English 112 - Sec. 5
A Bloodless Massacre
In Anna Quindlen's A Pyrrhic Victory, Ms. Quindlen starts out by describing a hypothetical situation involving a 16-year old male being treated for a sexually treated disease. He is told by the school nurse that the proper use of a condom could have prevented his current situation. In this hypothetical situation, the boy would then ask for some condoms. However, because of current school regulations, the nurse must verify that his parents have given him permission to receive condoms from the school. Ms. Quindlen then supposes that if his parents don't allow him to receive the condoms, he will then receive a "whopping case of chlamydia." Ms. Quindlen suppresses any other alternatives for this boy. What would stop him from going to the drug store and picking up some condoms? Nothing, except for a little modesty.
Ms. Quindlen continues on and discusses a case where the appellate court overturned a school-based condom distribution program ruling that it violated parents' rights. Ms. Quindlen claims that her opponents are gloating because of this victory. However, she does not give any evidence to prove that they are celebrating. It is quite likely that the parents are relieved now that the program has been ruled unconstitutional. Now, the parents do not have to worry about their kids receiving condoms from their school. At this point, Ms. Quindlen misses an obvious angle: attacking the court's decision. Since a lower court did uphold the program, that court may have had a reason for ruling that way, and that reason should have been discussed. Ms. Quindlen could have then denounced the appellate court's decision with the lower courts ruling. Ms. Quindlen concludes the paragraph by introducing Dr. Alwyn Cohall, a self-professed condom distribution advocate, who runs several high-school clinics in New York.
Now, Ms. Quindlen returns to the initial hypothetical story. She supposes that over the last two years the Board of Education has squandered valuable time in the judicial fight that could have been better spent lecturing students about condoms. If that time was wasted, as she claims, then the courts should have allowed this program since it was so worthy. Ms. Quindlen argues that the school board will now institute a program similar to the one described in her introduction. Ms. Quindlen gives no reason why the board should or would institute such a program. That hypothetical program is probably too close to the initial program for the school board to even chance that that program would be struck down again by the courts. Continuing on with her story, Ms. Quindlen supposes that having the nurse check an approval list before distributing condoms would have a lasting effect on the male "too self-conscious to ask for Trojans in a drugstore." Even if the male were too embarrassed to get to the drug store, most girls carry around condoms. In fact, it is quite commonplace for the boy to receive his condoms from his girlfriend. If both of them were truly scared about sexually transmitted diseases, they would obtain the condoms any way they could. Children are not as stupid as Ms. Quindlen makes them out to be.
Ms. Quindlen goes on to assume that even if the child were on the list, it would still not make a difference. Ms. Quindlen does not make it clear whether the child received condoms from the school. So, let's assume that the child did in fact receive a condom from the school. Since he had the condom and that did not help him (according to Ms. Quindlen), he must not have worn it during sexual intercourse! If that is the case, then Ms. Quindlen's entire thesis is decimated. If the child receives a condom from the school and does not use it, then the school should not even bother giving them out. It would just be a colossal waste of taxpayer's dollars. It would also be a waste of the schools' time because they would have to spend part of the day distributing condoms that would serve no purpose. Ms. Quindlen then claims that some people have called the court ruling a "victory for parents." Since Ms. Quindlen has not made some facts apparent, we can also assume that this is also a victory for taxpayers and educators. Gee, that does sound wonderful. It sounds like everyone wins in the scenario. Ms. Quindlen however does not. Ms. Quindlen finishes off the paragraph by claiming that this victory is Pyrrhic. A quick look at the dictionary provides the definition of a Pyrrhic victory: A victory that is offset by staggering losses. Ms. Quindlen makes it obvious that she believes that the children will be hurt by this, and she uses the next paragraph to try to bring that point home to the reader.
Ms. Quindlen starts the next paragraph off by citing Dr. Cohall who says that the best way to educate today's children is to preach abstinence and for their parents to talk to them about sex. He then notes that, in 1992, his high school clinics saw 150 cases of sexually transmitted diseases. Ms. Quindlen obviously intends for this statistics to have a lasting impact on her readers. A little bit of investigation is required to see how effective this statistics really is. For instance, Ms. Quindlen does not note how many students are in the schools that Dr. Cohall treats. Suppose that there 3,000 students per school, and if he runs five schools, he then treats 15,000 students. One hundred and fifty students out of 15,000 students is only one percent. That number resides in the land of insignificant. While 150 students may sound like a big number at first, Ms. Quindlen fails to provide a sample size. Even if the 150 cases turn out to be a high percentage of Dr. Cohall's patients, Ms. Quindlen fails to mention the percentage of adults who have a sexually transmitted disease. It is quite logical to assume that the 150 cases are within the nominal range for the general population and, therefore, the parents are doing their job of educating their children.
