Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Conflation Trick

The Ex-Recall blog has a statement which I believe appeared originally in comments to a post here at Vigilance, though I can't find it at the moment. They cleverly cast it in terms of myths and facts:
MYTH - The Teacher Resources listed at the end of the new sex-ed curriculum are not part of the new curriculum.

FACT - The statements in the curriculum have a reference, and those references are listed in the back as 'Teacher Resources'. Just because each reference is not after each statement, like the definitions have, doesn't mean the statements do not come from somewhere (otherwise the Sex-Ed Committee would have just made it all up, right?). For example, the now infamous statement; "Sex play with friends of the same gender is not uncommon during early adolescence", came from one of the Advocates For Youth resources (see #4 on pages 162-163). If one were to ask after each statement made in the curriculum , 'where did this come from?' they would find it in the teacher resources. That is the reference. The Teacher Resources were used to create and support the new curriculum and are therefore, indeed part of the currciulum.

So the argument is that the background resources are part of the curriculum, because that's where the course information came from.

Please see if you can follow me here. This is an important distinction.

You have document A, a pamphlet by some organization defining some vocabulary, say. It has a line (GOODTEXT) in it that the citizens committee likes, and decides to put into the curriculum. It also contains lines (BADTEXT) -- this will be the majority of document A's content -- that the committee decides not to include in the curriculum.

In fact, the citizens committee's task was to identify source documents and then to distinguish (GOODTEXT) from (BADTEXT) within them, and see that only (GOODTEXT) got into the curriculum. If, as CRC is alleging, all the documents that provided information for the curriculum were retained and recommended as "background resources," then it should be clear to a rational person that the excluded text (BADTEXT) has a different status from that which was included (GOODTEXT). The (GOODTEXT) content is part of the curriculum, the (BADTEXT) content is not. And it is easy to tell which is which: the (GOODTEXT) part of it is reproduced in the curriculum outline.

The flaw in the system, if we accept CRC's account, was in failing to throw out the (BADTEXT), once the (GOODTEXT) had been separated from it. Apparently source documents were kept as recommended reading for teachers, regardless of the quality of the text that was not selected for the curriculum. Bad idea.

Judge Williams did not object to any of the text that actually made it into the curriculum. He quoted one small part of a Myths and Facts section, but didn't comment directly on it, and it could easily have been defended as being perfectly accurate and objective. The content he objected to compared religions, putting some in a more negative light than others. And all of that content was from the parts of the background materials that the committee had decided not to include in the curriculum (BADTEXT).

It looks to me like the citizens committee did a good job. They selected material that met the judicial standard, and rejected material that, it turned out, failed it. Pretending, as CRC did in court, that the two classes (GOODTEXT) and (BADTEXT) are equivalent leads to incorrect conclusions, and is not substantiated by the long winnowing process or the contents of the various documents. Conflating the two classes of text was a dirty trick intended to win a court case and make the school district look bad.


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