My Local Teen Pregnancy/STD report card and why it matters

October 11, 2010

These are the 2008 numbers for Charlotte County FL, an average-in-every-way-middle-class-sleepy-Gulf-Coast-community.

County Population: 165,827
Number of Teen births, Girls Age 10-19: 130
Reported Chlamydia Cases in 15-19 year olds: 82
Reported Gonorrhea Cases in 15-19 year olds: 11
Average Number of Reported New AIDS Cases: 18
Average Number of Reported New HIV Cases : 27
Number of Reported Chlamydia Cases: 227
Number of Reported Gonorrhea Cases: 46
I happen to think these numbers are horrific!  And let me tell you, for what we Floridians pay for Sex-Ed it should be a heck of a lot better!  But guess what, America?  You all chip in an average of $4 to FL for every $1 we spend on our Sex-Ed.  So you’re paying for this too!  As this report explains:
Beginning in 1981 under the Reagan administration, the federal government increasingly put its support and money behind abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Today, there are threeseparate funding streams supporting these programs, including the Adolescent Family Life Act(AFLA), the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program, and Community-Based AbstinenceEducation (CBAE) funding.
Currently about 1/2 of the states have figured out that this crap fails kids and have actually chosen not to take any of this money and instead fund medically accurate and comprehensive Sexual Health Education.  An estimated 80% of these states that backed out cited well researched evidence as their reason and have come from a broad spectrum of the country.
Florida, meanwhile, is actually putting in more state money than the federal government requires!  We are second only to Texas in dollars taken in from these 3 programs, as well as state funded contributions.
Since 2003 Florida has spent over $15 million in this abstinence only education programs.  In 2009 alone, the rest of you sent us $13 Million to fund this! Thanks America!
All this money is going to 33 entities in the state:
  • one private school,
  • three crisis pregnancy centers (a little late, eh?)
  • five community health clinics or departments, and
  • 24 community-based organizations (including 16 faith-based groups.)
Meanwhile Florida currently has no statewide standards for teaching sex education. A recent University of Florida study identified the following inadequacies in sex education in Florida:
  • Sex education is rarely afforded an effective amount of time.
  • It occurs too late in students’ academic careers (usually in 9th or 10th grade).
  • There is little uniformity or standards (in terms of training or quality assurance).
  • Sex education is not accessible to all students (especially Latinos).
  • It fails to adequately address students’ needs.

The net effect is a sort of sex-ed by proxy.  Again, from the report:

Though no school systems are direct recipients of federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, it is not surprising that these programs have worked their ways into public schools in theform of speakers, courses, curricula, student clubs, and after-school programs. Such services are undoubtedly very appealing, as the federal money allows grantees to provide them free of charge.

Well, the results must be great then right?  I mean, this Red State of Small Government – Control Spending politicians wouldn’t keep investing in it otherwise would they?
Sadly, the results are not good.  Our young people are as sexually active as anywhere else, but we have more teen pregnancies  and more sexually transmitted diseases.

In my next post I will discuss what Florida, and the rest of the 1/2 of America that participates in this fraud, can do about it.

Bristol Palin vs Lady Gaga

May 20, 2010

Warning: most of this article is opinion.  My opinion.  Take it for what its worth.

Bristol Palin has been offered a very lucrative deal as a public speaker, raking in $15-30K per speaking engagement to talk about teen pregnancy!  Am I the only one who thinks this is nuts?  Surely we can find a better role model for today’s young women!  I know!  Lady Gaga!

Enter Bristol Palin. Bristol’s accomplishments in life so far include:

  1. graduating high school,
  2. being the daughter of a vice presidential candidate,
  3. becoming a teen pregnancy statistic,
  4. and enduring a nasty and public custody battle and a broken engagement with the father.
  5. All this before she was old enough to drink!

Uhhh…..did I miss something?  Bristol Palin is not a hero.  She is a statistic. I pass no judgement on her until she becomes willing to walk into my daughter’s school as a paid speaker and talk values / life skills.  Her choice to earn money this way is an insult to the professionals out there actually trying to reduce teen pregnancy and help teen girls become successful women.

Enter Lady Gaga. A truly controversial public figure, her videos are risqué, she is openly bisexual, and she’s now accused of hindering the Mideast Peace Process! What better contrast could we possibly get?