Dr. Cohall mentions that he has a sixteen year old currently in the hospital because she contracted HIV from her second sexual partner. Ms. Quindlen fails to explicitly mention whether this patient received the disease from sexual contact. Ms. Quindlen firmly leads us to believe that the girl received the disease from sexual contact, but there are many other ways to contract HIV. It is possible that the girl did use condoms during sexual encounters, but may be she and her partner are intravenous drug users. She could have contracted HIV through the sharing of needles. In this situation, a condom would have been useless. Dr. Cohall mentions a case where a girl broke her leg jumping out a window to escape her furious mother who discovered her birth control pills. Dr. Cohall and Ms. Quindlen fail to date this occurrence. Because of this uncertainty, the reader is free to assume that this occurred twenty years ago. This situation may have been a typical reaction twenty years ago. Since then, parents have been much more open to discussion about sexual matters with their children.
In next two paragraphs, Ms. Quindlen discusses a series of commercials distributed in 1994 by the Department of Health and Human Services. The commercials dealt with abstinence and proper condom use. As expected, the Catholic church came out against the ad claiming that they "promoted promiscuity." ABC declared that they would not run the ads during "family-oriented" shows, but rather during late-night shows. Ms. Quindlen attacks this position as ludicrous. She goes on to claim that ABC's Roseanne is much more candid about sexual matters than these "relatively mild" advertisements. Ms. Quindlen goes on to explain that watching Roseanne is a perfect way to discuss sexual matters with your children. Ms. Quindlen is operating under the assumption that you are ready to discuss with your kids proper condom use. Ms. Quindlen's definition of "family-oriented" and ABC's are two quite different ideals. Imagine watching Sabrina: The Teenage Witch with your seven-year old and suddenly an ad discussing abstinence and proper condom comes on the screen. You would have no reaction when your seven-year old looks up at you and says "What's a condom?" This is definitely not an appropriate time for discussion. This theme has recently reared its ugly head as the media has been captivated by the sex scandal involving President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The terminology used in the news reports has caused a lot of uneasiness amongst parents because their kids ask them "What's oral sex?" You can certainly not blame the child as they are only trying to understand what is going in the world around them. Regardless, the parents are left quite helpless. One can not blame ABC for moving the ads to a more appropriate time slot where more mature children are likely to be part of the viewing audience. Should parents turn off quality "family-oriented" television programming just because it contains ads that are inappropriate? Not necessarily, but if ABC did not move the ads, parents would have been forced to make that decision.
Towards the end of paragraph eleven, Ms. Quindlen blames the parents for not wanting to talk with their children about sexual matters. Condom distribution and frank sexual discussions are two totally different topics. At this point, Ms. Quindlen digresses from her topic. Parents have a right to educate their children about sexual matters. This right has been affirmed by the judicial system. She asserts that opponents of condom distribution claim that discussion is the right of a parent. Ms. Quindlen makes the reader believe that talking with your own children about sexual matters is a crime. This is absurd! Parents always have the right to introduce their children to sexual matters at the time that they choose to do so. Ms. Quindlen goes on and blames the parents for not discussing sexual matters. At this point, Ms. Quindlen contradicts herself. First, she claims that critics of condom distribution support discussion with their children, and then she blames them for apparently not discussing it. Damned if you do, damned if you don't! Ms. Quindlen does not provide a shred of evidence that supports her belief that her opponents do not discuss sex with their children.
In this essay, Ms. Quindlen blatantly appeals to the ignorance of her readers. She uses incomplete statistics and faulty logic to come to her inevitably flawed conclusion. She shamelessly assails the rights of parents to make the correct decisions. She asserts that the parents are not competent enough to make proper decisions regarding their own children. Instead, she believes that decisions should be made by a school board (who are usually parents themselves). Ms. Quindlen's fundamental flaw in this essay is that she does not trust people to make proper judgements. If we are as dumb as Ms. Quindlen thinks we are, our future is quite dismal - regardless of whether we distribute condoms in schools or not. It will all be for a lost cause.