SACRAMENTO — U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop told a special session of the California Legislature today that he believes AIDS education should start as early as kindergarten but that he is willing to compromise and start in later elementary grades where necessary.
"If we adults know something that could save the life of a child, then children have a right to that information, and we have the obligation to tell them," Koop said of AIDS education.
"If it makes us uncomfortable, if it is awkward to do, if it appears to conflict with other information we might have, those are problems that we have to resolve in a way that allows us to nevertheless tell our children what they need to know," he added.
Koop cited the controversy over the portion of his AIDS report issued late last year which said education about acquired immune deficiency syndrome "should start in early elementary school."
"Some people were unduly alarmed by that phrase 'early elementary school.' Would that include kindergarten? I'm afraid so," he told the lawmakers.
However, he continued, he recognized that any education program has to take into account local community standards and parental concerns, "and therefore I would be willing today, some four months after publication, to make that single change in that report. That is I would agree, albeit reluctantly, to take out that one word, 'early,' and just let the sentence read, 'Education about AIDS should start in elementary school.' "
Praise for California
Koop did not specifically discuss legislation passed this week by the California Senate mandating AIDS education starting in the seventh grade, but he praised California as one of the leading states in the nation in the fight against AIDS.
Appearing with Koop, Nobel laureate AIDS researcher Dr. David Baltimore told the lawmakers that it is essential that AIDS education not be limited to preaching abstinence but should also tell children about condoms and safe use of drug needles.
"We must admit to ourselves that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is common and that drug abuse occurs," Baltimore said.