Burleson, Texas, is a Fort Worth suburb located in Johnson and Tarrant counties. These two counties went for Bush by margins of 68%-30% and 61%-37%, respectively, in 2000 and margins of 73%-26% and 62%-37% four years later. Burleson was where the "See You at the Pole" Christian prayer events started in 1990. Alcohol sales were not legalized in Burleson until November 2006. So I think it's safe to say we're talking about a pretty conservative community here.
The kind of community that you'd think would embrace a teenager who went through a situation like this:
Brittani Shipman, a self-proclaimed "wild child," has turned her life around since the birth of her child and is making better grades. The yearbook staff took notice and included her in a yearbook story about two student parents.
. . .
Ms. Shipman said that she originally planned to place her child up for adoption. Once her daughter was born, however, those plans changed and she worked to turn her life around.
"Allow my story to be told; and allow others to benefit from my experiences and what I've accomplished," said Ms. Shipman, who has a 1-year-old daughter.
One would think that in a conservative community like this one, her decision to carry the child to term rather than have an abortion would be applauded. But the principal, Paul Cash, spiked a yearbook article about Miss Shipman and the struggles she was having to overcome in raising a daughter.
Her classmates decided to write about Shipman's story of choices and challenges in the yearbook.
But school administrators said the article would glamorize pre-marital sex and send the wrong message.
When I look at a story like this one, I see a) a tailor-made opportunity for pro-lifers to laud a young girl who chose to keep her baby and b) a cautionary tale for other teenagers who may not really understand how incredibly difficult it is to raise a child. But apparently the school administrators didn't see either of those things.
Superintendent Mark Jackson said the district teaches an abstinence-based curriculum, and that if the yearbook wants to write a story about overcoming obstacles, they may need to find another example.
Ahh, now we see what this is really about: that "abstinence-based curriculum" failed dramatically in at least one instance, and now they want to make sure that instance is kept under wraps.
The Shipman case is a microcosm of everything that is head-slappingly screwed-up about the right wing's attitudes toward sex and pregnancy. Basically, the way they think things should work is this: If you're in high-school, you should only be exposed to an inaccuracy-laden form of sex education that is no more likely to keep you from having sex than other forms of sex ed. When you do go ahead and have sex anyway, chances are you get pregnant, because you never got any accurate information about birth control or contraceptives. Once you get pregnant, you have to carry the child to term, because abortion is wrong -- but even if you do keep the baby, we're still going to shun you and treat you as a leper because you never should've had sex in the first place. And God forbid you work hard, finish your schooling and make something of yourself, because then you're "glamorizing" teen pregnancy and demonstrating to your peers that God doesn't automatically make pregnant teens spontaneously combust in a fireball of shame. Here's a question: How many pregnant teenage girls will see a story like this -- in which another girl did everything she was "supposed" to do in handling her pregnancy, yet still got treated as damaged goods by the Powers That Be -- and figure that, if that's as good as things get when you actually "choose life," they might as well get an abortion?
Of course, working to create circumstances that will actually increase the demand for abortion is nothing new to the right wing. But not only are they working against reducing abortions, they're working against teenagers -- particularly girls -- at every single step of the process. And we wonder why our kids are so messed up? The most galling part of this is that if Brittani Shipman had entered into a shotgun wedding with the father of her child, dropped out of school, moved into a trailer and stayed at home while her husband supported the both of them, the school district would be happier because this problem would've simply swept itself under the rug and they would never have had to muck with it.
I'm not sitting here saying Brittani Shipman's experience is representative of that of all pregnant teens, but it's real life, and maybe there's something in her experience that will switch on a light bulb over the head of some other teenage girl who's heading down her same path. You can either give teenagers the information they need to keep from getting pregnant, or you can go ahead and let them get pregnant but then give them the information and role models they need to keep their lives from going completely down the toilet as a result. Instead, the school administrators in Burleson are sticking their heads in the sand twice: First they ignore that teenagers are having sex whether they like it or not, then they ignore that teens are actually getting pregnant because of it.
And now they're effectively trying to punish Brittani Shipman for succeeding despite not having followed their completely unrealistic, head-in-the-sand plan for how teen sexuality should work. She may have made a mistake, and I think she as much as admits that, but she's breaking with the right-wing storyline that she should be forced to carry that shame around with her forever, no matter what.
One of these days we're going to wise up and put a higher priority on intelligence and actual success than slapping scarlet letters on people. Maybe even in Burleson, Texas. I just hope I'm still around when it happens.