Page 3 of 3
"The thing about accepting a job at a school and having a child at the end of that year is that nobody takes you seriously," Carbone says. "Everybody assumes you're now going to check out. In a way, you almost have to work twice as hard to persuade everybody you're going to be a team player and a contributor."
As difficult as it was for Carbone to balance motherhood and career, she didn't have to face what she calls the "tragedy" of being a teenage parent.
Carbone has begun making public appearances in anticipation of the release of her and Cahn's book, Red Families v. Blue Families. She says she receives the most poignant feedback from women who became pregnant at young ages. "Most of them regret — they generally don't regret the child. They have a sense of loss of what they could have done if they hadn't had the child at 19," Carbone says.
Carbone says she is appalled by the way politicians and religious figures manipulate cultural anxieties. One result is abstinence-only education. Most Americans support comprehensive sex education, polls show. Yet the money has gone to chastity training.
There is evidence that virginity pledgers delay intercourse. But when pledgers give in to temptation, they are less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control. After years of decline, the teen birth rate has begun to creep up, which may not be a coincidence.
Programs like Choosing the Best discuss contraception, but usually in negative terms. At the Clay County Public Health Center, Friedel shows a cartoon of a teenager sitting in a messy bedroom. The caption asks: "Do teens do anything consistently and correctly?" The implication is that today's scattered youth cannot be trusted to use condoms properly.
During a break, a reporter from The Pitch asks Friedel about Choosing the Best's pessimistic view of contraception. His lesson teaches that condoms have a 15 percent rate of failure. To illustrate the danger, Friedel paints a scenario in which a person is lying on the ground underneath another person holding a cinder block. The person on the ground, he says, faces a 1-in-8 chance that the cinder block might drop on his or her head. After spelling out the forbidding odds, Friedel says, "If tomorrow you were to become pregnant, that's a huge change in your life potential."
Carbone agrees that an unexpected pregnancy carries great implications. But Friedel's Russian-roulette scenario makes condoms seem riskier than they are. It's true that between 10 and 15 out of 100 sexually active women who use condoms become pregnant, if the statistic is measured over the course of a year. If the woman in Friedel's example has intercourse twice a week, the cinder block falls on her head — that is, she becomes pregnant — one out of 800 encounters.
Challenged on his math, Friedel concedes that his cinder-block analogy "was probably not a good way to stress the outcome as relevant."
Missouri has received $4.7 million from the federal government to pay for the chastity education that Friedel and others provide. The state's teenagers continue to give birth at a rate exceeding the national average.
Click here to write a letter to the editor.