Going It Alone
Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country have decided to forego federal funds rather than comply with a Bush administration ruling banning abortion counseling and referral’s at federally funded family planning clinics. Planned Parenthood’s Wisconsin affiliates rejected $2.25 million in federal aid; as a result three of its 38 clinics will close and some low income patients will be charged for services they used to receive for free. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England turned away nearly $700,000 in federal funding, although officials there say none of its 25 clinics will be closed. Planned Parenthood organizations in Everett and Tacoma, Washington, and Hartford, Connecticut, have also announced they will no longer accept federal funds.
Jamie Tellier, a seventh-grader in Plano, Texas, was placed on in-school suspension recently for distributing anti-abortion literature on school grounds. Wilson Middle School officials said that Jamie could return to her classes if she would stop distributing the anti-abortion material, which they claim disrupted the classroom. Jamie argues that she distributed the material only between classes or before and after school to students who asked for it or to pregnant girls who may have been considering abortion.
Other Plano residents have rallied behind Jamie and contend that her First Amendment rights are being “gagged inside the school.” Dr. Surratt, superintendent of the Wilson Middle School, said that the decision to place Jamie on in-school suspension was not an example of the school district taking sides on abortion, but rather was based on the graphic and explicit nature of the material. Jamie, who heads Teens Rescuing Unborn Tiny Humans (TRUTH), in Dallas, refuses to distribute material without the graphic pictures because she thinks “parents and children have a right to know what’s going on.”
Bill Price, president of Texans United for Life, sees a double standard in Dr. Surratt’s claim of neutrality on this issue. The district had previously allowed for highly controversial condom demonstrations as part of an AIDS curriculum but now refuses to allow the distribution of abortion materials. Although Jamie could be taken off in-school suspension if she agrees not to pass out the material at school, she remains firm in her convictions and does not expect to return to regular classes.
Back to the Future
Recently we have been bombarded with new schemes for educational reform: magnet schools, multicultural curricula, and special schools for young black males represent a mere sampling. Here’s one idea which may be worth looking into. Boston University President John Silber, a known innovator in public education, has come up with a new approach to secondary education.
Silber plans to open up a four-year preparatory school, the Boston University Academy, to be run by the university. The school’s curriculum will emphasize the fundamentals: English, history, math, science and foreign languages. Students will be required to take two full years of Latin or Greek. Elective courses will be discouraged; Silber thinks them a waste of time. In addition, fourth-year students will be required to take college-level courses at the University.
The school’s tuition will be rather steep, over $12,000 a year. To give his project added credibility, perhaps Silber should establish a scholarship program for disadvantaged students, be they black, Hispanic, Asian, or Appalachian white. This would demonstrate, without the usual polemics, that high standards only discriminate against those who do not meet them.
Is Washington Safe?
Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly is counting on the religious community in the Washington, D.C. area to support her in her highly controversial effort to distribute condoms to high school students. “If we don’t do something very dramatic, within three years it will be beyond our control,” she said. Kelly’s plan also calls for distributing condoms in prisons and among intravenous drug users. D.C. Public Health Commissioner Mohammad Akhter added, “Every student must have the information about how the disease is spread and how to protect themselves. And that is the job of everyone—the parents, the teachers, the doctors, and the clergymen. We all have to get involved in this.”
Although specific details have not yet been worked out, the general plan would call for special nurses in all the high schools next September; they would be responsible for providing confidential (i.e., no parental involvement) counseling and distributing the condoms. A Washington Post report said that before giving out condoms a nurse will “try to persuade the student not to have sex. And the student’s parents will not be notified.” Commissioner Akhter said he didn’t know how many condoms nurses would hand out to each student: “We will discuss with each student his or her personal needs.” He added that the city has 500,000 condoms to distribute; “they are the most popular kinds in a variety of colors,” the D.C. Office of AIDS noted.
