Monday, May 4, 2009

the key to common ground

Last Friday I attended my school’s “Evening of Action”, where seniors showcased their social justice projects from civics class. Each group has a topic that they were studying – an injustice – and they made a web site and poster to educate people about this injustice and to offer solutions (or at least the beginnings of solutions).

It was a fantastic event. The topics ran the gamut, covering homelessness, sex trafficking, media portrayals of women / female body image, and pollution in the bay, among other things. The students had really done their research, and I was impressed by how passionately many of them spoke about their topics, some of which were topics they had not been interested in before doing the projects. (Please check some of these out – links are below – I bet you’ll learn something you didn’t know!)

But there was one question that the students (pretty uniformly) had a hard time addressing: Where is the other side coming from? Why doesn’t everyone just agree with you and implement your solution?

Understanding “the other side’s” perspective is something that I continue to work on – I’m certainly no expert – and I don’t even know when or how I became convinced that such a thing was important. But I do think that inability to see the perspective of people we disagree with is the biggest thing that keeps us from getting things done in the U.S. – from finding the common ground, so to speak.

This isn’t just an issue for urban schools – I’ve been in rooms full of extraordinarily well-educated people who can’t seem to get past “Republicans are closed-minded, look how illogical/inflexible they are about [insert issue here], that’s why we can’t reach a common ground with they about [insert different issue here].” (I’m not Republican, by the way – just annoyed by the attitude of some fellow non-Republicans.)

Anyway, I don’t know how people can learn to see the perspectives of people with whom they ardently disagree, but I do think that’s the key to being able to find a common ground on all kinds of issues.

These are some of the students’ projects (I will update later when I get the rest of the URLS). As you read them, please keep in mind that they were produced by high school students – there’s a lot of great stuff in there, but don’t try to judge it by professional standards!

Injustice in Tibet
The War on Drugs
The Death Penalty
Foster Care
Net Neutrality
Fish Contamination
Immigrant Detention Centers <-- My favorite since it was a topic I really didn't know anything about Eating Disorders
The Three Strikes Law
Gang Injustice
Gang Injunctions

laws for preventing abortions

I've been glancing at some bills currently in Congress that would help reduce the number of abortions in America:

S. 270: Pregnant Women Support Act (“A bill to provide for programs that reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.”)

S. 21: Prevention First Act (“A bill to reduce unintended pregnancy, reduce abortions, and improve access to women's health care.”)

Both of these bills have been proposed in several previous sessions of Congress and died in committee.

Here’s my crude summary of the differences:

S. 270’s programs that “reduce the need for abortion” are those that make having an unplanned baby less daunting. These include support for young mothers still in school; a requirement that insurance companies not treat pregnancy as a “preexisting condition” (so that pregnant women w/no insurance can go and sign up for insurance to help with the medical costs); increasing food stamps / WIC, etc. These programs are mostly directed toward convincing women who find themselves pregnant not to have an abortion.

S. 21 focuses on preventing unintended pregnancies from happening in the first place, emphasizing contraception availability and education. Programs include requiring hospitals to make emergency contraception available; increasing “family planning services” covered by Medicaid, and making grants available to states from comprehensive sex ed (as opposed to abstinence-only sex ed).

My take on it:

Both of these bills would help reduce abortions. S. 21 would help reduce the number of women who have unintended pregnancies*, and S. 270 would help reduce the number of those women finding themselves pregnant who choose to have an abortion**. They would complement each other nicely.

So why have both these bills have stalled in committee over and over?

Because each “side” thinks their solution is the most important one and won’t vote for “the other side’s” bill, since it doesn’t include their solution. (I mean, obviously it’s a little more complicated than that, but given that it’s so relevant that we talk about every election, it seems like Congress should be able to produce something…)

So… why don’t they roll all these programs into one big bill?

I’m no lawyer. I have no idea how lawmaking works. But I think that if lawmakers decided to unite on some middle ground – to practice some of that bipartisanship that they’re always talking about – they could probably get a bill passed that involves the best of both worlds, preventing abortion at 2 different levels.

Anyway, that’s what I’m praying for.


* As someone raised in California public schools, I’m sure my opinion is pretty biased, but I think it’s clear that abstinence-only sex ed does not work. I also think (and my current students confirm) that our comprehensive sex ed still had a pretty strong “sex is serious, so abstinence is important” message. Plus, I think information about contraceptives is important even for those who choose to abstain until marriage, since maybe they don’t want to have a baby first thing into their marriage. I do have an issue with emergency contraception, but I’m pretty sure that’s outweighed by the rest of the bill (it’s not like we can even begin to talk about the morality of emergency contraception if we don’t even teach girls what contraception is!).

** My experience in working in urban high schools is that the unexpectedly pregnant girls who decide to carry their pregnancies to term are often girls with strong support nets – family who can help care for the baby, women who were teen mothers themselves who don’t judge these girls – and in explaining their decision to keep the baby, they refer to government programs they’ve learned about that are going to help them out.

Further reading: