Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Unfortunately, Us versus Them

[Note: I apologize for the length of this. Sometimes there are just things that need to be said.]
The Gazette ran a pretty good story this morning, presented in the previous post here, about how the Ex-Recall group redirected a URL very close to ours, to hijack people looking for this site. As we said earlier, the only word to describe that sort of thing is "low."

It is not unusual to buy up competitors' potential domain names, but redirecting them to your own site is on a level with spamming, and pop-up windows that breed more pop-up windows, it's like those web sites that make your CD tray open and close, and tell you you have a virus on your computer. It's a dirty trick, and it doesn't seem appropriate in a debate over a curriculum in the public schools.

The CRC feels competitive with us because unfortunately this site,, did arise as a response to them. Several of us, who at the time didn't know one another, found that we felt similarly about the attempt by the Recall group to make a big deal out of changes to the MCPS sex-education curriculum that were very moderate and long overdue. So we started corresponding, and we put together a little blog, and then a Yahoo email group, and then a real web site, and pretty soon we had about a hundred people officially joining in with us, and lots, lots more signing petitions, writing letters, and carrying the word.

It is unusual to find such enthusiastic support for any decision by a school board or any other official body. Usually people come out to complain, not to say, as we do, that the MCPS Board of Education used good judgment in preparing this curriculum. Truth be told, I know that I myself would not have been motivated to send any letters, to put on a coat and tie and go down and talk to the school board, to sign petitions, if it were not for the presence of the "other" group, the ones that the Gazette writes about this morning, who redirected the URL.

The curriculum has two changes, and the Recall group seems to have two goals. First, the curriculum has a new video, which demonstrates how to put on a condom. Well, the old curriculum had a video, too, this isn't really new, but the change seems to give the Recall folks an opportunity to complain that we shouldn't be teaching kids these things. They want an abstinence-only program, and this is a chance for them to make noise and apply pressure toward that end.

The condom video, though, is a done deal. It's in the schools now, it's been piloted, nobody complained, and it's going to be shown in health classes from now on.

The second thing the Recall group complains about is very much more difficult. They object to teaching students about sexual orientation. If I read them correctly, some of them think people choose to be gay, and they think people should choose not to. The research literature on sexual orientation is pretty much unanimous that people don't choose it. Some people just grow up to find that their preference is for people of their own sex. There's some ongoing research into biological and environmental factors, but basically nobody really knows how it happens: it just happens. Like, some people grow up to have a good sense of humor, or artistic talent, or they're punctual or procrastinators -- there are lots of differences between people, and sexual orientation seems to be one of them.

Others in that group seem to take a somewhat more realistic view. Usually based on religious principles, they believe that homosexual behavior, as compared to orientation -- what you do versus who you are -- should be discouraged. Now, we will agree with them, at least, that sexual behavior itself is a choice. If you find yourself growing up with a same-sex preference, and you belong to a comnmunity that does not permit homosexuality, then you seem to have two choices if you want to remain with that group: choose heterosexual behavior, or choose celibacy. I think the Recall people think both of those choices are OK, and, actually so do we. (Though we would wonder why you'd stay in a community that doesn't approve of you, really.)

You can choose celibacy for yourself, or you can choose to marry someone who is not really attractive to you, if you want. It's your choice. Our objection would be that it is not for members of those communities to say what other people should do. Maybe your church disapproves of homosexual behavior, but mine doesn't, and I am not obligated to live by your principles.

As far as education goes, one question is whether giving some facts about homosexuality amounts to "promoting" homosexual behavior. Telling students that homosexuality is not a disease, not a choice, is consistent with modern scientific views, but does this somehow make it more likely that a child from a repressive community, say a church that disallows homosexuality, is more likely to "try" homosexual behaviors? The empirical research says that sexual experimentation is not more likely following a class that includes some facts about sexual behavior. We can't imagine that a class in high school is going to turn someone gay, but that is the basis of this argument.

We come down to a values issue that is very difficult to resolve. People opposed to sex education object that the school system is imposing on them, they'll even say "discriminating" against them, by teaching tolerance in the schools. That is not an exaggeration, the recent flap over SpongeBob SquarePants was really about the promotion of tolerance. A spokesman for the Family Research Council recently said of the group that produced the SpongeBob video: "Much of what they have is coded language that is regularly used by the pro-homosexual movement such as 'tolerance' and 'diversity.'"

No, we're not making this up. They are opposed to tolerance.

So the difficult question is, is it intolerant to teach tolerance? If people believe that homosexuality is evil, and the schools teach that it is more or less an everyday -- yes, "normal" -- occurrence, then, has the school somehow violated those peoples' rights? Should the schools teach what this group of people, who are thankfully a minority in our county, believe, or is the topic so controversial it can't be mentioned at all, which is what they want?

This is a hard one, maybe a paradox: if tolerance is good, is it right to tolerate intolerance?

I'm afraid the answer has to be no, we cannot tolerate intolerance. There may have been a time when the best knowledge was that homosexuals were possessed by devils or something, but we know better now. Gay people function perfectly well in society, they have the same problems the rest of us have but their homosexuality is not a disease. If some people want to cling to prescientific beliefs, they are free to do that, but if there's a choice to be made in the public schools between ignorance and tolerance, then we must insist on tolerance. And the way things stand now, we will have to fight for it.

