Opinion: Carolina Beat

Wake County embraces ‘comprehensive education’

Teaching kids about dangerous activities requires knowing that 'Kids are going to do it anyway'

School officials in Wake County are considering a proposal to move away from the state’s abstinence-until-marriage focus on sex education to a “comprehensive program” that could involve discussions of such topics as sexual practices and contraceptives.

The abstinence policy has been in practice since it was made standard by the General Assembly in 1995. Critics call the abstinence policy naive and say it doesn’t protect students who are going to engage in sexual activities anyway. In North Carolina, the teenage pregnancy rate has been dropping since 1995.

Proponents say a comprehensive approach to sex education is better because it would reach students who engage in sexual activities, which is why the new program would stress the importance of contraceptives.

“Kids are going to do it anyway” pedagogy is now making further inroads in Wake County. School officials are reportedly considering other programs based on the comprehensive-ed model, which views teaching children to avoid dangerous activities as pie-in-the-sky and exclusionary, leaving out kids who tend to ignore such lessons. The new programs would focus on teaching relative safety measures to reach those who choose to participate in patently dangerous activities. They include the following:

• Comprehensive Driver’s Ed
Wake County’s driver’s ed program currently relies on a naive assumption that kids won’t break North Carolina traffic laws. Comprehensive-ed advocates say the schools need a more realistic approach. Their program would include lectures on “Safe Speeding: How to Exceed the Posted Speed Limits Responsibly,” “Smart Racing: A Few Tips to Remember to Have a Good Time,” “Don’t Stop: Dealing with Society’s Expectations Around Stop Signs & Stop Lights,” and “Driving Under the Influence: Never Without Protection.” They say it is better to reach students who engage in reckless driving, which is why their program would stress the importance of seatbelts and airbags.

• Comprehensive Drug Education
Critics of Wake County’s current approach to teaching kids about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs say it ignores a crucial fact: many kids already smoke, drink, and use drugs. Comprehensive-ed proponents say a responsible drug-education program would teach those kids safer methods of blackening their lungs and altering their consciences.

The proposed program would teach kids, for example, how to choose cigarettes according to brand name, levels of tar and nicotine, and type (slim, 100s, menthol, etc.). Kids would also learn about cigarette alternatives, not only clove cigarettes but also snuff, chewing tobacco, and cigars. (Depending upon the popularity of the cigar lecture, the program has a multidisciplinary option with the comprehensive sex-ed program to discuss Cuban cigars and the Clinton method.)

Furthermore, Wake County schoolchildren would learn how to make informed choices among beer, wine, and spirituous liquors. They would also be taught proper handling procedures of razor blades for safer construction of fake IDs and formation of cocaine lines.

A key change would be the replacement of the “Officer Smiley” program, which teaches children how to recognize and avoid dangerous narcotics. The new “Friendly Homey” program would teach children how to ensure the purity of narcotics they purchase from street-corner vendors, helping them avoid recreational drugs “cut” with other, even more dangerous drugs.

Fans of the comprehensive approach to drug education like how it appeals to students who abuse drugs with its stress on the importance of filters and clean needles.

• Comprehensive chemistry
At present, Wake County chemistry teachers constantly harp on the need for safety around the lab and explain to students the dangers of carelessly mixing chemicals. In fact, a great deal of chemistry instruction here centers on teaching which combinations of chemicals are combustible and dangerous to life and limb. But kids are prone to experimentation, critics say, which is a fact of life the current curriculum ignores.

They favor the comprehensive-education approach to chemistry, which would teach children safe, aseptic approaches to chemical experimentation under the facilitation but not direct supervision of the instructor. Topics include “Boom and Bust: Chemical Experimentation at Arm’s Length,” “H2NO!,” “Classroom Gerbils and Other Alternative Methods of Disposing Burner Contents,” “Tidy Lockers, Safe Hallways: Spill-Proof Chemical Smuggling,” and “Stop, Drop, and Roll: Not Just for Fire Drills Anymore.”

Proponents of comprehensive chemistry favor its realistic approach to students. It doesn’t actively encourage curious experimentation with chemicals, which many kids find exciting and even a blast, but it doesn’t discount it either, and therefore it stresses the importance of goggles, eye wash, and contact numbers.