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Sweet column: Romney targets Obama over kindergarten sex education. But it's not condoms and cupcakes at naptime.

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Promoting sex education for kindergarten students--kind of a sexy topic -- was injected into the 2008 presidential race. It conjures up visions of condoms and cupcakes passed around before the afternoon naptime. Except that it is not true.

GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, in a bid to highlight his support of abstinence education and appeal to his base vote, is going after Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).


Romney is twisting benign comments Obama made about sex education to a Planned Parenthood Action Fund conference to bolster his credentials among, apparently, the GOP voters who see themselves as sole proprietors of "faith and values."

On Tuesday morning, Obama told the reproductive health-care group that sex education is the "right thing to do" -- hardly a revolutionary statement. Sex education should be "age appropriate," he told them at least twice.

Where Obama wandered into Romney's scope was when he recalled to the friendly Planned Parenthood audience how Alan Keyes, the ultra right-wing Republican nominee from Maryland Obama trounced in the 2004 Illinois Senate race, claimed during their campaign that Obama backed sex education for kindergartners. Keyes based his assertion on his extremist interpretation of sex ed legislation Obama backed in the state Senate.

Obama told the Planned Parenthood group providing "age-appropriate sex education, science-based sex education in schools" was "the right thing to do." Obama never was selling all the birds and bees.

ABC News' Teddy Davis and Lindsey Ellerson posted an on-line "Political Radar" report headlined "Sex Ed for Kindergartners 'Right Thing to Do,' Says Obama."

But the only thing provocative about the story was the headline. The ABC piece provided plenty of context: quotes from Obama's Planned Parenthood speech (and a video link) and some background on Obama's position while a state senator in Illinois.

Nonetheless, the ABC story fueled Romney's assault on Obama by Wednesday, where he decided to oppose, in a big way, science-based sex education for kids. Romney issued a statement, talked about it in Colorado Springs and posted the clip on YouTube.

Romney told his crowd as governor, no parent ever came to him concerned there was not enough sex education. ''I was shocked to hear that he [Obama] thinks that we need to have sex education in kindergarten. I don't think that's a problem. I don't think that is a need,'' Romney said.

He added that Obama called for ''age appropriate'' schooling, but ''how much sex education is age appropriate for a 5-year-old? In my view, zero.''

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Obama backs teaching youngsters about inappropriate touching by strangers. And Obama would let parents opt out of a sex education course.

The meaty debate in the 2008 White House contest is the federal role in promoting abstinence education in the United States and abroad. It's also interesting politically that Romney wants to go after Obama. But the way Romney is doing it is misleading.

11 Comments

nice to know that flip-flopping, porn-purveying, dog-torturing Mitt Romney is also against giving children the tools they need to fend off child molesters.

A sick, demented creature that Mitt Romney is. What can you say about someone who wants to enable child molestors? Is he going for the NAMBLA endorsement?

Ms Sweet notes that Obama emphasized that sex education needs to be "age appropriate." Left unstated is what exactly that means.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton told MSNBC's First Read that his boss is talking about protecting children from predators. "In addition, he issued a document showing that the Oregon Department of Education has guidelines for sex education for children in grades K-3 (which includes understanding the difference between a good touch and a bad touch). . . "

Yes, it does. But if Oregon is the model on which Senator Obama is basing his recommendation, other questions develop.

Oregon's guidelines include:

Understanding body parts, proper anatomical names, stages in basic growth process

Communicable/non-communicable diseases, the concept

Recognize risk behaviors (sharing body fluids) and methods of prevention

That doesn't sound like merely helping children understand the difference between good touching and bad touching.

Do parents want government schools providing proper anatomical names to their 5-year-olds? Does discussion of communicable diseases include talking about HIV if one of the students brings it up? And suppose children want a detailed explanation of precisely what body fluids are? What about parents who don't want schools teaching these concepts? How easy would it be for them to opt out and would their children be stigmatized if they did?

Ms Sweet is wrong about how benign all this is. And Governor Romney is right on target in challenging the Obama proposal.

Sexual education is secondary to the issue of poverty prominent among children. Sex Ed would not even be an issue if Every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation and the large majority are children under the age of 5 [Borgen Project]. There would be no child to teach sexual education to.

Age-appropriate classroom sex education for this age group in Illinois is simply referring to teaching medically appropriate names for parts of the body instead of baby names. We keep it simple - it isn't necessary to go into detail about the functions of those body parts, but having an accurate vocabulary goes a long way toward developing understanding and respect for themselves and their bodies. In the absence of this proper language, all that is left are unanswered questions, baby names and playground slang.

As always, the lion's share of the work in educating our kids about sex and values remains in the home with parents. The role of health educators is to teach the facts about ALL body systems as kids develop maturity enough to understand them. Let's hope that all of the candidates can exhibit some of this foresight, maturity and understanding
Kathleen Burke, CEO
Robert Crown Center for Health Education

Wow Lynn, how biased can you get? What's with the personal attack on Mitt, who has done nothing wrong and is only speaking his view? You and I both know that the things in the past that Romney has done are nothing compared to the past nefarious deeds of his opponents in this election. Flip-flopping on Moral Issues several years ago, owning part of Marriot Hotels, and the mistake he made with his dog 24 years ago are the only dirt that can be dug-up on Romney, and he is very smart to be getting it all out in the open now. I honestly think he may be the next president.