OK, we will.

But it kind of takes your breath away when you see them making personal attacks on the committee chairpersons, pure venom, purely ad hominem arguments. These are not attacks on a policy, but on people who participate in our democratic process. It's mind-boggling to see them distort the facts, to try to tell people that things are in the curriculum that aren't. Anybody who can read can go to the sources and see how distorted their reports are. Or sometimes they'll criticize some writing they encountered somewhere that has literally nothing to do with this curriculum, but they don't mention that fact to their readers. There are times you just feel like giving up, it gets so ugly you feel like movin' to the country and leaving it all behind, but you can't. You have to make a stand for common sense.

There are two sides to this issue, and TeachThe represents the side that stands for tolerance and teaching of facts about human sexuality in the public schools. We know we won't win by reasoning with the Recall group, because they are basing their beliefs on faith, not reason. And we don't challenge their faith, which they have the right to hold; we simply challenge whether the tenets of their faith should be imposed on the public. We won't convince those people by reason, but we hope that people who still respect common sense will stand with us in support of something good.


Blogger nancyg said...

JIm, this was a great piece. Very well thought out and written. I have only one comment. That is that there are MANY people of faith, of many different faiths, who stand by the BOE and their good judgement. For many of us, our faith leads us to a very different place than those who spew hate and intolerance. The language of faith and morality does not belong to these people. They only think it does.

March 02, 2005 5:09 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

Yes, and people can teach their own values to their kids- that is also part of what the Recall group say isn't enough- they want MCPS to teach the Recall group's "values" to our kids. They don't want a scientific based teaching of facts- they want MCPS to teach some fringe groups ideas- to support their own intolerance. When you teach history, you don't teach that slavery or the Holocaust was good- some fringe groups believe it but historical research and human decency shows that these were great evils.
NO, we cannot tolerate intolerance. Free speech says these people can say what they want- but tolerance for bigotry and hatred- not in MCPS.

March 02, 2005 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have them all wrong. It looks like to me that you SAY you are all about tolerance, but in fact it is YOUR website that wants shows how intolerant you are of people who don't agree with you.

The recall group (as you insist on calling them) is not saying they want their values taught to everyone in MCPS, they are saying if I understand it correctly, that they feel the sources used and materials used are biased and that if you are going to teach children about certain things, then all facts should be used, not just the ones that support your agenda.

They have been very open and honest about what they find questionable, they are not saying 'abstinance only', or 'faith based' curriculum in the schools. You keep on insisting on mis-representing their concerns.

March 03, 2005 11:09 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

A large citizens committee, including some Recall group members and other representatives of conservative and religious groups, recommended, reviewed, and voted on all the materials for this curriculum. Some members did want some materials in about "ex-gays," a group that is so small it certainly does not merit classroom time; they wanted materials added about AIDS and medical risks of homosexual behaviors, which are covered very thoroughly in the "health" part of the health curriculum; and they wanted to add some materials that suggest that homosexuality is a disease, when every mental health organization agrees that it is not. And they want to add some other kooky stuff that just doesn't belong in the schools. The committee reasonably voted not to include these things.

And to say they would not prefer an abstinence-only curriculum is simply to ignore what they're saying.

March 03, 2005 12:01 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

Yes, I am intolerant of bigotry and false science. Education means teaching what has been shown by many studies, by accepted scientific or medical or historical groups- not what some fringe group or teacher at an obscure college says. If I want to teach my kid revisionist history or fake science- I can but no school system should do the same.

And the Recall group- well I think a group that calls itself RECALL THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY SCHOOL can be called the RECALL Group- would the full name make anon happier?

March 05, 2005 10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They do not advocate the recall of the school board. Why don't you try some honesty and truth mixed in with your 'science', 'facts' and intolerance?

March 06, 2005 3:15 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

As you know, the two groups seem to have had a falling out. One group does advocate overthrowing the board, the other group criticizes the board and complains about them constantly. Of course they say they don't want to recall the board. But I'll betcha they would if they could.

March 06, 2005 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a mighty big assertion there Jim. Seems to me that you have nothing to go on. The CRC says quite plainly that they do not advocate the recall of ANY board member. So why do you keep on insisting otherwise? That seems rather unfair.

March 07, 2005 7:30 AM  
Blogger Isabel Manuela said...

It is true that they have NOW said they don't want to recall the BOE (probably when they figured out that it can not be recalled) however, I would suggest for you to take a trip to the BOE and get all the letters that Recall and Ex-Recall have sent and you will see those intentions clearly stated (specially those of your spokesperson, Mr. Fisher) There is even one that suggests to the members of the BOE to learn the words: "do you want fries with that?".
Honestly, it's kind of hard to move away from something you have so clearly stated before: After reading all my posts on this blog, would you believe I'm, for instance, against the curriculum, or against freedom to marriage? No, you certainly would not believe so...
Therefore, it's hard to believe you are not for recalling the BOE when you give that name to your group (yes, you changed it afterwards, when it backfired) and use a website called: to which you were associated until very recently.
After Fisher called them "Animal Farm" and "lunatics" (and, before you said he didn't, please go to the now closed message board, or to our own archives where we did you the favor of keeping it for future reference.), well, it's just hard to believe you "just want to work with them."

March 07, 2005 10:59 AM  

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