Editor's Introduction -- This is the last part of a four-part examination of Teen-Aid, a religious outfit (based in Spokane, Washington) that promotes phony "sex education" materials to public schools.

The first three parts of this report ran in TTL for January-February 1994. We are sorry to have taken so long to return to our examination of phony sex-education books, for such books continue to play a big part in the Religious Right's efforts to use public schools for fostering ignorance, superstition and the social repression of women.

Part 1 of our report commented on some of the Religious Right's ideology, introduced a religious organization called Teen-Aid, and showed that Teen-Aid had used lies in promoting fake sex-education materials. Part 2 was a case history: It described how the school district in Antigo, Wisconsin, had been induced to adopt a curriculum based on some of Teen-Aid's items. Part 3 comprised reviews of a book that Teen-Aid marketed for use in high schools -- a book that was built around lies, distortions and anti-abortion propaganda.

Now, in Part 4, we examine Me, My World, My Future, Teen-Aid's book for junior high schools.

from The Textbook Letter, March-April 1996

Keep Them Dumb, Keep Them Pregnant

Part 4: Reviewing Teen-Aid's Book for Junior High Schools

Me, My World, My Future
1989. 221 pages. ISBN: none.
Teen-Aid, Inc., 723 East Jackson, Spokane, Washington 99207.

A Book of Disinformation,
Distortion and Deception

David R. Stronck

Teen-Aid's Me, My World, My Future -- a book aimed at young people in middle schools and junior high schools -- views sexuality through the lens of the Religious Right, a collection of political groups whose doctrines and goals include many that are based on fundamentalist religion. The writers of this book have made no attempt to present legitimate information or balanced analysis. They offer false or distorted material, they disguise their personal opinions as facts, and they ignore or misrepresent the opinions of others.

In all of these ways, Me, My World, My Future closely resembles Sexuality, Commitment & Family, the book that Teen-Aid has promoted for use in high schools.

Though Me, My World, My Future pretends to inform about sex, sexuality and reproduction, it excludes such basic topics as coitus. The term sexual intercourse appears on page 44 but is defined as "a private and special way for married couples to show their deep love and commitment for each other." (A similar definition is given in the book's glossary, where sexual intercourse is "a very special physical and emotional union when a man and woman come together in order for a new life to begin and/or to strengthen the bond in their marriage commitment.") There is no information about what intercourse entails, and the book does not tell how a sperm cell and an ovum come to be in the same place at the same time. In Me, My World, My Future, reproduction seems to happen spontaneously.

The exclusion of coitus is part of a pattern that runs through the entire book. The student is left ignorant of many things that are necessary for even a rudimentary understanding of how sex works and how human sexuality is expressed in the real world.

The writers' statements about conception and embryogenesis are based upon religious precepts, including the theme that even a single cell is a "human" and a "baby." The product of fertilization is said to be "a new tiny human," an embryo is said to be a "tiny child," and a fetus is said to be a "baby" that lives in its mother's uterus until it changes its "residency" by being born. This is religious ideology that distorts a possibility into a finality, and students will be deceived if they believe that a fetus is just a "baby" that happens to have "residency" inside a uterus. A fetus is entirely dependent upon materials delivered by its mother's bloodstream, and a fetus's physiology is vastly different from a baby's.

The writers' obvious goal is to teach, as fact, the political doctrine that a fetus (or even an embryo or a zygote) must have all the rights and privileges of a born human. Many reasonable, responsible persons hold other views and opinions about this matter -- and even the Internal Revenue Service reckons that there is no human (and no baby) until there has been a birth -- but Me, My World, My Future makes no mention of those other views or opinions.

Chapter 4 of this book is titled "Fetal Development." Here the process of development is presented entirely backward. The material begins with "Labor and Delivery" and then goes backward to a full-term fetus and to smaller and smaller "babies." Only at the end of the chapter is there a mention of fertilization and implantation. There is no description of the early stages of embryogeny, and the writers never use terms such as zygote, morula or blastula. As I remarked when I reviewed Teen-Aid's other book, it is obvious that the writers do not want to deal with anything that bears no resemblance to a born human.

Chapter 5, "The Family Unit," begins with a story that supposedly represents the development of "man's culture" from an idealized, stereotypical "single family unit" consisting of a male "hunter and protector" and a female child-bearer:

Children learned from both parents, but largely followed the example of the parent of the same sex. Even for early man, the comforts and success in life, fueled by a strong family system, led to the realization that love, cooperation, knowledge, communication, and creativity within the "extended family" (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) would be even more beneficial. And so, based on the single family unit, man's culture soon developed . . . .

There is no mention of slavery, polygamy, concubinage, prostitution or the other practices that members of "man's culture" have devised to modify or augment "the single family unit." When the writers mention families in present-day America, however, they briefly acknowledge that "Increasingly in families both parents are electing to work to meet financial obligations or to fulfill personal needs and desires." They should have explained how changes in the American economy (and in the global economy, for that matter) have created conditions in which both parents are compelled to work if they want to try to preserve a decent standard of living for themselves and for their children.

