Saturday, January 01, 2005

We're paying $900 million for THIS?

December 02, 2004

We're paying $900 million for THIS?

$900 million of our tax dollars will be spent to encourage people to have less sex, says a report in the Washington Post. But wait, that's not the shocking part of the story! It turns out that federally funded "educational" programs that promote sexual abstinence are spending nearly a billion dollars on programs that give teens truly ridiculous misinformation. The false claims include the assertion that a 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person," and the lie that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus. Thanks to GetReligion for the link.

Since Terry Mattingly's blog is an examination of the treatment of religion in the press, he focuses attention not on the misinformation and lies of the abstinence "education" programs, but on the fairness of the journalism. He says, "I would imagine that the progressives quoted in the Connolly piece would say she treated them fairly, while the conservatives scream bloody murder."

Then as an example of conservatives screaming bloody murder, he cites an angry conservative (who happens to be Maureen Dowd's brother) who complained bitterly: "Last week on the news, I heard that the Montgomery County school board voted to include a class with a 10th-grade girl demonstrating how to put a condom on a cucumber and a study of the homosexual lifestyle. The vote was 6-0. I feel better about the money all the time."
I hadn't heard anything about a 6-0 school board vote for cucumber condoms and a study of the homosexual lifestyle, so I immediately wondered if this was true or simply another example of the agitprop that the religious right is famous for.

The Montgomery County school board decision apparently refers to the events described in this article. True enough, the education program for tenth graders does include information about condom use and homosexuality. However, two facts that the conservative who cried bloody murder conveniently ignored:

(1) "Parents will be required to sign permission slips before their children can take the sexuality component of the mandatory class, and the syllabus will be available for parental review ... About 1 percent of the county's high school students opt out of the sex education component of their health classes, said Dale Fulton, an associate superintendent. Those students are given three alternatives: independent study, a unit that covers only abstinence as a method of birth control or a unit on stress management."

(2) Discussions of homosexuality in the county aren't new. What's new is that students will be given factual information about homosexuality and bisexuality instead of pretending that gays and bisexuals don't exist.

"Historically, we've avoided this issue in not a very educated way," said board Vice President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase). "Homosexuality is part of the world we live in. There's no moral judgment there. But we've been pretending it doesn't exist, sweeping it under the rug, and it's good we're going to address it finally."

Surely Mattingly is correct that once news of the Post article on the misinformation disseminated by abstinence education programs gets out, shrill conservatives will cry bloody murder. But who's listening to their propaganda about educators indoctrinating youth in "the homosexual lifestyle" anyway? Fortunately, not the Montgomery County school board. What defies belief is Mattingly's suggestion that failure to include the opinions of folks like Maureen Dowd's brother in mainstream religion reporting may constitute bias.

Mattingly's commentary is more interesting when he points out that the Post article side-steps a thorny issue. He asks: "How does an institution funded with tax dollars offer sex-education materials that say that sex outside of marriage is just peachy -- or that it is sin, sin, sinful -- without attacking the moral beliefs on one or the other side of this divide?"

Indeed, there is no such thing as value-neutral education. Conservatives clearly want the education issue to be framed as "whose values should we teach?" They think this is the way to make the world safe for hysterical lies such as the claim that half of gay youth have AIDS.
Mattingly frames the issue as a decision as to whether public education should affirm traditional morality or sexual libertinism. But as the Montgomery County program highlights, this may be a false choice.

Presenting medically accurate information about contraception and homosexuality doesn't need to infringe upon the rights of conservative parents and youth. Montgomery County provides an excellent model for how spiritual progressives can frame this sensitive issue.

Spiritual progressives should make it clear that all parents should be given the right to review sex education materials and choose to allow their children not to participate. This shows genuine respect for the religious and moral beliefs of the parents while making it difficult for the question of "whose values do we teach?" from gaining traction.

If Montgomery County is any guide, as many of 99 percent of parents aren't concerned about their children being given medically accurate facts about sex, including information about contraception and acknowledging the existence of homosexuality.

Progressives should frame the question like this: "Shall an institution funded with tax dollars offer sex-education materials that give medically accurate facts, or propaganda and misinformation disguised as science?"

Original Posted by Joe Perez on December 2, 2004 at 06:19 PM in Education Permalink Comments (6) TrackBack

Posted by Kay R


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