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    Letters to the Editors

    Details explain teacher center veto

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 16, 2002

    Re: Gov. Bush, why can't you support the Florida Center for Teachers?, by Bill Maxwell, June 9.

    Dear Bill:

    Thank you for your second annual open letter to me about the Florida Center for Teachers. Once again, I vetoed a $275,000 appropriation for this professional development option, and once again you have let me have it. I thought I'd respond in the same style.

    You said you wouldn't waste my time "with a lot of detail." Boy, were you ever honest. Here are three major details you left out.

    First, the budget I signed -- for the second year in a row -- provides more than $36-million in professional development for Florida's teachers. This is more than 100 times the amount you have wagged your finger at me for vetoing, and it doesn't even include the $11-million in state funds (plus an anticipated $45-million from Washington) for professional development as part of our "Just Read, Florida!" initiative. Doubtless these little details were edited out to make room for the accusation that I "ignore teacher enrichment."

    Second, you left out any detail on what the Florida Center for Teachers actually does. Actual course offerings from last year included "Plagues in Medicine and Myth," while this year the Center is sponsoring "Hip Hop, Hoops, and Homies: Contemporary Urban Popular Culture." I'm not suggesting these courses do not have some value. It's just curious that you clearly don't feel the actual course offerings of the Florida Center for Teachers help in your defense of its appropriation. I'm not sure I can blame you. As Bogart said to Bergman in Casablanca, "I wouldn't bring up Paris if I were you. It's poor salesmanship."

    Third, if you can remember all the way back to your childhood, then surely the eight years of the previous administration should be fresh in your mind. During that period, real (inflation-adjusted) per-student K-12 funding actually declined. Under our watch it has increased, including a $1.1-billion, 9 percent, 6 percent per-student increase next year. This is not "education on the cheap."

    Bill, the Florida Center for Teachers deserves equal treatment, not special treatment, which is why I vetoed an appropriation specifically for it. Districts remain free to spend their professional development dollars on the center's programs (among many other options) if they find them worthwhile. I'm confident superintendents will weigh your endorsement appropriately as they make their decisions.
    -- Jeb Bush, governor, Tallahassee

    Morality remains the key

    Re: Our children need a real... sex education, June 2.

    Deborah Hardin Wagner promotes the "Postponing Sexual Involvement" curriculum because it "carries none of the harsh moral overtones or shame-based messages characterizing the more extreme 'abstinence-until- marriage' programs now the darlings of the federal government. Indeed, the word 'marriage' appears nowhere in the PSI curriculum."

    There is a very good reason why the abstinence-until-marriage programs are the darlings of the federal government; it is because they are moral-based programs and give students actual direction regarding what is right and wrong in governing their lives. Personal morality and personal health are, in fact, essential in teaching abstinence education, and not just some vague philosophy to suggest only that to have a child too soon is "socially irresponsible."

    There is only one way to determine that something is irresponsible anyway, and that is to make a moral determination! The PSI curriculum proponents are kidding themselves if they don't think their own program requires some level of moral judgment to determine "irresponsibility."

    When adults are teaching children how to use condoms and other contraceptive devices, the adults put their tacit approval on using such devices and, of course, these devices only have a use for one thing: sexual intercourse. Way to go, so-called "sex-education specialists."

    Wagner reports that "... kids are having sex at an increasingly early age." One reason they are is that they are not being told that having sex before marriage is wrong. In fact, the kids themselves made lists of TV shows and songs that try to sell sex. They not only try to sell but do sell, and if parents, teachers and leaders aren't selling "no sex until marriage," then it is no wonder the students are "buying"!
    -- James M. Hammond, Dunedin

    Abstinence is best method

    Re: Our children need a real... sex education.

    Deborah Wagner had three pages to pen her article. Her bias is apparent in her choice of words and in her choice of "spokesmen." It was so full of misleading statements that it serves only as another building block in a campaign that has created an epidemic of youthful sexual activity and the calamities that accompany it.

    She says that "research on comprehensive sexuality programs... might indeed seem counterintuitive." She then cites the Sexuality Information and Education Council and research scientist Douglas Kirby as "experts" in the area of how to best protect our children from becoming sexually active. That's like asking the fox how to guard the henhouse.

    She describes some abstinence-until-marriage programs as "extreme" with "harsh moral overtones." The truth is that mutual abstinence until marriage is the only 100 percent effective method for avoiding sexually transmitted disease and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Wagner fails to mention the proven psychological trauma experienced by children who engage in sexual activity or the mutual psychological benefit realized by newlyweds who have kept themselves pure for one another.

    Her comment, "... without conceding its irrelevance to a huge segment of the teen population: those who have already become sexually active," is as far from an accurate characterization of abstinence programs as it could be. A key component of the successful abstinence curriculum is that it encourages young people who have already had sexual relations to assume a "secondary virginity" and remain abstinent from this day forward. Wagner's implicit message is that "it's too late for them." Fortunately, for thousands of teenagers, there are many dedicated abstinence leaders who won't desert the kids so easily.

    Actually, the evidence against programs that promote contraception is compelling. For the last 40 years, we've seen a saturation of our schools with classes that teach this method of "sex education." Forty years ago, the girl or boy in high school who engaged in sexual activity was a rarity, and in junior high it wasn't even an issue. Today, according to the May 27 issue of U.S. News and World Report, "16 percent of high school sophomores have had four or more sexual partners... and... nearly one in 10 kids will lose his or her virginity before turning 13." This, along with an epidemic of sexually transmitted disease among teens, is the result of 40 years of teaching them to "just be careful."

    Abstinence Until Marriage has equally compelling evidence of success. True Love Waits, Sex Respect and other courses have been shown to dramatically reduce sexual activity among young people. Reduction and elimination of sexual activity directly relates to fewer teen pregnancies and a smaller number of cases of sexually transmitted disease.

    Given three pages of space, I could present an irrefutable case for the promotion of abstinence-only education and its benefit to those who need it most -- our precious young people!
    -- Terry Kemple, executive director, STAND Inc. (Students Taking a New Direction), Brandon

    Dignity taken away

    Re: Alone Together, June 9.

    I can't believe you published the photograph of Florida Smith being diapered by her son!

    The person who decided to publish that photograph should be ashamed! You have taken away one of the last things left to Florida Smith, her dignity in the community. Had you sought Mrs. Smith's approval five or 10 years ago, anyone knows what her answer would have been.
    -- Sharon Wenner, St. Petersburg

    A moving portrayal

    Re: Alone Together.

    The pairing of writer Stephen Nohlgren and photographer Cherie Diez was inspired as evidenced by their moving portrayal of the lives of ordinary people affected by the horrors of Alzheimer's disease.

    The pictures were wrenching in their honesty, and the writing, while avoiding sentimentality, revealed both the indomitable heroism and enduring courage of people who struggle daily to meet the challenges before them.

    I was moved to tears. How fortunate is your newspaper to have such talent on staff.
    -- Maureen Bartholomew, Homosassa

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