“We are first going to push abstinence,” Mayor Kelly stressed. But the Post quoted a local student serving as student representative on the D.C. Board of Education who said that lectures on abstinence are unnecessary. “The youth know that abstinence is the safest way. Telling them again and again not to have sex is not beneficial.”
The city’s hysteria is fueled in large part by the discovery that AIDS is spreading faster in Washington than in any other city; one five-year study reported these salient findings:
•About 10,000 residents are currently infected with HIV.
•A 34 percent increase in infections is projected between 1990 and 1994.
•One in 57 men developed the disease between 1981 and 1991, a rate 6.3 times the national rate for the same ten-year period.
•One out of every 100 youths in Washington is HIV-positive (another study says one in 45 District teenagers may be infected), and 1,000 new cases are expected every year.
Catholic Church leaders have strongly opposed the Kelly plan. Monsignor William Lori, secretary to James Cardinal Hickey, argued that “the message of abstinence has been drowned out by many forces in our culture. We need moral leadership…. We should not be quite so ready to give in to the prevailing cultural currents.” AIDS, Lori continued, is not just a health issue, it is also a moral issue, and a program of condom distribution in the schools “will make it harder, not easier, for parents to fulfill [their] responsibility.” Reverend Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church agreed: when students “get that message from the so-called leaders of the city, they will think that, ‘If I’m not having premarital sex, maybe I should be.” Wilson’s church runs a “rites of passage” program to teach boys not to have sex before marriage, and the Catholic schools in the archdiocese, Cardinal Hickey announced, will also address the AIDS issue with a program of their own—based on abstinence.
Many Protestant ministers from the poorer sections of the city have also risen up in outrage. They feel betrayed by Kelly, who, after replacing the infamous Marion Barry, pledged a return to traditional morality and strong families. Pastors like Morris Shearin of Israel Baptist Church have complained, “You cannot legislate morality, but you can spiritualize morality. It’s a spiritual war we’re in. We need to religiously educate our children, not just educate our children.” Reverend Albert Gallmon derides efforts to treat the issue as an economic problem: “These kids have money to buy everything else they want: $100 sneakers… we have to set standards, as adults. Do we start handing out needles in high schools too? Where do we stop?” Valencia Mohammed, a parent activist whose six children attend D.C. schools, agreed: “I have never seen a great country survive that allows youths to determine how things are run.”
Senator (and former basketball star) Bill Bradley, a Democrat from New Jersey, discussed race and the problems facing America’s cities in a speech on the Senate floor April 30, 1992: “Above all, the city to me was never just what I heard my white liberal friends say it was. In their world, people of color were all victims. But while my teammates had been victimized, their experience and their perception of the experience of black Americans could not be reducible to victimization. To many, what the label of victimization implied was an insult to their dignity and discipline, strength, and potential.
“Life in cities was full of more complexity and more hope than the media and the politicians would admit, and part of getting beyond color was not only attacking the sources of inequity but also refusing to make race an excuse for failing to pass judgment about self-destructive behavior. Without a community, there could be no commonly held standards, and without some commonly understood standards, there could be no community. The question is whether in our cities we can build a set of commonly accepted rules that enhances individuality and life chances but also provides the glue and the tolerance to prevent us from going for each others’ throats.”
The Last Volunteers
One way to save the earth might be to eliminate the human race. This is the platform of a radical environmental group called the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEM). The group’s members, who call themselves “Volunteers,” have relinquished their reproductive rights in an effort to phase out the human race for the good of the environment; they recommend that others do the same.
While it may sound a bit sinister, representatives of VHEM recently stated that the group is “not now nor has it ever been a supporter of the involuntary extinction or extermination of the human race.” They added, however, that they “cannot assume responsibility for the actions of individual Volunteers or groups of Volunteers.”