Me, My World, My Future contains a lot of anti-abortion polemic, including distortions and false statements. The state laws that formerly forbade or restricted abortion are defended as efforts "to safeguard both mother and her developing baby," and the book's depiction of "pro-choice advocates" is narrow and distorted: "They feel that abortion should be available as a back-up in case of contraceptive failure. Abortion thus provides a means to terminate a pregnancy and thereby enable women to pursue vocational and social goals unhampered by the need to care for a baby." The message here is that abortion is simply a device which selfish people use as a "back-up" to contraception. The book does not have any tabulation of the actual and diverse reasons for terminating pregnancies.

What the book alleges about the opponents of elective abortion -- the so-called pro-life faction -- is similarly deceptive:

Pro-life advocates point to the biological fact that human life begins at conception and that abortion takes the life of an innocent unborn child. . . . With the increases [sic] understanding of of [sic] the humanity of the unborn child, they maintain that both mother and child should be treated as patients. They point out that this is now made possible by the advances in medical technology.

But, of course, there is no "biological fact that human life begins at conception," and the idea that the union of a sperm cell and an egg instantly produces "an innocent unborn child" is silly. It will appeal only to certain religious extremists. The last sentence, implying that nameless "advances in medical technology" have eliminated all of the medical reasons for abortion, is false.

The description of abortion as "a back-up in case of contraceptive failure" seems to be the only reference to contraception in the entire book. There is no information or advice about contraception, but the writers do mention condoms in the context of sexually transmitted diseases. There the writers' apparent objective is to use inaccurate statements and false implications to teach that condoms are more or less useless.

Me, My World, My Future, like Teen-Aid's other book, is suitable only for use in Sunday-school programs operated by fundamentalist religious groups.

A Book That Deals in Falsity,
Evasion and Scandalous Lies

Nancy S. Padian

Even after reading Me, My World, My Future from cover to cover, I find its purpose unclear. There is not enough information about sexuality or development or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to make this book useful as the basis for a sex-education curriculum, and there is no information at all about contraception or about methods by which the spread of STDs can be prevented. This is a superficial "feel good" book whose main message is: Listen to your parents, your clergymen and your school counselors, and simply say no to sex, drugs, alcohol and abortion. To amplify that message, the writers rely on erroneous "facts" that are set forth with no citations of sources. The book is long and obvious on morality but short on science.

Me, My World, My Future has generated considerable controversy, including a lawsuit in Florida, and the American Association of University Women has issued a plea that schools not use it. I can understand why: This book panders to those who would happily see school funds wasted on "sex education" that treats sex by avoiding it.

I have been struck by the prominence that Teen-Aid's writers give to the role of external reinforcement in personal development. In this book, external pressure -- as long as it comes from adult authority figures -- is always viewed as positive, and adult authority figures are always good. Thus if a child suffers sexual abuse, the child is supposed to tell a parent. The possibility that a parent may be the abuser is never considered.

Racist Undertones

This book's world view is implicitly white, implicitly middle-class, and overly optimistic. It implies that any child, with a little self-discipline and attention to personal hygiene, ought to be able to control most of the negative influences of life. Students are told that it simply isn't healthy to dwell on negative feelings, and they are taught that they are more likely to be accosted by a molester if they appear "unkempt or neglected." People can be reasonably sure of having long and happy marriages (provided that they do not get married too early), and girls can count on having healthy pregnancies (provided that they do not become teenaged mothers). Marriage and children -- which always go together and always occur in that order -- are life's ultimate goals.

Both conformist and racist undertones are evident. For example, one of the few depictions of a non-nuclear family -- a picture showing two adult males and a young boy -- appears in the section called "The Family Under Stress." It is also one of the few pictures of persons who aren't white.

For Teen-Aid's writers, going steady is a prelude to marriage -- since marriages grow out of committed relationships -- and sexual intercourse is described only as "a very special physical and emotional union when a man and woman come together in order for a new life to begin and/or to strengthen the bond in their marriage commitment." Students are left to wonder how "Sperm find their way to the cervix," and even rape is described without reference to intercourse.

Glaring Inaccuracies

The text is rife with mistaken material about STDs -- and because no sources are cited, one can only guess at the origins of this misinformation. The prevalence rates ascribed to various STDs are questionable, and the writers ignore the point that there is a vaccine available for at least one such disease. (That disease is hepatitis B, which the writers don't mention anywhere.) There is no advice about what people should do if they contract STDs or think that they have been exposed to STDs. In fact, the role of medical practitioners in preventing, diagnosing and treating STDs is not discussed.

