today’s epidemic of STDs. Included were recent Surgeon Generals Jocelyn Elders, David Satcher and Richard Carmona. They all advocated comprehensive sex education for our children. Satcher even published “The Surgeon Generals Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior” in 2001. Another study is “Teenage Sexual and Reproductive Behavior in Developed Countries, Can More Progress Be Made?,” 2001, Alan Guttmacher Institute.

The latter study compared the United States with Great Britain, Canada, France and Sweden. In every category of STD incidence, rate of pregnancy, abortions and births, the United States experienced the highest rates, by far. For example, the teen pregnancy rate of the U.S. is four times the French rate, three times the Swedish rate and twice as high as Great Britain and Canada. According to the researchers, our higher poverty rates and a lack of comprehensive reproductive biology educations are major factors holding us back.

Contrary to popular belief, the research also shows that all-inclusive education, including abstinence and prevention, has no effect on the age of first experience or the frequency of sexual activity among teenagers. But the deeply held belief that providing our youth with factual information will encourage them to have sex is as firmly entrenched as it is patently false. “We must keep them ignorant so they don’t get any bad ideas.”

The bottom line is that STDs are an epidemic among our children, and our high school dropout rate is a catastrophe, contributing to an explosion of prison incarceration that is unsustainable. By ignoring these problems and denying that they exist is quite simply collective insanity. One would think that even conservatives would support programs proven to keep our children protected on their way to adulthood. Apparently not.

Since the start of the current school year, more than two dozen high school students in the Chicago schools have been shot to death. Are we ready for the carnage heading our way?

Pliny the Elder said, “What we do to our children, they will do to us.”

David Strand is a KARA board member.

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