A McCain campaign ad claims Obama's "one accomplishment" was a bill to teach sex ed to kindergarten kids. Don't
A McCain-Palin campaign ad claims Obama's "one accomplishment" in the area of education
was"legislation to teach 'comprehensive sex education' to kindergarteners." But the claim is
simply false, and it dates back to Alan Keyes' failed race against Obama for an open Senate seat in 2004.
Obama, contrary to the ad's insinuation, does not support explicit sex education for kindergarteners. And
the bill, which would have allowed only "age appropriate" material and a no-questions-asked opt-out
policy for parents, was not his accomplishment to claim in any case, since he was not even a cosponsor - and the
bill never left the state Senate.
In addition, the ad quotes unflattering assessments of the Illinois senator's record on education but leaves out sometimes equally
harsh criticism directed at McCain in the same forums.
The ad is called "Education" and has received a good bit of free airtime, having been run repeatedly on cable
news networks. It pairs pictures of kindergarten children with Obama looking confused.
A Factual Failure
McCain-Palin 2008 Ad: "Education"
Announcer: Education Week says Obama "hasn't made a significant mark on
education." That he's "elusive" on accountability. "A staunch defender of the existing public school
monopoly." Obama's one accomplishment? Legislation to teach "comprehensive sex education" to kindergarteners.
Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.
John McCain: I'm John McCain and I approved this message.
The ad claims "Obama's one accomplishment" in the
realm of education was "legislation to teach 'comprehensive sex education' to kindergarteners."
It's true that the phrase "comprehensive sex education" appeared in the bill, but little else in McCain's claim is
accurate. The ad refers to a bill
Obama supported in the Illinois state Senate to update the sex education curriculum and make it "medically accurate." It would
have lowered the age at which students would begin what the bill termed "comprehensive sex education" to include kindergarten.
But it mandated the instruction be "age-appropriate" for kindergarteners when addressing topics such as sexually transmitted
diseases. The bill also would have granted parents the opportunity to remove their children from the class without question:
SB 99: However, no pupil shall be required to take or participate in any family life class or course on HIV
AIDS or family life instruction if his parent or guardian submits written objection thereto, and refusal to take or
participate in such course or program shall not be reason for suspension or expulsion of such pupil.
The bill also called for all sex education course materials to include
information that would help students recognize, among other activities, inappropriate touching, sexual assault and rape:
SB99: Course material and instruction shall discuss and provide
for the development of positive communication skills to maintain healthy relationships and avoid unwanted sexual activity. ... Course
material and instruction shall teach pupils ... how to say no to unwanted sexual advances ... and shall include information about
verbal, physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical
sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance. The course material and instruction shall contain methods of preventing sexual assault by
an acquaintance, including exercising good judgment and avoiding behavior that impairs one's judgment.
The bill passed in the Health and Human Services Committee with Democrats, including Obama,
voting along party lines in support of it. But the measure promptly stalled and died in the full Senate, and no action has been taken on
it since late 2005.
Obama is often quoted as saying that when it
comes to sex education in public schools, "it's the right thing to do ... to provide age-appropriate sex education,
science-based sex education in schools," placing an emphasis on the word "appropriate." But Obama has also said he does
not support, "explicit sex education to children in kindergarten."
In a debate with Republican Alan Keyes, against whom Obama was
running for an open seat in the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama made it clear that at least one reason he supported the bill was that it would
help teach young kids to recognize inappropriate behavior and pedophiles:
Keyes, Oct. 21, 2004: Well, I had noticed that, in your voting,
you had voted, at one point, that sex education should begin in kindergarten, and you justified it by saying that it would be
"age-appropriate" sex education. [It] made me wonder just exactly what you think is "age-appropriate."