  1. Lady Gaga started piano at age 4, wrote her first ballad at 13, and started performing open mikes at 14.  At 17, she was accepted into NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
  2. When Lady Gaga felt she outgrew the school, she left.  She made a deal with her parents to go on her own for a year or go back to school. In her words: “I left my entire family, got the cheapest apartment I could find, and ate shit until somebody would listen.” (as a small business owner I respect that)
  3. Lady Gaga is successful!  Her music has topped charts around the world. She accomplished what she set out to do!
  4. Lady Gaga is living openly with her sexuality, is comfortable in her own skin, and is a confident woman in the world.
  5. Most of what she has, she earned herself.  And she has been generous and charitable to others in need.
  6. To be fair, Lady Gaga has allegedly had a drug problem, something I could not endorse or overlook. But then, Lady Gaga isn’t taking in money speaking to kids about her drug use.  She isn’t being rewarded for hypocrisy.

So who’s the better role model?  The teen statistic that is getting paid ridiculous money to say she’s sorry?  Or the current symbol of America’s lost soul?  Lady Gaga’s story is mostly a success story of a self-made person.  Bristol Palin’s is not.

Let me be clear:  I’m not elevating Lady Gaga up as a symbol for all girls to emulate.  I’m calling out a hypocrite where I see one: Bristol Palin.

As a Daddy, I have to.

Iowa First Lady on S-E-X (shhh its a dirty word) talk tour!

March 10, 2010

” If you’re not willing to talk about it [sex] in a public place, it’s like a sin of omission.”

This is the message of Iowa’s First Lady Christie Vilsack, who is also Executive director of the Iowa Initiative, an education initiative that aims to get teens talking frankly about sex and family planning.

Vilsack claims up to 50% of pregnancies in women 18-30 were unplanned, and that teen pregnancies not only affect taxpayers but parents and grandparents as well, making this a social problem. Vilsack is traveling the state to “open dialogue and make this a mainstream, main street conversation.”

It seems a no brainer that comprehensive conversations about sex, dating, relationships and family planning are required to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.  And yet we live in a country where the Iowa Initiative, and First Lady Vilsack’s efforts, are needed.  We need more public figures and people in government getting on board!

article here

Sleepovers and Sunday Mornings

January 31, 2010

What is considered good manners if your kid is sleeping over a friends house on a Saturday night and they invite him or her along to church in the morning?  I suppose there are several ways to go about this, but most of the time I let my kids decide.

If you happen to be a Baptist or a Catholic or an Atheist or any other -ic, -ist, or -ism, you may feel worried that your child may be “exposed” to some poisonous untruth that will either fill them with the fear of Hell or send them there.   I don’t.

First of all, if my kid is sleeping over somewhere, I already know the parents well enough to assess whether or not they are generally responsible adults around children, and I have a pretty good idea if they are fundamentalist in their beliefs.  I know enough about the different christian denominations to have a decent idea of what they will see or hear.

So for me, I think it is a good way to allow my kids to see a different part of their friends lives, and to provide talking moments after.  My hope for my children is that when they are older, they have enough information to make a sound decision, based on evidence and critical thinking, not indoctrination (by me or anyone else).

I also think it is important to understand that I have had my whole life to come to the conclusions I have made, but my 8 year old hasn’t.  For me to tell him that my way is right because I said so is no better than the fundamentalist preacher that thinks shouting makes it true.

By the way, my son did sleep over a friends house and was invited to church and happily explained that he doesn’t like church so no thank you, so I came and got him early Sunday morning.

Stargazing with Kids

November 23, 2009

Kids and astronomy seem like a perfect match and, in many ways they are!  With a little planning and knowledge, you can have a lot of fun with your kids, and inspire a natural curiosity in them they didn’t know they had!  On the other hand, poor planning can turn a kid off quickly, so it’s important that you start out on the right foot.

Let’s start with the night sky.

Pick an observing spot close to home, in fact your own home is best unless you live in a light saturated area.  Convenience matters.  Also consider child safety and nearby restroom access if you’re away from home.  You may have to trade perfect dark skies for a nearby “potty” but you’ll be glad you did.

Start off by using a good map of the night sky or a planisphere.  You can get a lot of good stuff from including a free monthly downloadable map!  Go outside and lay on a blanket with your map and a red light, and learn your constellations!  Its much easier than you think!  I can’t recommend this essential first step enough – and while you’re at it, you should go to the library and get a few books on constellations and the mythological stories behind them.

Kids eat the stories up!  For example, many of the circumpolar constellations are characters in the same story – and since they are out all year, they quickly become old friends to your kids!  They can look up any night and see Queen Cassiopia, or King Cephius!  Maybe they will see the Hero Perseus and him and Andromeda fair well as they fly away on Pegasus after his daring rescue!  Its a scene that plays out every night in the sky, if you only know where to look!

