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Aids and Schools - Educating the High-Risk

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Essay title: Aids and Schools - Educating the High-Risk

AIDS and Schools - Educating the High-Risk

The general population of America today is having great difficulty facing a very frightening situation. Unfortunately, rather than seek information which might lessen anxiety about the subject, many people just choose to ignore the problem. Unwillingness to deal with a problem, however, only makes matters worse, and in this case, avoidance often leads to unrestrained disgust and hatred for those members of our society who are directly affected by the problem--our unfortunate citizens who are suffering with AIDS. Other members of our society, on the other hand, want to learn about AIDS, first to overcome their fears and then to replace the general lack of knowledge with understanding. These people realize that a whole generation of Americans is dying from the disease, and they know that those infected with AIDS must be treated as people who are victims of the disease, not as the disease itself. Nevertheless, a major problem exists in educating people about AIDS because, as Donna and Michael Lenaghan report, "controversy and politics surround the content, description, methodology, and strategy for any education initiatives" (17). Still, information exists in abundance, and much has been learned about AIDS since it was first widely reported in 1981. We now know what causes the disease. And, perhaps more importantly, we know how to prevent its spread (Colman 8). AIDS is not easily contracted. As communicable diseases go, AIDS is relatively difficult to catch as it does not easily find its way into the human body. In fact, it is far less contagious than the common cold, measles, or even gonorrhea. When armed with reliable information, a person can almost always avoid the infection. With such knowledge about AIDS available, it is not only important and necessary to share it, but it is also preventative. There is hope that with education will come caution, not the caution of fear, but the caution that knowledge brings. Many have come to realize that "in the absence of a cure or vaccine for AIDS, the most enduring and economical intervention is education" (Lenaghan and Lenaghan 17). It seems obvious, therefore, that effective implementation of AIDS educational programs will stop the spread of the disease among our high-risk groups: children, teenagers, and young women of child-bearing age.

Education for young children is important for two reasons. Knowledge will alleviate their fears in dealing with other children who have AIDS, and it will also prepare them for the behavioral modifications they will be taught as teens. C. Everett Koop, who was the U.S. Surgeon General at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, believed "that sex education should begin as early as the third grade so that youngsters can grow up knowing the behaviors to avoid to protect themselves form the AIDS virus" (qtd. in Cohn). However, Leann Arbuckle, Vice-President of "Other Options," which is an AIDS education and testing organization, believes that the education of children needs to start as early as five years old. In other words, she would like to see AIDS education started when children first enter school. This program, of course, would need to be much more basic than the sex education that Koop would like to have implemented in the third grade. It would need to encompass the simpler concepts of hygiene as well as the fact that children can't "catch" AIDS through casual contact with their classmates. Many strides have been made in this form of AIDS education for young children. Stickers, posters, and even coloring books such as Hey, Do You Know What You Can't Get AIDS From? are available as teaching aids. These educational materials show children that AIDS is not communicable through nonsexual physical contact such as touching a child's hand or from hugging. Teaching about AIDS early and often through these and other educational manipulatives will lead the way for the more extensive teaching and behavior modifications that children will need to receive when they become teens.

Even though education is important for young children, "teenagers are an even more logical and compelling AIDS-prevention-education target (Lenaghan and Lenaghan 18). The average age of most current AIDS patients is between twenty and twenty-nine. When one considers that the incubation time of the disease is six to twelve years, it becomes evident that these victims are most likely exposed in their teen years. Thus, the education of teens regarding how they can get AIDS and the behaviors they need to follow in order to prevent acquiring AIDS needs to be increased.

Many teens are still remarkably naive about AIDS and its transmission. For example, some high school students still believe AIDS can be acquired from swimming pools, tears, and insect bites.

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