Monday, September 15, 2008

George Will and Stranger Danger

On this weekend's This Week the round table got caught up in "John McCain's lies," specifically that he has an ad running that says that Obama was in favor of sex education for kindergartners. They tried to clear the air to say that the bill actually established "Comprehensive sex ed for K-12" and that intent of the "K" part was a program to teach the youngest children how to "ward off sexual predators."

At this point George Will says that even that should be up for public debate and that conservatives will feel that education of that type is the responsibility of parents and not schools, and that on those grounds the ad isn't a lie.

Maybe not, but the person that wrote it certainly isn't hoping you will parse it that way - or at least I doubt they are.

To bolster his claim, Will asserts that for decades American parents have admonished their children to be wary of strangers. I have to take a little issue with this. First of all, my recollection is that I was also admonished in school to be wary of strangers. I think it would have been first or second grade and "Officer Tommy" (or whatever, I can't remember the name) came to school to show us "Stranger Danger" the film. So perhaps this dispute that Will is promoting is also decades old, and probably fairly settled. Like it or not society has decided that schools will backstop for parents. I think I would actually agree with him that this isn't the responsibility of schools. But I also think that as long as the honest truth is that they aren't getting it at home we shouldn't take the forum away from the educators.

If he really wants to make that point, he ought to do something about the general quality of parenting (says the guy with no kids).

But this is actually the smaller part of my objection. The real issue is this, which of these people are strangers: a non-custodial parent, an uncle, the neighbor across the street, your bus driver, your baby-sitter, your older brother's friend, your sports coach, your clergyman? The answer is none of these people are strangers, and yet over the past several years I am certain everyone can remember some kind of adult/child difficulty relating to one of these people (or someone like them).

I think we've done pretty well with the whole stranger thing. I haven't surveyed, but anecdotally I would say that non-stranger crimes outpace stranger crime maybe 3:1? More? It's not the kind of news I look for. But I think you're much more likely to hear about an abuse of trust by someone with access than you are about a creey guy in a van that says "Free Candy!"

It's depressing that someone would think that 4 and 5 year olds need to be taught how to ward off sexual attacks; and it's depressing to think that children would not get that needed information from their parents (although if the need is depressing, who is going to be thinking about it?); and it's depressing to think that simple "stranger danger" type counselling won't cover the people that are likely threats. But being depressing doesn't mean any of those things aren't actually true. That just may be the world we now live in, and if that's so then comprehensive K-12 sex ed might not be as foundationally wrong as many might think it is.

1 comment:

skienthus said...

David:
Speaking from a parental perspective, IE I have a daughter that is approaching the age where she may be around strangers I have to agree/disagree. Listen, the gods honest truth is that practically every day I think to myself 'when she's a little older I'll teach her how to protect herself.' My own upbringing was a little lax in this regard although I saw the 'same' video as you when I grew up. The important thing I think is to keep REPEATING the message. I don't care whether it's in school or in the home or from the social circle. Even if there are only .5% of individuals (strangers or not) who may be tempted to abuse a child it is .5% too many. Children have to know how to cope with dangerous situations and the more they are told the better prepared they may (unfortunately I say may) be.
In other news, Elizabeth and I are expecting our second child in February. It's a boy and we're stoked out of our minds.