Adam Smith’s Last Laugh
A strange form of communism has developed in Laos, whose unique brand of democratic centralism is marked by such innovative and even unorthodox developments as the removal of the word “socialism” from the national motto, the banning of the hammer and sickle, and a marked relaxation of government control over the economy coupled with openness to foreign investment. This new economic approach has spurred Laotian economic activity almost to pre-communist levels and has helped to reduce inflation from 76 percent in 1989 to ten percent last year.
Sounds a bit like capitalism, but we’re assured that’s not the case. “Socialism remains the goal,” remarked one former Laotian official; he went on to explain, “the transformation of a subsistence economy to a higher level of development has proved impossible under all-out socialism… the leadership has been forced to return to earlier methods.” To the argument that such a move must constitute a return to capitalism, the official declined to comment.
One man who shows a greater willingness to embrace the capitalist ideal, in word as well as in deed, is Michael Manley, former prime minister of Jamaica, vice president of the Socialist International, and longtime leader of the Jamaican People’s National Party. Manley explains that during the 1970s he advocated a centralized economy largely out of fear that an independent private sector would perpetuate the existing colonial patterns of dependence. “The fact is that we seriously miscalculated the capacity of the state to intervene effectively. Despite the enormous sincerity we brought to the task our nationalist and statist approach didn’t work.”
Manley describes the numerous and, he thinks, inescapable shortcomings of the Jamaican attempt at a centralized economy, especially the inability of an interventionist state to inspire patriotism and the inevitable back-lash in the private sector. “Perhaps idealistically, we thought an interventionist state and a strong market could exist in tandem, each complementing the other. We rapidly discovered the truth. As soon as the state comes near, the private sector contracts, loses its confidence, and moves its money out.”
Such fundamental failures of a planned economy caused Manley to re-evaluate the merits of the two competing economic systems. “I began to appreciate the truth about development: You can’t circumvent the market economy. If you want a really dynamic, effective economy, the only thing you can do is pursue the market logic completely. Whole hog, not halfway…. It is now clear to me that the market unleashed, not political control imposed, can be the most effective instrument of opportunity for the poor.”
“Despite its weaknesses,” Manley concludes, “the whole world is converging towards democracy because you can’t improve on this political system. I also believe that, despite its weaknesses, the whole world is converging toward the market model. You just can’t improve on Adam Smith.”
Alive and Kicking
Perhaps “dead languages” is an unduly harsh description of Latin and ancient Greek. Certainly these languages have expired as spoken vernacular, but they remain very much alive in the 60 to 70 percent of English words for which they form the root. With this in mind, Ted Nellen, a teacher at Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, helps his students to understand the English language by having them learn the Greek and Latin roots which constitute so much of our modern vocabulary. In one semester Nellen’s students will learn 300 Latin and Greek prefixes and suffixes. “They learn not to be afraid of big words because they can break them up into related parts,” explains this innovative English teacher. This classical approach has the additional advantage of providing an unusually deep and thorough understanding of the English language. The students “aren’t just memorizing; they are learning how language works.”
And what of students whose first language is not English? Are they victimized by this Eurocentric approach? Actually, Nellen explains, his Hispanic and Carribbean students are fascinated to see how the same ancient roots that underlie English also appear in their Spanish and French languages. Students “can see the commonality, except in the Asian languages.” Yet even here there are benefits: “this really helps the Asian students learn English. I think they profit the most from it.” We wish Nellen’s brand of multiculturalism much success.
The “A” Word
In the popular debate over sex education in schools, two distinct camps have formed: one advocates the strict teaching of abstinence, the other demands instruction on `safe sex’ with the use of contraceptive devises. Those who favor abstinence cite the failure rate of contraceptive techniques and claim that calls for “safe sex” actually encourage sexual promiscuity. The other camp rejoins that the hope for abstinence is unrealistic and serves only to produce an adolescent populace whose sexual activities continue, but without the knowledge of contraception and disease prevention.
