Ryan Dunn, a senior at Bishop Blanchet High School, just spent four months researching and writing an editorial for his school newspaper arguing that more comprehensive sex education should be available on campus. The research included a survey of 100 fellow students which revealed, among other findings:
58% of students do not feel satisfied with the amount and quality of sex education they have received at Blanchet... Perhaps most shockingly, the survey indicates that 58% of Blanchet students have had sex, and 39% of those students have had unprotected sex. Sadly, 42% of all students describe their sex education as abstinence-only, and 16% say they have received no sex education at all.
Bishop Blanchet's newspaper is called the Miter*, and its homepage claims: "The Bishop Blanchet Miter offers all students a public forum to exercise their freedom of speech. In each issue, students from all classes are encouraged to sound off on topics that matter most to them."
In a move that seems a little psychologically sadistic, Dunn was pressured to cut the article himself after his principal said it might cost some of his favorite teachers their jobs.
Dunn was encouraged not to run the story by his principal (Tom Lord) and his journalism teacher (Chris Grasseschi) because Blanchet is already under scrutiny from the archdiocese for being too liberal. "They were afraid of the archdiocese seeing a student who had views that might be seen as radical," Dunn says, "and they might think the religion department isn’t teaching kids what they’re supposed to believe."
"Blanchet’s had a lot of issues about how we teach certain things," Lord says, "and not meeting some of the newly designed standards the Catholic bishops have come up with. We don’t need an additional controversy at this time. The National Council of Bishops is really bringing the church back to pre-Vatican II structure and mentality and the archdiocese of Seattle is becoming a lot more conservative. Blanchet has a lot of social-justice issues in the religion curriculum and there's a big move to get back to Catholic theology and prayer and liturgy and that kind of thing."
Dunn's piece, titled "Let's Talk About Sex," is a well-researched and well-written piece of persuasive writing about sex ed at Blanchet as well as a history of contraception in the church (including the controversial papal encyclical from 1968 that declared contraception immoral—a doctrine overwhelmingly opposed by the Vatican II council but overturned by the pope). In it, Dunn asks for more comprehensive sex ed at the high school and cites the overwhelming evidence that abstinence-only education is dangerous. (Blanchet is not a strictly abstinence-only school, but its discussion of contraception is so cursory, even one of the longtime Blanchet teachers quoted in the piece describes the program as "abstinence-only.") Dunn points out:
Studies by Columbia University found that recipients of abstinence-only sex education are at higher risk for STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and studies by Advocates For Youth concluded that abstinence programs have absolutely no effect in delaying first sex of students. Columbia University also conducted a study of teenagers who pledge virginity until marriage, and found that 88 percent did not keep that pledge, and those teens were less likely to use contraception or seek STD testing and were therefore at a much higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies. The Society for Adolescent Medicine went so far as to say that “abstinence-only programs threaten fundamental human rights to health, information, and life.”
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, censoring high-school newspapers ain't what it used to be. After being pressured not to run the story, Dunn self-published the article that made school administrators so nervous on a blog. You can read it right here.
Dunn said both Lord and Grasseschi told him his—well-researched, well-written—article might lead to the shuttering of the school paper and result in teachers being fired.
"I’m in an awkward position because I teach journalism and I believe in the freedom of the press and yet we write articles with our hands tied," Grasseschi says. "There are things we don’t touch." Among those things: Planned Parenthood, which Grasseschi says "doesn't exist" as far as the Miter is concerned.
Apparently, the Miter's mission to allow students to "sound off on topics that matter most to them" stops at those topics that happen to cross the bishops who've recently decided the church needs to take a few giant steps backwards.
"Ultimately it was my decision," Dunn says about pulling his own article. "Mr. Lord really didn’t want to be the bad guy. He wouldn’t give me a no, but made it very clear that he didn’t want it to run and that he was worried that teachers would lose their jobs. I didn’t want to put anyone’s job in danger."
That's a lousy, cowardly example to set for students. School officials are afraid of the archdiocese (which is, presumably, afraid of the National Council of Bishops), so it teaches its students capitulation and silence instead of taking a principled stand. Seeing as how capitulation and silence have served the church in the past, that's not just a cowardly example to set—it's a colossally foolish one, too.
Bishop Joseph Tyson, the superintendent of Catholic schools in the area and the local liaison for the new conservatism in education, has not yet returned a request for comment. I'm not holding my breath—Dunn asked to interview Bishop Tyson for his story on Catholic sex-ed months ago. He never heard back.
All the Christians out there who claim your atavistic, oppressive brethren don't represent the true spirit of your faith? Now would be a good time to make your feelings known. I'm sure many of you Blanchet parents claim to be liberal Catholics—how about contacting your Catholic-school principals and the education office of the archdiocese? Let them know you are not pleased with the religious-education curriculum taking a giant leap backwards and high-school sex-ed programs that result in more unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Here are the people to get in touch with:
The Archdiocese of Seattle Public Schools (CSDOffice@seattlearch.org and 382-4861).
Bishop Blanchet Principal Tom Lord (firstname.lastname@example.org).
And superintendent of the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Bishop Joseph Tyson (email@example.com).
* For the heathens out there: a miter (also spelled "mitre") is the pointed hat worn by popes, bishops, some abbots, etc.