On laser pointers

You may want to invest in a good laser pointer to help teach your kids the sky.  Green laser pointers, commonly in the 532nm wavelength, can be found for as little as $50 dollars and can be very helpful.  Green Laser PointerWARNING- know your local laws and Don’t Be Stupid –  or you will go to jail! The number of lasers on aircraft incidents is going up to much that we may soon need a license to buy one!  So be safe!

Buying binoculars

Personally, I like binoculars.  They offer ease of use, wide field of view, and they are small and portable.  Many experienced astronomers swear by them, and they offer a lot of advantages over telescopes.  For the casual observer, binoculars are the superior choice.

Celestron Skymaster 15x70

They are everything that a telescope is not…relatively cheap, light, easy use. And because they are so easy to use, you will end up using them much more often than you would a cumbersome telescope. That aspect of binoculars alone will make them show you much more than a telescope ever would.  A decent 7×35 or 10×50 pair can be found on craigslist for under $50.

Buying  a Telescope

If you really want a telescope, my advice is do not buy a telescope on your own! Don’t buy anything you see at Wal-Mart, Target, Toy R Us or any other retailer either.  If you are serious about getting a telescope, find an expert first.  They can help you buy a decent scope, and often know of a good scope up for sale.  Even if you are only in this for the kids, you should consider joining a local astronomy club.  The SW Florida Astronomical Society, of which I am a member, only charges $20 a year to join, and along with access to knowledgeable people eager to teach, they offer loaner telescopes for up to 2 weeks at a time!

There are different types of telescopes and my personal opinion on telescopes is, equatorial tripods and kids don’t mix.  They are cumbersome, slow down the process, and if you can’t jump in and sight in on an object, your gonna lose the kids’ interest.  Yet another reason to stick with binoculars for a while.

A good dobsonian telescope is a very good place to start. They are point and shoot, a little hefty and durable so they don’t shake every time you breathe near it, and they are easy for kids to use.

Nice, new, shiny Dobsonian

These are not cheap, mind you, but dollar for dollar, a you will get more out of a turret- style reflector than a tripod mounted retractor.  Best of all, you don’t have to buy these brand new!  Many astronomical societies sell off their loaners after a while, and you can find deals if you look.

Its important to remember that you’re dealing with kids, and kids bore easily, so you need  beginner friendly, easy to use optics, and a plan.  Know what you want to see, what the weather will be like and how long you have before you lose the crowd.  As they get more interested, they can start the planning with you.

My 8" f/6 Dob, bought from the Everglades Astronomical Society for much less than a new scope

Other useful tools

There are some great, open source software programs available that your kids will love and you can use as a planning and educational tool!  Stellarium is a great free planetarium program that you can use to teach a class, teach a kid, or plan for a night of viewing.  Want to know what the sky will look like in South Carolina on Thanksgiving night while you visit some family?  Or just tonight?  Not only will stellarium tell you that, but you can set it for real time and run it in night mode and take it with you.  There’s even a lightweight portable app version that I run off of my cell phone and hook up to the school laptop and projector during astronomy club classes.  Advanced users can add in their own deep sky objects and many other custom items!  Definitely worth checking out!

Celestia is a 3D version of the universe with many user addons and customizations.  Ever wanted to travel the solar system?  How would you like to orbit one of Mars’ moons and observe the Earth?  Maybe travel to Sirius, one of the brightest stars in the sky?  Celestia makes it easy!  Best of all, if you are online, you can click on any object in the sky and ask for information, and you will be taken to a webpage about that item!  There is also a portable version that I keep on my cellphone and can run on any computer, just like Stellarium!  With great rendering, an easy UI and all the extras you could want, this is the best video game I could recommend!

Final thoughts:

Keep it simple, don’t complicate things.  Learn the constellations together.  Go out before bed, and every now and then go out before the sun comes up.  Learn those constellations too.  If that much in itself takes hold in your kids, then join an established club, and they’ll give you all the advice and guidance you need.

Good luck, and if you find yourself one night, standing in the front yard in your pajamas, kids next to you, freezing and barefoot, just trying to get one last look at some such thing in the sky, just know that I’m out there too!

Families Enjoy Night Sky at Galilean Nights

October 29, 2009

About 70 Families were treated to a host of Galilean Nights activities, courtesy of  The NAES Astronomy Club, all centered on celebrating the discoveries of Galileo 400 years ago this Oct 23rd.  With the exception of several great power point presentations on Jupiter and other celestial bodies, all activities were hands on- just the way we like them!

Families were given the chance to win a drawing for a free Galileoscope (provided by Skeptikids of SW Florida) by completing several “stations” such as the Jupiter Presentation, several hands on challenges like guessing the scale of the solar system, coloring pages for the younger kids, and finally, making an official observation of Jupiter and the Moon through a small 20mm telescope, sketching and recording the data, just like Galileo!