Must we narrow our vision with such “pragmatic” blinders? Or can we view the issue in its coarsest form: “extramarital sex is morally wrong.” Still, we should not forget the wisdom of Plato, who taught that virtue ultimately results in worldly well-being. Absolute abstinence is not only morally fitting, it constitutes the only form of truly “safe sex”; it is the only measure which guarantees the circumvention of sexually transmitted diseases and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
Those who favor emphasizing contraception in sex ed criticize the virtue of abstinence with a sort of “yeah, but” reasoning. They point to the “hard fact” that most American children in their teens simply do not abstain. Georgia ACLU Executive Director Teresa Nelson goes so far as to stress that “since the beginning of time, unmarried people have had sex,” and so she equates teaching abstinence to “teaching ignorance.” Well, people have also been killing each other since Cain and Abel, but is this “fact” an adequate rationale for tolerating promiscuous violence? The real question is: “Why do our children find abstinence—the practice of the virtue of chastity such a difficult task?”
The answer cannot be found solely in the inclinations of children. In a recent survey published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 83 percent of sexually active high school junior and senior girls said that the best age to begin sexual activity was older than the age at which they had started. In the same study, 25 percent of both sexes who had had intercourse said they believed that sex before marriage is wrong.
If children’s own proclivities don’t entirely explain their behavior, perhaps the American Academy of Pediatrics has provided part of the answer in its warning that “television’s implicit and explicit messages to young viewers” promote sexual promiscuity. Backing up this claim, the National Commission on Children estimates that adolescents take in 3,000 to 4,000 sexual messages or references a year from television and movies.
This public glorification of promiscuous sexual activity is further strengthened by the inadequacy of most parents’ private instruction on the topic. One sex education instructor laments, “How can I stand up there and preach abstinence when these kids’ parents are living with someone, but aren’t married?”
The two opposing answers to the problem of teen sex are not equal. The superficial response suggests that since some children will be sexually active, all ought to know how to have sex safely. While this idea seems prudently to counsel the lesser of two evils, the real answer is that children ought to know not to have sex; not ignorance of sexual technique but knowledge of sexual virtue is called for. The merely practical drawbacks of sexual activity will certainly be inadequate to convince many children to abstain. They must be exhorted to a full life of virtue, which includes the self-control and responsibility that inhere in abstinence. Before children view chastity as pragmatically beneficial, they must first see it as prize-worthy in itself. They must learn, as Leo Strauss said, “there is no substitute for virtue.”
The annual conference of the Midwestern Chesterton Society will be held June 11 to 13 in Milwaukee at the Archbishop Cousins Center. Speakers will include Michael Coren, Thomas Fleming, and Andrzej Jaroszynski, Secretary of the Chesterton Society in Poland. For more information, call Ann Stull at 312-324-3510.
Abortion On The Airwaves
In seems that pictures of aborted fetuses have made their way onto the airwaves in the course of one Congressional primary contest. Republican challenger Michael Bailey has emerged from relative obscurity as a result of his graphic campaign ads which have stirred a great deal of controversy, not only in his Indiana district but around the country.
One of his commercials, in which Mr. Bailey warns that the contents may not be suitable for children, contains some 15 seconds of footage of dead fetuses taken from a documentary on abortion. Apparently, local reaction to the ads has been mixed; some viewers have expressed strong support for the ads, while others have been violently opposed to them.
It is hard to argue against reasonable standards of restraint and civility on the airwaves. Moreover, it is certainly true that issues of public policy should be debated in a civil manner without recourse to lurid and emotionally stirring images. Nonetheless, it is important to point out a certain double standard that seems to exist in the media.
A few years back, a dramatic television production entitled “The Day After” depicted in graphic detail the horrors of nuclear holocaust. The film was gruesome and troubling for many; nonetheless, it had some value in stimulating debate over the issue of nuclear weaponry.
Perhaps exposing the American public to the realities of abortion should be taken in a similar vein. To those who say abortion ads are simply in bad taste, there is the obvious rejoinder that abortions are in bad taste.
