September 30th, 2008
12:00 PM ET
10 years ago

Fact Check:Obama supports sex education for kindergartners?

The Statement
In a recent interview on CNN's "American Morning," Sen. Joe Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, challenged ads from the campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain, declaring, "They are saying Barack Obama supported sex education for kindergartners when all he said was we're trying to - we should teach our kids how to avoid predators. It's very misleading." Is the ad's sex-education claim true?

Get the facts!

The Facts
In a television ad titled "Education," released on September 10 and posted on McCain's Web site, the narrator says Obama has a weak record on education and that his "one accomplishment" as a state legislator in Illinois was "legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners." The ad
continues: "Learning about sex before learning to read?"

The ad is a reference to a 2003 sex-education-in-schools measure in the Illinois state Senate. Obama was not a sponsor of the bill, but as chairman of a Senate committee he voted in favor of sending it to the full Senate. The full Senate never voted on the bill.

The legislation was an update to existing sex education standards. It called for "medically accurate" and "age and developmentally appropriate" information in classes teaching various aspects of sex education from kindergarten through high school. It did not spell out specific class content. It also said no student could be required to take or participate in sex education classes if parents objected.

One part of the legislation called for teaching children "how to say no to unwanted sexual advances." Obama's campaign has said the passage referred to teaching very young children how to recognize and report inappropriate touching or unwanted advances.

During the 2004 Senate campaign, Republican Alan Keyes tried to use the legislation against Obama, and Obama responded that he was not supporting teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten. According to the Chicago Daily Herald, Obama told a group of college students: "Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it. If they ask a teacher 'Where do babies come from?' - that providing information, that the fact is that it's not a stork, is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case-by-case basis by local communities and local school boards."

The Verdict: True, but incomplete. The 2003 legislation encouraged "age-appropriate" teaching.
Obama, chairman of the committee that advanced it, has said its focus for young children was on protecting them from predators.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Fact Check • John McCain
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