Obama: We have a existing law that mandates sex education in the
schools. We want to make sure that it's medically accurate and age-appropriate. Now, I'll give you an example, because I have a
six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter, and one of the things my wife and I talked to our daughter about is the
possibility of somebody touching them inappropriately, and what that might mean. And that was included specifically in the law, so that
kindergarteners are able to exercise some possible protection against abuse, because I have family members as well as friends who
suffered abuse at that age. So, that's the kind of stuff that I was talking about in that piece of legislation.
Besides the Obama-Keyes race, this allegation also surfaced during this year's party
primaries when Mitt Romney claimed Obama
supported sex education for five-year-olds. (Obama misleadingly fired back that Romney supported the same policy.)
His Only Accomplishment?
The ad claims the bill was Obama's "one accomplishment." This is doubly false. Obama was
neither a cosponsor nor a sponsor of the sex education bill, which never got past "go" in the Senate. So it was not an
"accomplishment" at all. Furthermore, Obama can properly claim a number of real accomplishments.
He was a
cosponsor of what became the Chicago Education
Reform Act of 2003, which allowed for an increase in the number of Chicago charter schools and required the Chicago Board of
Education to enter into a formal partnership with the Chicago Teachers Union to "advance the Chicago Public Schools to the next
level of education reform." He was also a
cosponsor of a bipartisan bill to help Illinois high school graduates be eligible for in-state college tuition rates even if they
weren't U.S. citizens.
On the federal level, Obama sponsored three amendments to The America COMPETES Act, which became law in 2007. All three
amendments were passed in the Senate by unanimous consent and became law. One amendment proposed language that would create a
mentoring program for women and minority groups during their studies in Department of Energy programs. He also proposed language to
support summer learning programs and boost their math curricula. And he put forward a requirement that women and minorities be
represented in the President's Science and Technology Summit. Whether or not one considers any of these measures earth-shaking,
they're accomplishments nonetheless
The ad also features three cherry-picked quotes from the media, highlighting negative comments about
Obama's record and ignoring those directed at McCain. The announcer quotes Education Week contributing blogger David
Hoff, saying, "Education Week says Obama 'hasn't made a significant mark on education.' " The quote
is accurate. But the ad leaves
out a quote Hoff gathered from Arizona's Casa Grande Elementary School Superintendent Frank Davidson:
Davidson (via Education Week): I don't think
[McCain] has a strong track record of putting education at the top of his priorities.
McCain had used the information about Obama before, and in response, blogger Hoff
encouraged readers of the magazine's election blog to "Read the Obama story and the McCain story and you can decide who has a better track record
on K-12 issues." We agree, you should.
The ad then quotes a July 7 editorial from The Washington
Post, which said "that he's 'elusive' on accountability." Those words did appear in The
Post's July 7 editorial. At the time, McCain had no education plan to critique, but later, in August, The Postrevisited both candidates'
proposals and said McCain's was "both late in coming and
still a work in progress." It also said "of the two, Mr. Obama has given the
issue more attention."
The last quote used in McCain's ad is attributed to the Chicago Tribune and
says that Obama is "a 'staunch defender of the existing public school monopoly.' " This is actually from a piece by Steve Chapman, former associate editor
of The New Republic and contributing writer to Slate and the conservative publications The Weekly Standard
and The National Review. The piece isn't a Chicago Tribune editorial at all, though it's made to appear
that way in the ad. And Chapman, none too pleased about how his opinion piece was featured in the ad, responded in a Sept. 10
Tribuneblog entry with this:
Chapman: ... the ad itself doesn't bother
explaining how the candidates differ on school vouchers, the subject of my column. Instead, it insults our intelligence by
expecting us to believe that Obama thinks kindergarteners should be taught how to use condoms before they're taught to
read. Right. And Joe Biden eats puppies for breakfast.
We couldn't have said it better, Mr. Chapman.
-by Emi Kolawole
Update, Sept. 18: Some readers have written to us objecting to this article while citing another story on the ad published in the
National Review. Please see our post on The FactCheck
Wire for our response.
Krol, Eric. "Obama clarifies sex ed views at Benedictine," Chicago Daily Herald. 6 Oct. 2004.