The answer to our nation’s urban troubles is complicated, people of good will disagree, and we endorse no easy slogans. Any solution, however, must not overlook one massive fact: government spending on social welfare programs has been growing at a surprisingly stable rate since the so-called War on Poverty began. As inoculation against the notion that our current problems stem from substantial cuts in welfare spending in the 1980s, we offer the chart on this page, which shows social spending by all levels of government in inflation-adjusted dollars.
When the first draft of the U.S. bishops’ proposed pastoral letter on women appeared, I served on the parish committee to discuss it. A very mixed group of women, ranging in age from late twenties to late seventies and in outlook from very conservative to quite liberal, we immediately reached a single unanimous, heartfelt conclusion: from deacon’s wife to nursing mother, teaching sister to English professor, seamstresses to duchesses, as one woman we felt thoroughly insulted. On individual points of principle, of theology, of structuring, we parted company as to the letter’s strengths and weaknesses, but universally we recognized that it failed to address the practical and spiritual concerns of intelligent women in any thoroughgoing fashion. Even the questionnaire sent ’round for our critique set our teeth on edge: like a third-grade workbook, it asked us, “What did you like about the first section? What did you dislike? Why?” and left small blanks for our replies. We were rather disgusted. Nor were we alone: dissatisfaction was so general as to warrant a couple of wholesale rewritings, one released in April 1990, and another, after consultation with the Vatican, in April of 1992.
I am happy to report to the committee that the current draft, “Called to Be One in Christ Jesus,” is very much improved. The purely theological sections, particularly those on Mary, marriage, and the charism of celibacy and the single life, reflect the clear logic of recent papal documents like Mulieris Dignitatem, Familiaris Consortio, and Christifidelis Laici. The bishops are to be applauded for seizing this teaching moment to bring these valuable texts before the American church. One hopes that the bishops’ excerpted sound bites, or more correctly script bites, will encourage Americans to delve a little further. To establish and teach the theological principles involved in a clear fashion, however, is something else.
As for the difficult job of applying their first principles in a thorough way to the problems of women in modern society, the bishops’ thinking may still be early in the draft stage. While they grapple with the notion that sexist injustice may be built into societal structures, the bishops have not yet successfully analyzed either the anthropology of human society or the structuring of sexual identity within it. Not surprisingly, the result is a certain amount of contradiction. Anthropologically, the authors of the pastoral reject both of the two prevailing models of masculine and feminine identity: the “dual” model (which asserts that men’s and women’s natures and social roles are predetermined biologically, and, while complementary, essentially separate, even if equal) and the “unisex” model (which maintains that only the biological reproductive function differentiates women from men and that all other apparent differences are culturally determined and societally imposed). But beyond affirming the assertion of the common humanity, dignity and integrity of man and woman, they do not wade very far into the deep nature of relations, public and private, between the sexes. They have still to offer a modern, Christian tertia via. To my eye, their research may be lagging a little; I would recommend recent scholarship like David Gilmore’s Manhood in the Making, Anne Moir and David Jessel’s Brain Sex, and even a popular work like Judith Tannenbaum’s You Just Don’t Understand for a more comprehensive look at the scope of equality and inequity in social patterns of behavior.
One example: the bishops’ letter decries the common male notion that women’s roles are inferior or subordinate; this is “the sin of sexism,” a disordered thinking pattern resulting in institutionalized injustice. But is it really? In Manhood in the Making, Gilmore grapples with the very issues of the determination of sexual identity that the bishops would apparently rather skirt around. Gilmore points out that men are assigned the difficult and dangerous jobs in almost all societies, since after all they are less essential to the continuation of the race. They suffer more and die earlier, whether bushmen in Wagga Wagga or businessmen on Wall Street. Anthropologically it is crucial that they regard this work as more important, as superior, else why do it? The real price of their work is pain and death, and women and children are their beneficiaries. Is this unfair? To whom?