Finally, everyone was treated to a nice view of Jupiter, the Moon and several Deep Sky Objects, thanks to the SW Florida Astronomical Society! Some other treats included a group presentation of the constellations and all the wonderful myths and stories that they tell, and a “walking tour of the solar system” – a 10 football field long hike around the school property, where kids and adults got to place all the planets at scale distance and size from each other!

The event was a great success!  Many kids – and adults – expressed their thanks for being exposed to the wonders of the night sky!  A winner was drawn for the Galileoscope and the night came to an end, but the whole event was best described by 5 year old Destiny:

“This is so much fun I could do this Every Day!”

Special thanks to the Punta Gorda Middle School Honors Student volunteers, the SWF Astronomical Society, the Bishop Planetarium, The Skeptikids, and the teacher and parent volunteers that made the evening such a success!

Nature Center/Planetarium Review by 10yr old Kayla B.

October 20, 2009

Where Every Day is Earth Day!

"Where Every Day is Earth Day!"

Jason B was slotted to review a recent museum or education center that we have visited.  To put a little spin on things, he decided to give his 10 year old daughter Kayla the assignment instead.

We visited the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium in Fort Myers, FL last weekend:.  Kayla interviewed her brothers and her Mom, and then interviewed herself.

Without further adieu:

Hi!  I’m Kayla B.  Recently my family and I went to a great nature center and planetarium.  We have gone to a lot of nature centers and environmental centers before, but we have never been to a planetarium, and also we saw some new wildlife that we have never seen before!

Bob the Bobcat!

Bob the Bobcat!

I liked the planetarium because it was cool to see all the stars, but the animals were the best.  We were there in time to see the mammals get fed, and we also went through a creepy “insectarium!”  We saw alligators – nothing new about that in SW Florida – but these were really BIG!  Also, we went through a screened in butterfly garden and they come right up on you!  We saw foxes, raccoons, wild boar, opossums, and a bobcat get fed, and we got to pet a lot of them.

In the planetarium, you can’t leave once the show starts because you will let in light and ruin the show for everyone.  So make sure you go to the bathroom BEFORE you sit down for the show.

Butterfly Aviary

Butterfly Aviary

My dad was exited that the voice during the show was someone named Janeway from Star Trek.  We learned about the solar system, and we had to look up to see the show.  It was pretty cool.

My Dad bought a membership there so we can go back again all we want this year.  Here is my interview from of my little brothers and my mom:

What was your favorite part?

Kayla: My favorite part had to be when they fed the mammals. The wild boar was the best because it’s a wild animal and I got to pet it.

Joey: My favorite part was seeing the alligators, they were huge!

Anthony: My favorite part was the star show in the planetarium.

Mommy: My favorite part was feeding the mammals, I like the bobcat the best because they are all around us but very good at hiding away.

What was one new thing you learned?

Kayla: I learned that boars can chew through a small tree in a matter of minutes with their razor sharp teeth.

Joey: I learned that the pigs were not rare and they are all over Florida.

Anthony : I learned that if the wild boar brushes your leg with his tusk, he’ll cut you bad.

Mommy: I learned that in captivity, bobcats and opossums can live twice as long as in the wild.

Would you reccommend this center to a friend?

Kayla: Yes, but only the nature part with the animals.

Joey: Yes, I would tell them to see everything.

Anthony: Yes, I would tell him to go see the planetarium.

Mommy: Yes, the nature center and the planetarium were both worth seeing.

Would I go back?

Kayla: Yes, especially for the animals!

Joey: Yes, I would like to see all the animals again!

Anthony: No, I would not unless they had a star viewing outside at night.

Mommy: Yes, I’d like to see a different show at the Planetarium

Kayla and Jason B, Longboat Key FL

Kayla and Jason B, Longboat Key FL

(Kayla B is currently a 5th grade student, a member of her schools Intermediate Chess Club, Mini-Model UN, and Astronomy Club.  She enjoys softball, football and playing with friends.  Last year, Kayla was one of the few 4th grade students to place in the regional science fair.  In the future, Kayla plans to get a degree in education and teach 3rd Grade.)

From the Parents of Preschoolers

October 12, 2009

Many parents of pre-schoolers have contacted me and said something like, “boy, I like the whole kids group / Skeptikids idea, and I would love to start a group here, but my kids are too young.  What would you do?”

