As someone who was raised in Wasilla, Alaska, I can't help but feel a pride since the little town I spent most of my life in has been thrown into the national spotlight.Editor's Note: Suzanna Caldwell is a writer for the The Northern Light, the leading news source for the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
But the pride is mixed with a little embarrassment, since much of the coverage has been unfavorable.
Pundits have criticized Gov. Sarah Palin's lack of experience as its mayor, and Wasilla's rural location has been fodder for plenty of jokes. Tina Fey even called it "Alaska's crystal meth capital" while doing her impersonation of the governor on Saturday Night Live last week.
I personally have received no shortage of trouble about being from Wasilla. But after the announcement of Bristol Palin's pregnancy, the talk turned dirty.
More than once, people have joked with me about how surprising it is that I'm not pregnant. It's degrading as both a Wasilla resident and as a woman, and Bristol's situation is nothing to laugh about.
But since the announcement, the debate has turned to Palin's stance on sex education (in a gubernatorial debate she said she would not support explicit sex education), and it has caused me to remember my own sex education at Wasilla High School, the same high school Palin and several of her children attended.
To say it was lacking is far from accurate.
It was abysmal.
The only recollection I have of any sex education came in ninth grade health class.
An advanced human relations group put together a presentation explaining different types of birth control. They explained the difference between diaphragms, IUD's and birth control pills and told us where we could go to get them. And then condoms came up.
The student, a senior, held up a male condom to the class, still in its metallic wrapper. Then she told us that rules prohibited her from showing the actual condom. She couldn't show us how to put it on; she could only explain the principles of using a condom -- without pictures or demonstration. She could show us a female condom -- out of the package -- and explained how to use it, but also with no demonstration.
Another Wasilla High School friend (who also took the health class) and I recently talked about the Palin controversy, and sex education came up. He told me that for him, using condoms had been a matter of trial and error.
"Luckily, with no error," he said.
It struck a cord with me at how shockingly close sex education can hit home.
To me, there is no debate. Sex education should be as important as preparing students for the job market. My high school did a poor job at providing that education.
Despite state statistics that show the teen birth rate in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley -- where Wasilla is located -- is below the national average, Alaska as a whole is above it.
Abstinence-only education is great in theory, but it is not practical. For every emergency drill I went through to protect myself from an intruder or bomb threat, I think of the condom wrapped in foil and how unprotected I could have been.
I thought about the likelihood of an intruder attacking the school and the likelihood of students having sex before marriage. One seems much more probable.
Luckily for me, my parents were candid about sex and have made sure I know how to protect myself. But I can't forget my teenage classmates who became pregnant unintentionally while still in high school.I would never discredit abstinence education. It's the only 100 percent effective birth control method. But let's be practical. Teenagers are going to have sex. Just telling a student that a condom exists is not enough information to keep them safe. Ultimately, schools should make sure that students are armed with the knowledge to protect themselves.
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