Monday, November 28, 2005

Ignorance Got Me Pregnant

The Associated Press has picked up the story about the Tennessee high school that seized all 1,800 copies of the student newspaper because it featured an informative article about birth control.

School officials say they also object to a story about tattoos and body piercings.

Oak Ridge High School students planned to protest the censorship today by wearing t-shirts such as the one pictured here.

Inevitably there will be talk about Tennessee's high teen pregnancy rate. As a southern state, Tennessee has a history of ranking high in poverty related measures such as adolescent pregnancy and low in measures such as education.

Generally, we feel good about ourselves if we can point to a state that does worse. The tradition, here in Tennessee, is to point to Mississippi or Alabama.

This isn't just a Tennessee tradition. It's an American tradition. The residents of blue states feel good about themselves by pointing to red states.

But this is a sick and delusional tradition. It is a tradition that divides us in 50 different ways. The fact is we are all the same damn country, and as a country, we are the effective Mississippi of the developed world.

So before all you blue staters feel good about yourselves by having a good laugh at Tennessee's expense, consider this:

The U.S. teenage birth rate is the highest in the developed world: twice as high as Canada's, two and a half times as high as Australia's, four times as high as Germany's, five times as high as France's, seven times as high as the Netherlands', and about nine times as high as Japan's (Abma et al., 2004).

Reasons for the lower rates of teenage childbearing in these countries include:

Mandatory, medically accurate sexuality education programs that provide comprehensive information and encourage teens to make responsible choices

Easy access to contraception and other forms of reproductive health care, including abortion

Social acceptance of adolescent sexual expression as normal and healthy

Straightforward public health media campaigns

Government support for the right of teens to accurate information and confidential services (Berne & Huberman, 1999)

In recent years, America's teen pregnancy rates have declined to the extent that only 34 percent of American teens experience pregnancy. (!)

Obviously, the primary cause of our high teen pregnancy rate is ignorance.

A special thanks to Oak Ridge High School principal, Becky Ervin ( and superintendent, Thomas E. Bailey ( for doing their part to foster ignorance in Tennessee America.

No Silence Here has more, as does MTSU's Sidelines