The following three questions may fit into a category perhaps best described as a relevant community issue:
1. Taking into account the fact that feelings associated with human sexuality begin almost at birth, at what age does society believe it's OK for people to start having sex?
2. At what age does society consider it permissible for people to begin consuming alcohol, given the fact that anyone with a television set is already thoroughly acquainted with the many alleged joys and benefits of alcohol consumption from even well before the time they have learned to read and write?
3. And, finally, how old does society think people should be before they start smoking marijuana, sniffing glue, dropping acid, snorting cocaine, injecting heroin, taking Ecstasy, or getting a rush while practicing either asphyxiation on themselves or strangulation on a close personal friend?
Obviously, the above questions are at least potentially related, if not entirely interwoven, given their increasingly common linkage to something called human relationships.
Not many days ago, the "experts" and a "blue ribbon panel" were hurriedly summoned into town by our elected public officials in order to provide enlightenment and guidance as we, the hapless citizenry, began attempting to deal with our teen pregnancy "crisis" here in Gloucester. The real "crisis" exists in the larger adult world; the problems confronting most kids today being but a consequence of all that's wrong with their elders and the "culture" they've passed down to their offspring.
Anyway, four months earlier this newspaper had called the number of pregnant local 15-and 16-year-olds (18) an alarming "spike" in what previously had been about four pregnancies a year. It was not until the term "pact" found its way into the all-downhill scenario, however, that local officials began scrambling to control the damage to their own and the city's suddenly tarnished image. As for the pregnant girls — not to mention the rest of the community's teenage female population, all of whom had seen their virtue called into question, even ridiculed — who really cared? All of which leads back to the above three questions.
Everybody knows that kids have sex, that kids drink, and that kids do drugs. How many and at how early an age? Who can be sure? But here's my guess: the number is significant, and the participants are getting younger every year. But why should that surprise anyone? Such behavior, despite its often tragic consequences, is everywhere around them, and is going on all the time.
That doesn't mean it's all right, or that society's indifferent, blind-eye approach is an acceptable option in dealing with the problem. So, what's the point, you ask? Here's the point. If the "experts" and the "blue ribbon panel" are recommending that condoms be given out confidentially in the high school — you know, because kids are going to have sex anyway — so why not make it "safe" and give them some "protection," why stop there?
Kids drink, too. So why not also dispense alcoholic beverages to the students, and give them a "safe" place to booze it up, such as in the high school field house. Bus rides home could even be provided. Naturally, the same services would be offered to those who prefer non-alcoholic drug highs. That would be only fair.
Never mind the law, or what might be considered right, or even moral. If society recognizes that kids are going to have sex, drink, and do drugs maybe even do all three things simultaneously; hey, this is America! then shouldn't we responsible adults do everything in our power to provide our cherished young with a "safe" environment in which to engage in these particular forms of human activity?
Shouldn't the young be permitted a choice? If the kids want sex, booze, and drugs, shouldn't we grownups be there to lend them a helping hand?
What I'm saying is it's time to end all the hypocrisy. Hand out free condoms to kids at school and you might as well hand out free alcohol and drugs, along with a place for those who want either to have sex or achieve their longed-for state of altered consciousness.
The much debated 18 teen pregnancies this past school year did not result from any lack of condom distribution at Gloucester High School, but rather from a moral meltdown that seems only to have worsened in recent years, afflicting even the "best and brightest" among the adult community. The reality is, many of our young now appear to be acting as canaries in the coal mines of today's increasingly unwholesome, value-neutral society, a condition their elders have done little to change, and one for which their elders and previous generations are now mostly to blame.
There are no easy answers to the simple questions raised at the top of this piece. But how we here on Cape Ann deal with these and other similarly important questions is what will determine the health of our communities for generations to come.
Jim Munn is a writer and track coach at Gloucester High School.