I started my first pre-requisite that I must finish before applying to the nurse practitioner program. Texas Government, believe it or not. Understandably, perhaps, my Aunt Sharon asked me on Facebook what that had to do with nursing. I replied that it was to teach me just how much trouble I would be in if I handed out condoms to teenagers. I turned in my first paper for the class a few days ago, and I am sufficiently proud of it to post it here. I apologize for the "rant" nature of it--I've mentioned before that I do not approve of rants, but, hey, it's a government class and they WANT me to have opinions. Thank God my professor has a sense of humor. Ah, well. It follows:
Looking over the statistics on how Texas compares with the rest of the states that compose our country is an interesting experience. Some figures do not surprise me—for instance, learning that Texas tax revenue per capita is among the lowest in the nation did not raise my eyebrows at all. On the other hand, I was shocked to see that Texas releases more carcinogens into the environment than any other state. Yet, so far, it has not resulted in a corresponding rise in new cancer cases or cancer deaths. One wonders, however, if we will see a higher correlation between these statistics in the future.
The facts and figures that truly concern me, though, are some of those about children and young people in Texas. In the 2009 edition of Texas on the Brink, Senator Eliott Shapleigh asserts that Texas ranks first in the nation when it comes to teenagers giving birth (4). This rank is even higher than Shapleigh reported it to be in 2007, when Texas only came in fifth in this category (5). In both the 2009 and 2007 editions of Texas on the Brink, Shapleigh quotes from a 2001 study revealing that nearly half of Texas teenagers had had sex at least once during their lifetimes, and that only a little over half of the Texas teens who were currently sexually active had used a condom. Only ten percent of them said that they or their partner had used birth control pills (16-17), (19). I cannot help believing that these statistics have a direct bearing on the fact that in 2009, Texas ranked seventh among all the states in the percentage of its children who live below the poverty level (3). Though this is an improvement over the 2007 ranking, in which Texas placed fifth (3), it is still unacceptable.
I feel that the only way to make any change in the first group of statistics is to repeal the bill passed by the seventy-fourth Texas legislature in 1995 making it mandatory to teach abstinence in sex education. Shapleigh's statistics on the number of teens having sex mean that the abstinence message is not being taken to heart by the adolescents of Texas; his statistics on the use of any reliable birth control methods mean that far too many teenagers are left without the knowledge of how to effectively prevent pregnancy.
I despair, however, of ever wresting control of these matters—at least in the state of Texas—from the Christian Right. The University of Texas at Austin's Web site Texas Politics, in its “Texas Political Culture” section, speaks of “the deep historical roots” of “culturally conservative social policy in areas such as education, religion, and civil rights,” and asserts that this dominance “has been challenged and modified to some extent during various periods in Texas history, but never substantially overturned.” The only hope of bringing any improvement in the situation is to draw enough outraged attention to Shapleigh's statistics that we might be able to slip in an amendment to the existing bill that would mandate “abstinence plus”(italics mine) programs—i.e., sex education programs that tell teenagers about the various methods of birth control and how to most effectively use them (and maybe even where to get them at low or no cost), but which still state that abstinence is the only certain way to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. That kind of compromise is the only way even the smallest progress might be made here—to remove the language of abstinence entirely would draw the immediate scrutiny and all the powers of resistance possessed by the state's Christian conservatives. I fear even the language of “abstinence plus” might only mean the brief beginnings of an improvement in the number of children born to children in the state of Texas—and then, a little further in the future, a decline in the number of Texas children living in poverty. Sooner or later, though, the state's religious conservatives would conclude once more that practical information about birth control would give young people too many options other than embracing their parents' values, and they would find a way to make “abstinence only” the law once more.
I learned other things, however, from the “Texas Political Culture” section of Texas Politics. The urban areas of Texas have a much higher level of income and education than that of the state as a whole. Austin, especially, has always seemed to me personally an oasis of culture and free thought in the middle of an otherwise conservative state. “Texas Political Culture” also taught me that when Texas was admitted to the Union, it came with provisions that it might be divided into a total of five states. It is probably an impossible dream, but if conservatives can talk of Texas seceding from the union, why can't Austin secede from the rest of Texas? Austin itself, however, is probably not big enough for such a move to be practical. But what if we took San Antonio, Houston, and Galveston with us? I can envision a thin crescent of a state, with San Antonio at its southwestern tip, arching up to Austin, then down to Houston (to bring us the oil money!), and then with a little tail to Galveston so we'll have a port. (Sorry, Dallas, you're too conservative. But maybe you can be the new capital of the old state.) The new state of Austontonio would surely rank better among the Fifty-One than Old Texas in many of these categories, especially once we taught our teenagers how to prevent pregnancy. The cultural conservatives of the rest of Texas would probably be glad to get rid of infamously weird Austin and its far too urban allies. Perhaps most fortunate of all, Austontonio would retain the wonderful diversity and flavor that is the best of Texas.
True, the creation of Austontonio would not end the problems faced by the rest of Texas. Then again, what would? At least this way, some of the most promising places in the state could band together and free themselves in order to be able to enact change.
Parents for Truth. What's Happening in Your State?--Texas. 2008. Web. 28 Sept. 2010.
“Seventy-Fourth Texas Legislature.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Jan. 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2010.
Shapleigh, Eliott. Texas on the Brink, 2007: How Texas Ranks Among the 50 States. Shapleigh.Org, 2010. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
---. Texas on the Brink, 2009: How Texas Ranks Among the 50 States. Shapleigh.Org, 2010. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
University of Texas at Austin. “Texas Political Culture.” Texas Politics. 2009. Web. 28 Sept. 2010.