SUMMARY: SIECUS REVIEW OF ASPIRE: Live your life. Be free.
Aspire contains some interesting topics and important discussions including those focused on the significance of planning for one’s future, the role of alcohol and drugs in sexual decision-making, and the impact of the media. The curriculum also provides opportunities for students to discuss these issues with their parents. Unfortunately, Aspire is based on one set of values and opinions—that marriage should be everyone’s ultimate goal and that sex outside of marriage is wrong—which it tries to pass off as universally held truths. In an effort to convince students that these opinions are facts, the curriculum provides incomplete and biased information, promotes fear and shame, and undermines young people’s confidence in their own decision-making abilities.
Aspire ultimately fails to meet the needs of young people in helping them become sexually healthy and make good decisions about their sexuality now and in the future.
Relying on Negative Messages
Message of Fear and Shame—Trying to Scare Students and Instill Guilt
(Aspire, Teacher’s Guide, p. 19)
This focus on negative consequences is clearly designed to scare students rather than educate them. There is no scientific evidence to support the assertion that premarital sexual intercourse leads to everything from bitterness to confusion. According to recent studies, forty-seven percent of all high school students have had sexual intercourse. It is inappropriate and potentially harmful for education programs to imply that these teens lack self-control or self-respect or to suggest that they are less worthy of love, trust, and respect. These implications can only be damaging to these students and serve to alienate them from their peers and the program. Furthermore, the odd focus on pornography serves only to underscore the curriculum’s messages of fear.
Faux Science—Presenting Misleading Evidence
According to the curriculum, “sexual activity” includes any type of “genital contact or sexual stimulation.” Given that such a broad definition could easily encompass masturbation in front of a partner, petting with clothes on, or a particularly good foot massage, this statement is neither accurate nor informative to students. Similarly, the curriculum refers students to its previous list of emotional, mental, financial, and social consequences of sex and reminds them that condoms cannot protect them from anger, rage, low self-esteem, or a broken heart—none of which condoms were designed to prevent. The curriculum provides little information on STD transmission, testing, and treatment or condoms as either contraception or disease prevention. Yet, it goes into great detail about the “scientific” proof of the power of oxytocin when trying to convince young people that their ability to bond with another person will be forever damaged by premarital sex. Students would be better served by an open and honest discussion of condoms, STDs, and relationships that relayed actual scientific information.
The Marriage Mandate—Promoting One Lifestyle
The curriculum is predicated on the unwavering belief that all people should aspire to marry and that all sex outside of marriage is wrong. Every discussion and activity is designed to ensure that young people reach the same conclusion. By declaring marriage to be the ultimate goal and then suggesting that teens who have been sexually active can’t reach that goal, the curriculum once again sets up a dichotomy between good and bad people. Moreover, the curriculum fails to acknowledge that gay and lesbian young people in the class are not legally permitted to marry. It is not the place of education programs to dictate goals or future relationships for students.
Pregnancy Options—Mandating Choices
In its one brief conversation about pregnancy options, Aspire subtly promotes adoption while including negative ideas about parenting and attempting to avoid any discussion of abortion. It is important for educational programs, especially those used widely in public schools, to respect the diversity of opinions and provide unbiased information on all options available to a woman confronting an unintended pregnancy as a teenager or an adult. Aspire does not adhere to this standard of educational programming.