Here’s what most of you tell me you are already doing.  I think it bears repeating here, I’ll sprinkle in a few of mine too:

  • Read to them often, get them to read to you often.  Put a reading list of books you want to get on the refrigerator and keep it updated.
  • Get a library card and go once a week.  Teach your preschooler how to find books that interest them by looking them up or asking a librarian.
  • Go to museums, local art and science displays, state parks and environmental centers, etc.
  • Limit “screen time” and encourage more “abstract time” – by that I mean legos, reading, clay, drawing, etc.
  • Teach them how to “cook” appropriately for their age.
  • Give them the opportunities to solve problems:  let them help plan the grocery list, pack a small bag for the car ride to Gramma’s house… based on their age and understanding, let them sort out solutions.
  • Buy as big a white board you can and put it at kid level.  It will be used for everything!

These are some of the better ideas some of you have brought up.  Above all else, be present.  Be available.


Kids Group Part 3: Getting involved in the schools

October 11, 2009

Sorry for the delay, but life has a way sometimes of getting in the way of your bigger plans.   A while back I posted about our group, Skeptikids, and have also posted about finding kids and developing a program.  Let me summarize those two for a moment:  If you want to start a kids group that promotes science and critical thinking in your community, do NOT limit it to other skeptics, appeal to the general public!  They’re more receptive than you think.  Also, the key to a good program is to be well rounded, flexible, and share time commitments evenly so no one burns out.  Ok, moving on:

Getting involved with local schools is probably the easiest element of this, and yet it seems to be the most intimidating, based on the emails and phone calls I get.

If you have kids, the simplest thing to do is simply get more involved at the school.  If you can volunteer once or twice a month in your kids’ class, you will have the teacher’s ear anytime you need it.  Likewise, you should get involved with local PTO / SAC committees.  Get to know people.  When you are on a first name basis with your teacher and the principal and are known as a resource to the school, you will find many doors open up for you.

Another possibility is to have your local skeptic group sponsor a club that a teacher or other parent runs.  You can provide help with activities, maybe come in and do some demonstrations or magic tricks, help on field trips, but let someone already in the school sort out the administrative details associated with the school.

You will most likely have to get a background check, but the school usually handles that.

Finally, the most bare bones way to “get into the schools” is to simply call the principal or vice principal, explain what you are doing, and ask them to distribute your flyers.  They do it all the time for every kids group or special event there is!

Getting into the schools is easy.  Coming up with two or three monthly activities, spread out over the weeks and among the adults, is easy.  Finding interested kids is easy.  The only hard part is doing it!


Kids Groups Lesson 2: Planning a Program

September 26, 2009

My first post on this topic dealt with just finding kids to start a group with.  You wouldn’t think this is a problem, but it is.  Now I’d like to discuss the planning a program for your group.

What exactly do you do with a skeptical kids group anyway?  Kids don’t like to sit around and be spoken at, the way we happily do at cons and pubs…  my opinion is, you have to get their hands dirty.  But even then, you can quickly burn out on ghosts, monsters and aliens.  You can’t expect them to sit and listen to a 45 minute presentation on the claims of some psychic.  Teens maybe but not younger ones.

You have to decide on your age groups.  Skeptikids breaks into two groups, 3-5 and 6-8.  The younger group does a lot of hands on science, and the older group looks into crazy claims and paranormal stuff while mentoring the younger groups.  My advice is, start out at the age range of your own kids.

(As a side note, we do have plans for, which will move into the realm of public policy, product claims and the elements of argument, much like a debate team or model UN.)

As a father of four and all the time commitments that go with that, I can’t possibly run my group by myself.  So we have 3-4 planned and scheduled activities, and we have different adults committed to these things.  A great way to provide weekly or bi-weekly activities without adult burnout is to spread the workload.  If you only have to commit to one activity a month, it’s a lot easier to do.

Some things to consider:

  • Astronomy Club / Galaxy Zoo / Citizen Sky / AAVSO
  • Project Squirrel
  • Environmental Centers and hands on science
  • Make Videos

For the older kids:

  • Field trips and interviews with a local ghost hunting or UFO hunting group
  • Build your own crop circles
  • Mentoring younger kids
  • Magic night (one night a month learn a new trick)
  • Video production

On video production:

This is where you can give a class on a subject that they would never willingly sit down and watch.  Instead, help them write, film and edit a video exposing UFOs, or demonstrating some quirky thing about human nature or science.  You develop the idea and experiment, they act it out.  Kids are absolutely narcissistic, so this ALWAYS works.

The key is to get a schedule, commit to it, and get help.  The fastest way to do this is to reach out to the general public, unless there is a thriving skeptic group in your area already.

Next post on this will be on getting into the schools!