Back Return to Curricula and Speaker Reviews    Printer Friendly Version Printer Friendly Version

SUMMARY: SIECUS REVIEW OF Choosing the Best WAY

Choosing the Best WAY is designed for sixth grade students and written by Bruce Cook, the founder of Choosing the Best, Inc. SIECUS reviewed the second edition which was published in 2006.

As is typical of abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Choosing the Best WAY provides limited information on human sexuality and does not cover such basic topics as puberty, sexual response, or reproduction. Other important issues such as contraception, abortion, sexual orientation, and STDs, including HIV/AIDS are presented in an unbalanced manner that seems designed to promote one point of view rather than simply inform students.

 

Relying on Negative Messages

 

Messages of Fear and Shame—Trying to Scare Students and Instill Guilt

  • The four teens interviewed about their first sexual experiences during a video segment—the first mention of sex in the curriculum—include two rape victims and one girl Robin, who continually describes her first sexual experience as “horrible.” (Choosing the Best WAY, Video Segment 3)
  • In discussing Chlamydia the teacher is told to hold up “green slime or goo” and say “The discharge from Chlamydia may be messy and oozy like this, or it may be very slight, almost unnoticeable” (Choosing the Best WAY, Leader Guide, p. 26-27).
  • Cauliflower is used to illustrate genital warts caused by HPV: “Break off several pieces and let student pass these around as you explain that genital warts look like cauliflower—lumpy and in clusters.”  (Choosing the Best WAY, Leader Guide, p. 26-27). 
  • In one video segment, a young woman compares a person who has had pre-marital sex to pre-chewed gum. She then says she would not want to hand that wad of gum to her husband (Choosing the Best WAY, Video Segment 5).  The curriculum instructs teachers to explain: “Gum that has already been chewed isn’t as appealing as when it is unwrapped and new” (Choosing the Best Way, Leader Guide, p. 31).

 

The author’s focus on the inevitable consequences of premarital sexual activity is clearly designed to scare students rather than to educate them. There is no scientific evidence to support the assertion that all sexual activity outside of a marriage is emotionally and physically threatening. Furthermore, it is important to remember that 47 percent of all high school students have had sexual intercourse.[1] It is inappropriate and potentially harmful for an education program to imply that these teens lack value and dignity or suggest that they are less worthy of love, trust, and respect.

 

Sexual Abuse—Portraying Victims as Having Control

  • The curriculum uses the example of a teenager who was date raped to illustrate the importance of “boundary #1: not being alone with someone of the opposite sex” (Choosing the Best WAY, Leader Guide, p. 38). 

·         The curriculum asks students rhetorically: “How do some people say NO with their words, but YES with their actions or clothing?” (Choosing the Best WAY, Leader Guide, p. 40).

 

We applaud the author for including a section on sexual abuse in Choosing the Best WAY. The lesson includes four rules to stop sexual abuse all of which have good messages including “it’s never your fault” and “if something feels wrong, then it probably is.” The curriculum also encourages young people to get help by telling a responsible adult.  Unfortunately, other messages in the lesson are troublesome. Moreover, in a number of places (such as the examples above) the curriculum undermines its own message that it is never the victim’s fault.

 

Promoting One Point of View

 

Guys vs. Girls—Perpetuating Gender Stereotypes

  • The curriculum directs students to hold three to four books and then, later, to look at their fingernails. The teacher then explains, “…guys usually carry their books down by their sides. Girls usually cradle their books in their arms… guys usually look at their fingernails with their fingers curled toward the palm. Girls usually look at their nails by holding their hands outstretched in front of them” (Choosing the Best WAY, Leader Guide, p. 14).
  • In a description of a crush, a cartoon depicts a drooling, hyperactive young man running toward a young woman who is sitting passively in a chair looking away from him (Choosing the Best WAY, Student Workbook, p. 15). In a later section entitled, “Learning How to Say ‘NO,’” a photograph depicts a girl pushing a boy away from her (Choosing the Best WAY, Student Workbook, p. 35).   

 

The activities and pictures in this section serve to perpetuate long-standing gender stereotypes, without any discussion of how these stereotypes can be harmful. Students are not challenged to question the nature, validity, or origin of these gender stereotypes, or to explore how stereotypes affect communication within friendships or sexual relationships. Such a presentation is detrimental to all young people by limiting their options, influencing their behavior, and coloring their expectations for future relationships.

 

Virginity Pledges—Asking Students to Publicly Promise Purity

  •  “Your choices say a lot about your character…You’ve seen the emotional impact of sex outside of marriage.  Think about how your life and future can be influenced in a positive way by waiting to have sex until marriage” (Choosing the Best WAY, Student Workbook, p. 34).  
  • Therefore, I promise my present family, my future family, my friends who support me and myself to be sexually abstinent until marriage (Choosing the Best WAY, Student Workbook, p. 34).

 

Research has found that, while under certain circumstances virginity pledges can help a select group of young people delay intercourse,  pledges only help young people delay intercourse for approximately 18 months (far short of marriage).  In fact, 88 percent of young people who take a pledge ultimately have sex before marriage. And, pledges taken by an entire class as part of a lesson were not effective.  Most importantly, however, young people who took a pledge were 1/3 less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active than their peers who did not pledge.[2]  Far from providing a solution to the complex problems of unintended pregnancy and disease transmission, these simplistic pledges undermine the use of contraception among teens, potentially exposing them to greater harm.


Marriage—Mandating Relationships for Students

  • “By being abstinent, she is respecting herself and the person she will marry” (Choosing the Best WAY, Leader Guide, p. 31). 
  • “Her new life could include…a wedding to someone who loved her and respected her and a wedding night where she and her husband shared something special that she had never shared with anyone else [if she had remained abstinent until marriage]” (Choosing the Best WAY, Leader Guide, p. 25).    

 

The messages in these exercises are clear: all people wish to and will marry and staying abstinent until marriage is both necessary and sufficient when it comes to creating a perfect life.  In reality, there is no reason to believe that those who remain abstinent before marriage will be happy or that premarital abstinence would ensure that someone would meet her life goals.  Though presented as fact, these are opinions based on one world view and may be damaging to students. 

 



[1] J. Grunbaum, et al., “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2007,” Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 57, no.SS-4, pp. 1-136., accessed, 5 June 2009, http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/.

[2] P. Bearman and H. Brückner, "Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and the Transition to First Intercourse," American Journal of Sociology, vol. 106, no. 4 (2001), pp. 859-912; P. Bearman, et al., “The Relationship Between Virginity Pledges in Adolescence and STD Acquisition in Young Adulthood,” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 110, no. 1 (2004), pp. 44-92.