A supplement called "Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)" has been bound into the book, between two chapters, and its "facts" are glaringly inaccurate. The failure rate for condoms is inflated, and I find it interesting that the HIV supplement is the only place where condoms are acknowledged. The role of condoms in suppressing the transmission of other pathogens is never discussed, nor is the use of condoms in contraception.

For some reason, the writers imply that only women who are infected with HIV are likely to have such co-infections as tuberculosis or salmonellosis. For some reason, they say that "female prostitutes" have a high risk of HIV infection, though that isn't true in the United States. And for some reason, they include a little section about "Sanitation," which tells students how to deal with potentially infected fluids. Because it is unlikely that young people will find themselves having to clean up blood, urine or vomitus from HIV-infected individuals, we must consider the possibility that the "Sanitation" section is intended to cast false implications about how HIV can be transmitted. Another curious aspect of the HIV supplement is the introduction of sophisticated topics such as diagnostic tests, reverse transcriptase, T-4 lymphocytes, and the concept of latency. These are mentioned but are never explained, which suggests again that the purpose of the HIV supplement is to confuse rather than to clarify.

The most egregious statements in Me, My World, My Future are those related to fetal development and to abortion. There are repeated references to an embryo or a fetus as an "unborn child," a "tiny human" or a "baby," and there are unsubstantiated claims of unknown origin. For example, the student is told that ten to twelve weeks after conception, a fetus "begins to learn and remember things" and is developing a "personality."

The material about alleged sequelae to abortion is scandalous and includes "facts" that actually are lies, such as the claims that 5-10% of all the women who have legal abortions become sterile, that 4-10% contract "infections of the pelvic organs," and that an abortion increases -- by a factor of 2 to 10 -- the risk of miscarriages during subsequent pregnancies.

The presentation in Me, My World, My Future is second-rate. There are typographical errors throughout the text, the illustrations come straight from the 1950s, and material is presented haphazardly, so that one chapter does not lead logically to the next.

As to whether this book may appear credible to the junior-high-school students whom it is intended to reach: I have asked my daughter, Ann-Catherine, about that. Her reaction to Me, My World, My Future comes next.

Really Lame

Ann-Catherine Padian

Me, My World, My Future is so clearly out of the question that no teacher worth his or her salary would consider using it in a curriculum. It is simply overflowing with problems, beginning with its purpose. The book seems to cover three main categories of subjects: drugs, alcohol, tobacco and diseases; sex and reproduction; and decisions about how to be a better person. The first category is covered in chapters 11 through 15 and part of 10, the second is covered in chapters 2 through 6 and part of 10, and the third is covered in chapters 1, 7, 8, 9 and 15, and the rest of 10. The book ought to be reorganized so that its purpose would be at least a little more clear.

Another general problem is that the writers seem to feel a need to list, classify and number everything that is discussed. On page 11 they list feelings that may be connected with anger. However, the list is not analyzed in any way, so nothing is learned from it. Another example is on pages 79 and 80, where the writers categorize "four basic levels of friendship." Even assuming that the "levels" are more or less real, the purpose of such categorization is unclear. Another example is the "Growth Chart" list on page 32, which supposedly gives the ages at which boys and girls go through the stages of puberty. This is a little strange, because the writers have just said that people develop differently and should not compare themselves to others.

However, the major problem with this book is the way in which the writers blatantly impose their own values and morals on the reader. They speak extensively about their conception of "family values," they preach abstinence from sex outside of marriage, and they even go so far as to limit the idea of a "sexual relationship" to "a special way married couples can express their lifetime commitment to each other." Such statements, and the idea that dating always and inevitably leads to marriage and a family, are religious views, which certainly have no place in the classroom.

The book is written, overall, in a very condescending manner, one which is more likely to inspire sniggers in the classroom than insightful discussion. The writers' unfortunate use of the word "we," as in "we must be careful," is reminiscent of hospital nurses. The writers clearly do not understand kids or what kids' reactions to condescension will most probably be.

Overall, the best way to improve this book, and the only way to make it acceptable for the classroom, would be to scrap all of it except the "Health and Wholeness" sections that discuss drugs, alcohol and tobacco. All else demands to be rewritten with the help of someone who understands children and is not intent on imposing a private morality upon the reader.

David R. Stronck, a specialist in science education and in health education, is a professor in the Department of Teacher Education at California State University, Hayward.

Nancy S. Padian is an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California at San Francisco. She also teaches in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the same institution. Her professional interests include studies of contraception and of heterosexual transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus.

Ann-Catherine Padian, who was a junior-high-school student when she wrote her commentary that appears here, is now in high school.

Click here to summon Part 1 of this report.
Click here to summon Part 2.
Click here to summon Part 3.


Pointer return to top
Pointer go to Home Page
Pointer read the Index List, which shows all the textbooks, curriculum manuals,
     videos and other items that are considered on this Web site
Pointer contact William J. Bennetta by e-mail