Certain social arrangements may be crucial to the ordering of human society: the patterns that emerge almost universally give anthropologists, and us, some hints about the strategies mankind has evolved to survive with a fallen nature in an inimical environment. The traditional family may be one of them; male headship may well be another. Men’s failure or refusal to accept their responsibilities, to offer work and suffering for the benefit of others, results in much of the mess the bishops rightly deplore: desertion of women and children through divorce and illegitimacy, sexual assault, child abuse, dissolution of the nuclear and extended family. At first blush, it might seem more strictly fair that roles of authority be shared with exact equality between the sexes, but what will happen to society if we insist that they are? Many feminist thinkers freely acknowledge that they do not know, but demand such change anyway. The bishops might do well to consider the issues a little more seriously before joining too loudly in that chorus.
Similarly, the pastoral’s economic recommendations could bear some more investigation into the organization of the market. For instance, the pastoral detects a fundamental sexist unfairness in the fact that women make less money than men, again a seemingly sound deduction. Yet in fact, the inequality has deeper roots than simple sexism in pay scales and hiring practices. Men in general make more money because they devote themselves to work without the interruptions women take to bear and raise children. But the earnings from their single-mindedness go mostly to the support of the women and children. Women control around 55 percent of this nation’s wealth. Again, is this unfair?
And if, as the bishops suggest, access to all levels of work and pay were given in equal share to men and women, what would be the result in real terms? The expansion of the work force would serve to lower wages across the board, so that the family wage—the earnings by which one worker can support a spouse and offspring—would virtually disappear, and all women would be equally forced to work for wages. As a director of a family-held pharmaceutical corporation of considerable size, I am grateful to the bishops for offering to lower my business costs, but as the at-home mother of six, I am appalled.
Elsewhere, too, inherent economic contradictions plague the pastoral. In section 56, it supports the notion of comparable pay for comparable work, while in section 75 it calls for payment of a family wage, but not necessarily to the male head of household. No mechanism is proposed for reconciling the two. Economics is distinctly not my strong suit, but I envision the two methods of dividing the pie as mutually exclusive: one or the other is possible, but not both. Both are undoubtedly well-intentioned, but how are they to work simultaneously? Of course, it is easy to criticize, but if the bishops are to inquire into the social and economic dimensions, I would prefer a little more depth and consistency.
Finally, the original criticism voiced by the our parish committee still stands. The pastoral letter, while dripping with sympathy for women and clearly the result of great listening efforts, still fails to address women as serious rational creatures, with moral and spiritual weaknesses as well as strengths, with duties and obligations as well as rights, in need of instruction and correction as much as praise. According to Sister Mariella Frye, one of the authoresses, the original idea for the pastoral letter on women’s concerns grew out of meetings between bishops and the Women’s Ordination Committee, and it still bears the stamp of the grievance committee. Women are portrayed principally as victims: victims of sexism, victims of desertion, of wage discrimination, of masculine violence and insensitivity. This is a superficial and unfair view.
No one denies that many women have been treated badly, and I in no way condone unjust behavior toward women. Let me state unequivocally that I do not think any man should be permitted to beat his wife. But what of the responsibilities of women towards men, towards families, towards the Church and society? Is every divorce, every illegitimate child, every abortion entirely the fault of men? The bishops cite with approval the predominance of women in parish life and the feminization of the Church, but do they not connect these with the slump in vocations? Or with the de facto absence of men from the churches? Or that absence with the wrongful behavior of men toward women and others in society? The topic of feminine spirituality and its special nature is barely broached: why not? Surely this is a prime teaching opportunity for an exploration of such a spiritual anthropology, with an exposition of the strengths—and the hazards—of women’s unique sensitivities. To treat women only as victims pure is to do an injustice to us all: it robs us of our dignity and further poisons relations between men and women, which are precarious enough at the best of times. And these are not the best of times.
Mary Elizabeth Podles