In opposition of many academic scholars’ opinions, we should not feel that the increase in knowledge and awareness of AIDS in today’s youth will put this generation at a lower risk of contracting the disease. Many of the academic elite on the study of AIDS agree with Uzi Brook’s statement that the “importance of adequate knowledge about AIDS in relation to infection control is evident” (272). However, I disagree with this statement. The younger generation maybe more learned on the subject of AIDS, but they also carry with them a perceived vulnerability about contracting the disease. With seventy to eighty percent of school children having a sufficient amount of knowledge on the subject, many narrow minded adults are lead to believe that these young people apply this knowledge to their everyday lives (Brook 275). The reality, however, is that today’s youth is “experiencing a growth rate of HIV infection” (Crosby 186).
Though the amount of knowledge about AIDS is generally increasing, academic knowledge on the disease is not enough to motivate today’s youth to remain aware of high-risk factors. According to Crosby, ”knowledge alone is not enough to produce a change in outcome; however it is the first step in labeling high-risk behavior” (187). Many of today’s youth view the textbook facts about AIDS as a fantasy or an issue in which they will never have to face. Teens often participate in high-risk activities like drinking and driving or drug abuse because they feel that “bad stuff” only happens to others; similarly, the new generation believes that AIDS remains an issue for social deviants and not young people rebelling against the norm or expressing themselves during their adolescent years. Frequently, adolescents fail to change knowledge into action, “once [this] dissonance appears, it must be accelerated to a threshold that will move the client from thinking to feeling” (Crosby 187). Meaning that young people are more affected and more likely to be aware of risks when they actually witness an AIDS patient dying or suffering, rather than just reading statistics. The visual impact on the mind of a youth is more deeply embedded in the memory than that of numerous statistics and readings on the issue.
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DiClemente and his colleagues conducted a study providing a prime example of such an unrealistic attitude in young people toward the contraction of AIDS or HIV. They tested the attitude toward HIV in sexually active tenth graders in rural and urban areas. Although the rural students had more knowledge of the virus, were increasingly sexually active, and had little to no contact with actual AIDS patients, one hundred percent of them thought of themselves as incapable of contracting the disease. In comparison, inner city students who were sexually active and had less knowledge, but were in contact with the reality of AIDS were more aware of the risks and realism of the virus (“AIDS” 1137). Therefore, interaction with victims of AIDS proves to be more effective than merely academic knowledge, disproving the common belief that “accurate knowledge about AIDS will reduce risk behavior” (Brook 272). In fact of the students formally educated, in a school environment, on the risks of AIDS and how to avoid them – only fifteen percent of them were provoked to change their high-risk activities and further protect themselves.
According to statistics, the United States is doing an excellent job providing students with the facts of the AIDS virus, however these studies fail to report that result of these teachings on students. As Crosby states, “transmitting basic intellectual information is the mode in schools and in health education,” in other words, the schools teach their students just the basics and required information (186). This lackadaisical method of conveying the seriousness of the virus greatly affects the students’ comprehension on the subject. The monotony of continuous lecture and textbook reading creates disinterest and negligence in the students. The ineffectiveness of the education of AIDS is, in part, related to the parents of school-aged children. Parents often want to shelter their children and distort reality to ease the growing-up process. Sheltering, however, allows “adolescents to enjoy living in their personal fairy tales as long as their fairy tales are not challenged by reality” (Crosby 189). When such over-protected adolescents are exposed to temptations such as sexual relations or the offering of drugs, they do not think to apply their academic education to such pleasurable and rebellious circumstances. It is this naivety that allows young people, well educated on the AIDS virus, to unconsciously come into contact with the disease believed to be distant.
For almost twenty years AIDS has plagued the world, the virus has manipulated the population physically and mentally. The panic of the virus’ initial outbreak created a rush for the population to learn as much as possible about the virus. As this knowledge was passed on and taught to the following generation, the reality of the virus was taken for granted and not considered a reality.
Many scholars, however, believe that because the students are excelling at the academic and factual knowledge of AIDS they are learning and living a low risk lifestyle. Unfortunately, the students with the most factual knowledge are not applying this to their everyday lives and are continuing to participate in high risk activities, unlike those that are exposed to the reality of the disease and its victims. Conclusively, proving that the risk of AIDS is just as great, if not greater, today as it was nearly two decades ago, regardless of the increase in general public knowledge of the disease.
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