The topic of sex education for small children is rightfully a hot topic, and shame on Barack Obama for engaging in a discussion on what sex topics would be appropriate for 5 year-olds, even if only in "general terms". I agree that it was blown out of proportion by the right, but what Romney said was all true, and Obama should have expected an attack this for making himself look so incredibly liberal.

When I was that age I was told babies come from a mother's belly. I learned the difference between a boy and a girl. Children today need to be taught safety around people who are bleeding. Why should they be ignorant of this basic knowledge?

Mitt Romney, himself, supported age-appropriate sex education -- i.e. abuse prevention -- at one point. It was a good idea when he supported it, and remains a good idea now. I have no idea why he flipped. In my opinion, Romney is playing politics and spinning this important topic by trying to assert that Obama meant an adult type sex ed for kids.

Obama is saying something that makes sense and Romney is trying to criticize and misquote him to score points with the political conservatives. Nice try Mitt (Mit).

Nice try Mitt but, let me ask you a question, When Obama become president in 2008 and congress pass a sex education bill for kids in 5th grade, Will you ask the mother's of your young 5th graders to opt out? If you do, get ready for a rush of child molesters to move to their area. Be careful what you ask for. I hope you know child molesters do live in their neighborhoods.

Did any one of you have sex ed in Kindergarten?

Any one of you?

How did the world survive? And has basic human nature really changed since we went to school? No, of course it hasn't. There were sexual predators in the 1920s, the 1950s, the 1970, the 1990s, and there are sexual predators now. So why all of a sudden the need to bombard 5 year olds with knowledge far beyond their age level and understanding?

Obama is engaging in feelgood demagoguery that will be of no use to children who should (at age 5) be under the supervision of trusted adults. They are WAY too young to stand up to an adult even if they know what inappropriate touching is, and at any rate their parents ought to be teaching them this sort of thing. I have seen at first hand small children report things that were CLEARLY not sexual in nature because they have been frightened to death by schools - they think if a playmate innocently brushes a hand against them or another child does what all children do (i.e., wants to play doctor) they are being molested. People really need to get a grip here. We are losing our common sense and our ability to judge ordinary situations. The zero tolerance mentality of our school systems, where small children are kicked out of school for bringing toy water pistols, aspirin, and the like or (heaven forbid) brushing their face against a teacher's breasts while being hugged after falling on the playground is evidence that administrators are so afraid of being sued that they react in knee-jerk ways to things ordinary adults would just use common sense to resolve.

Keep the government out of our homes. Let parents teach kids about sex.

Good nightshirt - I don't want to live in a fascist state where the government overrides what I teach my children, and no, I don't go to church, for what it's worth. I just believe we have the right to decide for ourselves, not have some agenda imposed on us.

I raised two boys without

The Democratic party always tries to represent itself as THE progressive party. It is rapidly digressing, not progressing, to the wing nut party. Sex education for kindergartners? When did the responsibility of the parents get absolved? Leave it to liberals to let big government solve all of our problems. The Democrats loudly lament the Republican party's taking away of our freedoms, ie: Patriot Act, etc., but they seem to be the ones that want to grow government control of our lives all the way to womb. I don't include the womb because they don't consider that to be a life yet.
Russ Feingold has suggested a bill to censure the Bush government. What a load of crap. It is as ridiculous as the impeachment of Slick Willie for Federal perjury in a sex crime case. I realize that I am getting off point, so I will close with this point. Quit asking government to do everything for you, as JFK is memorialized as saying. Obama is pandering for votes from the Fruit Loops section of the Dem. party and Romney is pandering to the well-meaning but dumb segment of the Rep. party. Ms. Sweet, if you are going to tout Democratic candidates, be out in the open about it.

Ms. Sweet is absolutely right, "the real debate shuld be on the federal government's role of promoting abstinence education in the U.S. and abroad". Why do Democrats fear and oppose the introduction of "abstinence" as an alternative choice and only teach the use of condoms, the pill, and abortions as birth control? What's wrong with SELF CONTROL? Abstinence was even introduced into a small African village and the birth rate decreased tremendously. It works! Self-control taught to the high school kids in all aspects of their lives, not just sex, would help them and this world be a better place! Or are we just a bunch of animals with no self-control?

PULLEEZE! Kids from kindergarden through 3rd grade have enough trauma just leaving Mom and Dad behind, adjusting to a routine, learning to share, to pronounce words, read, write, math,...the list is long...add to that the undoing of a parent's right to introduce sex when they choose or not, and instead allow a stranger to discuss and explain body parts?...Grow up, Obama, and listen to Daddy Mitt who did darn well raising 5 boys he can be mighty proud of and 10 grandkids!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on July 20, 2007 5:50 AM.

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