In the March 16, 2013 edition of the NY Times, Richard Reeves commends the city of New York’s newest effort to combat teen pregnancy: shame. Quoting directly from Reeve’s opening paragraph: ” New York is deploying a powerful weapon to reduce teen pregnancy: shame. New advertisements around the city dramatize the truncated life chances of children born to teenagers; in one, tear-stained toddler stares out declaring: ” I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” In the rest of the article Reeves attempts to justify this shame-based effort.
In my 30+ years teaching teenagers, I never found shaming students to be effective. In my 20+ years of teaching teenagers with learning disabilities, I found the most effective strategy was to actually teach struggling readers to read.
It is unfortunate that relevant research is being ignored in NY. All one has to do is search literacy and teen pregnancy to find the real solution. In one remarkable study in Pennsylvania clearly shows that improving teen literacy helps prevent pregnancy. In a six year study done at the University of Pennsylvania followed 12,339 seventh grade girls in the public school system in Philadelphia. Researcher Dr Rosemary Frasso found an inverse relationship between reading skills and the risk of teen pregnancy. The research looked at the girls’ reading tests scores and found that 21 percent of the girls who scored below average gave birth as teens compared to 12 percent and 5 percent of those with average and above average scores, respectively. Girls with below average reading scores were 2.5 more times likely to get pregnant. Dr Frasso gives this explanation; “It is quite possible that adolescent girls who experience a daily sense of rejection in the classroom might feel as though they have little chance of achievement later on in life. These findings underscore the role of literacy as its own social risk factor throughout the life-course.”
Rather than attempting to shame their at-risk teen population New York politicians would be better to screen all their grade 2 students for reading difficulties, and provide effective reading programs to ensure all students are fluent readers at the end of grade 3.