Mamas in the Classroom
Sixteen and pregnant, but with a GPS for a new direction.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

A critic of the idea told the New York Post, “I don’t think that we should be creating schools that segregate young women or men based on their parenting status.” But it’s precisely when we treat teen pregnancy as just another lifestyle choice that we’ve surrendered. There is a new life, and they have new responsibilities now. And, frankly, there’s a little healthy stigma that comes from behavior- and needs-based separation, too — not to make a new parent feel bad when already overwhelmed, but so she might get or stay serious and former classmates might pay attention: Pregnancy sure does change things. Her life became a lot more work; he sure had to grow up fast.

And there is precedent for the model, as Virginia Walden Ford, a preeminent advocate for school choice, points out. “Though I am saddened by the rise of pregnancy among young girls of color, I have actually seen such a school work in ensuring these young women complete their high-school education. One of the first public schools for parenting teens was started in Detroit, Michigan, many years ago, and the principal is a dear friend who has seen wonderful responses from these students. One of the things she has shared with me is that having a chance to go to this kind of high school often prevents a second pregnancy.”

This is all certainly a matter for continuing discussion and study (and New Directions is nowhere near a reality yet; its proposal is being tweaked and resubmitted next January): How to make sure the least of our younger sisters and brothers have the support they need when they find themselves in a difficult situation, without encouraging the behavior that got them into the situation in the first place? In New York, a city with a shockingly high (New Yorkers agree) 41 percent abortion rate — higher in Brooklyn and higher among blacks and Hispanics — it is crucial for young women and girls to know that if they wind up pregnant, they don’t have to end that child’s life. There is adoption. And there is help. Good Counsel Homes has been working to make this real and known, as have the Sisters of Life.

But a conversation about kids who have kids, and about helping this population, cannot be had without talking about abstinence. And just as truly helping a teen mother involves more than day care and the directions to a government-assistance office, abstinence involves much more than simply saying “no” to premarital sex, which is why programs like Best Friends and Healthy Respect work. Successful abstinence education is really character education and, practically, involves being constructively busy with things other than attracting the attention of the opposite sex. Contrary to conventional derision, abstinence education is not all about sex. Which, of course, is precisely its message in practice. It’s about giving students more to aim for than what they may see around them. It’s knowing that life and love can and should be about self- and mutual respect, about dignity, and about responsibility.

And for those who already have a new responsibility, they certainly owe it to the new life in theirs. It’s about making sure they know that teen pregnancy is not a ticket to a lifelong ride on the government assistance. That’s at the heart of the goal of New Directions. And it’s not a bad direction.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.


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