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Social Issues: Letters

AIDS education must stress respect

by Robert J. Ferrera, Minneapolis. Superintendent of schools.

For original article by Ross Olson, click HERE.

For response by Ross Olson, Scroll down -- that response was NOT published by Star Tribune

AIDS is a scary disease, and the schools have become the primary center for education about the epidemic virus. The Minneapolis Public Schools have taken a proactive approach to AIDS education within the context of their health curriculum, which embraces a total approach to good health._

Ross S. Olson's Feb. 2 Commentary article, "Minneapolis schools are hindering AIDS education," ignores the seriousness of the issue and represents a special interest that serves children poorly and, indeed, dangerously.

The Minneapolis Public Schools AIDS curriculum for elementary and secondary students has been developed over several years, with the consultation of state and local health
off cials_ parents and teachers. It takes into account how children learn and what they are able to conceptualize at a given age.

Our AIDS prevention program focuses on self-protection, equality and respect, concepts that even very young children have experienced within their lives. For example, children understand when the safety of their body is threatened; children understand how it feels to hurt or to hurt others; children understand the need for human caring.

When learning takes place within the context of life experiences, the chance that skills and information will be retained and translated into healthy behavior dramatically increases. Simply saying, "Be chaste, don't do it," has no meaning for young children.

The basic values in our AIDS curriculum include respect for diverse cultures, for gender, age, economic status and sexual •orientation. We believe that special-interest groups seeking to control, stereotype and blame, support the prejudices on which AIDS hysteria is based. Most disturbing is the blaming of one group of people for HIV infection, for this enables people to deny their own vulnerability to a virus that does not discriminate.

The Minneapolis Public Schools' AIDS education curriculum is in the forefront nationally. We invite anyone who is interested to review the curriculum.

The framers of the Minneapolis Public Schools' AIDS prevention program have an image of the next generation — an image of adults who respect one another, treat one another equally and who seek to protect one another. This is, in my view, a healthy image.

Robert J. Ferrera, Minneapolis. Superintendent of schools.

Published by Star Tribune 2/10/1990


AIDS Education Must Respect Truth


I was pleased to see Superintendent Ferrera's "AIDS Education Must Stress Respect" (February 10) in response to my commentary of the previous week regarding AIDS education in the Minneapolis
Public Schools. I particularly appreciated his honesty in acknowledging that the framers of the Minneapolis Public Schools K - 6 curriculum do have an additional vision at variance with the stated goal of preventing AIDS.

I am accused of ignoring the seriousness of the issue as well as representing a special interest that serves children poorly and dangerously. This sounds to me a more appropriate indictment of those who, in order to produce a next generation "of adults who respect one another, treat one another equally and seek to protect one another," fail to tell children what behaviors put them at risk. "AIDS hysteria" is based not on true knowledge but on an inordinate fear of casual spread.

Is it necessary to withhold facts from students if those facts might cause them to "discriminate"? To give the impression that all forms of sexual expression are equal and that condoms make one "safe", is educational malpractice.

I do not advocate simply saying,"Be chaste, don't do it" as Dr. Ferrera knows very well, I endorse the approach of the Minnesota Department of Education which recommends using many modalities to influence students.

The "Model Learner Outcomes For School Health" states that the goal of teaching about AIDS should be that students will remain or become chaste. It is expected that programs should incorporate knowledge about sexuality and the HIV virus, including how drugs and alcohol influence decisions regarding sexuality.

The programs should also help the students develop good feelings about their own and other's decisions to wait with sexual activity until entering into a lifetime commitment. Also included is the practicing of refusal and avoidance skills. The document recommends social action to encourage chastity by positive peer pressure. Finally, it teaches that for those who engage in sexual intercourse, risks can be reduced by condoms.

To be sure, that document was not available when the Minneapolis Public Schools began their work. Yet the same recommendations were published by the Center for Disease Control and the US Department of Education, sources which the curriculum committee chose to ignore.

In a sense, Minneapolis AIDS prevention program is indeed "in the forefront nationally." It is on a dead end street that many governmental bodies around the country have already abandoned.

Are these the views of a small but vocal "special interest group?"' Yes, the special interest group is parents. Their interest is their children. Parents have entrusted their children into the hands of the schools and the schools are responsible to keep that trust.

Ross S. Olson MD

Star Tribune chose NOT to publish this response.

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