Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why Teach Kids About Sex?

I'm not sure why I always assumed that sex education was about the basics of conception and how to avoid it, but talking with Alexandra Lord made clear how wrong I was.  Nor is sex ed only about preventing venereal diseases, though that has mattered more than I'd recognized.  At heart, whether, what, and how we teach young people about sex is really all about how we think about society and each other.  Do we think that sexuality is ok for some people but not for others?  Do we see sex as a source of disease and problems, or as a source of pleasure?  Embedded in these overtly sexual questions are ideas about how we think about each other's intelligence, morality, opportunities, and interactions.  We have tried to control or limit the sexual activity -- or at least the procreation -- of people we think are intellectually inferior.  We have ignored the educational needs of those we deem too "naturally" immoral to be trusted to have their sexual desires controlled at all, or we have focused only on educating them, assuming that "people like us" will behave "well" with no guidance at all.  We base our ideas about about what to teach on how functional we think other people's families are.  And we educate people to avoid catching disease because we're afraid they might infect us.  We simply can't separate out sex ed from social power, human relations, and culture. 

Of course, we've been seeing a lot of evidence of that lately, with public debates about insurance coverage for contraception and requiring invasive procedures that mimic rape before a woman can have an abortion.  Those debates reflect different perspectives not just on sex, and not just on morality, but on larger questions of who will have the power to control other people's bodies and choices. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Chief Organizer at Work

Wade Rathke is pretty darned inspiring.  He started one of the most successful organizing groups in U.S. history, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), when he was just out of college, and over its 40-year history, the organization led drives for fair housing, fair wages, voter registration, and more.  And despite having to shut ACORN down under political and financial pressure (in part because of defunding by the government) in 2010, Rathke still believes in the power of organizing and continues his work, much of it now international.

He's also still involved with social issues in the U.S., and his book Citizen Wealth lays out a clear analysis of what people need to achieve income stability, the obstacles they face, and strategies for addressing those challenges.  Along with the ideas, what comes through in the book is Wade's ongoing belief that people working together can make a difference.  In the face of decades of being involved in the ups and downs of public and business policies that seem to be incredibly able to perpetuate and expand inequality, he writes forcefully and optimistically about the possibility of social, economic, and political change.

Wade spoke as part of YSU's Center for Working-Class Studies lecture series. I had to break the talk into several sections, but here are links:

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Audience Questions

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dying with Dignity

As Carole Ann Drick explains in our interview, the way we die has changed over time, from the fairly quick at-home death from critical disease to the extended, often very slow process of dying in a hospital or nursing home.  All those machines and that long, drawn-out decline takes away our dignity.  She advocates more use of hospice and other approaches to allow us to die more calmly, surrounded by friends and family or, at least, by caring and appropriately-trained nurses. 

Her vision seems like an attractive alternative, something that should be common sense.  It sometimes seems that we want to extend each person's life as long as possible, regardless of its quality.  While Drick isn't arguing for euthanasia, her approach does suggest that we might die more comfortably, in both spiritual and physical sense, if we were able to accept rather that fight death. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Defending Women's Choices

I can’t pretend to be neutral about Planned Parenthood, or women’s health, for that matter, and my conversation with Gary Dougherty, Legislative Director for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio, probably shows that.  I believe that women should have access to good health care – well, everyone should – regardless of their income, and that includes access to contraception.  I wish that no woman was ever raped, ever had her contraception fail, or ever made a mistake and didn’t use it when she should have.  But I’m realistic, and I want women to have the option of having an abortion if necessary.  Those are my views, not those of any of the organizations that support my work, and I stand by them.  So I was encouraged to hear Gary talk about the work he and his colleagues are doing to protect women’s access to affordable health care, contraception, and yes, abortion.

And as Gary suggested, the most troubling part of recent debates about providing health insurance that includes contraceptives is that just beneath the surface seems to be the desire by a few to reduce or even eliminate contraceptives for everyone.  Not just for those who think it’s morally wrong, but for everyone else, too.  As I explain to students in my women’s studies courses, reliable contraception made a huge difference in women’s ability to make choices about their own lives.  Many choose to have children.  Some, like me, choose not to.  But we only get to make these choices because we have access to care and the right to make choices about our health.