Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Interesting Survey on Religion in America

Very interesting survey results came out this week, on the relationships between religion and politics in America. The New York Times tells us about it:
In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was "guided by a supreme being," and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.

The poll was conducted July 7-17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points. Teaching of Creationism Is Endorsed in New Survey

Now, what's interesting to me is not the fact that a lot of Americans believe what they've been told in Sunday school. That's not surprising at all. The interesting thing is, well, that the survey would think to ask a question like "Do you believe schools should teach creationism along with evolution, or instead of evolution?" The weird thing is that people think they know what the schools should teach on such a technical subject.

Do you know the difference between a genotype and a phenotype? How about RNA -- can you explain how that works? How does evolution affect the probability distribution of a phenotype over generations? The nucleotides in DNA -- what are they, and how do they work together?

See, this isn't the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This is science. People walking around the streets don't have the knowledge to decide what the school should teach.

Take a different topic. You know, there are several ways to find the solution to a system of polynomial equations -- are they equally good? Which one should the schools teach? Does it matter what parents think?

Of course not.

You don't vote on what to do when an equation has imaginary roots. You don't ask people to come to a consensus on the symbolism in Silas Marner. People don't get to petition the school board to teach that all iambic pentameter should have four stressed syllables. You don't try to make the schools leave out a certain planet, say Saturn, when they teach about the solar system.

And in sex ed, the same thing. There's no argument about whether condoms prevent pregnancy and stop the spread of infections. They do. There's no question about whether homosexuality is a sickness. It's not. These aren't things you vote on, it doesn't matter if most people are unaware of the facts. The school district has the responsibility to teach the facts, not the prevailing popular mythology.

If you're interested in this stuff, I recommend you go check out the full results of this survey at Public Divided on Origins of Life: Religion A Strength And Weakness For Both Parties.

Competing Theories of Folk Psychology

I'm scrolling through the news stories, and see that the blogosphere is totally polarized over this news that somebody at the UN is blaming American fundamentalists for some of the failure to stop the African AIDS epidemic. As MSNBC has it:
The U.S. government's emphasis on abstinence-only programs to prevent AIDS is hobbling Africa's battle against the pandemic by downplaying the role of condoms, a senior U.N. official said on Monday.

Stephen Lewis, the U.N. secretary general's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said fundamentalist Christian ideology was driving Washington's AIDS assistance program known as PEPFAR with disastrous results, including condom shortages in Uganda.

The Bush administration favors prevention programs that focus on abstinence rather than condom use and has more than doubled funding for U.S. abstinence-only programs over the past five years.

As part of President Bush's global AIDS plan, the U.S. government has already budgeted about $8 million this year for abstinence-only projects in Uganda, human rights groups say.

Severe shortage of condoms
Activists in both Uganda and the United States say the country is now in the grip of condom shortage so severe that men are using plastic garbage bags in an effort to protect themselves.

"There is no question in my mind that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR and by the extreme policies that the administration in the U.S. is now pursuing in the emphasis on abstinence," Lewis told journalists on a teleconference.

"That distortion of the preventive apparatus ... is resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred."

Many health experts say condoms are the most effective bulwark against AIDS. U.S. abstinence push may be hurting AIDS fight

I'm not going to comment on the original article, but on the commentary that has broken out over it. There are two distinct views on this topic. One view agrees that American puritans have indeed made it harder to fight the AIDS epidemic, by demanding that Africans abstain from sex rather than practice it safely. The other side feels that it is obvious that abstinence is, in fact, the solution to the problem -- if Africans would just stop having sex, then AIDS would go away.

It's classic.

These are not opposing points of view. Raise your hand if you think that abstaining from sex will prevent the spread of AIDS. Is that everybody? Yes. Everybody agrees that abstinence would be wonderful, as far as AIDS goes.

So both sides agree on that. Now, raise your hand if you think that it is in fact possible that American fundamentalists have influenced policy, and that it is true that the US only supports abstinence programs. Hmmm, again, that looks like everybody.

OK, everybody agrees on the facts.

I think what they don't agree about is a theory of human behavior, what we call "folk psychology."

Theory 1: People are biological creatures, evolved to seek and engage in sexual behavior. They have control over their impulses, but not every single person is going to exercise full lockdown control in every passionate situation.

Theory 2: People are moral beings and must learn to exercise self-control. Those who don't deserve whatever consequences they get.

I hope I have summarized the theories fairly, because I clearly have a favorite, Theory 1. Human beings, like all living things, have a deep drive to reproduce, which nature has cleverly implemented by making sexual behavior very pleasurable. On the other hand, human society is ordered around the idea that we have control over our sexual expression. Marriage, in its many forms, is a feature of every human society on the earth. Those who talk these days about "traditional marriage" are being provincial and self-serving, there are many kinds of marriages, including polygyny, polyandry, arranged monogamy, patrilocal and matrilocal marriages and all kinds of weird variations, and there are numerous other arrangements for sexual contact and sexual behavior permitted by various societies to accommodate the fact that sex is primordial and ubiquitous and enjoyable. It appears to be a basic requirement of any society that it provides some structure for sexual relationships, in order to ensure that the paternity of children is known with some degree of certainty, and that children who are born will be taken care of to adulthood.

Nowhere on the planet earth is there a society that believes that sex can simply be turned off by willpower. The idea is silly, and denies the fact that sex is more profound than any social norm. It is not realistic to think that people can just stop being sexual, and we have seen that every attempt to influence public behavior by blocking sex has resulted in sex finding a loophole, a way to continue, routing around the prohibitions.

Everyone agrees that people have the ability to control their sexual impulses. But it seems to me that some people are in denial about the fact that self-control is not one hundred per cent effective. Even some famous televangelists who preach about abstinence and self-control and the sin of adultery have found themselves on the front pages of the newspapers, begging their flocks for understanding and forgiveness. Self-control is tough, hard work.

The funny thing is that sexual behavior does not require a reason. While some couples have sex in order to become pregnant, sexual intercourse is so attractive, and sexual desires so compelling, that people engage in it whether they desire to reproduce or not. Sometimes the choice of a partner is not well considered -- it is not always a spouse or committed significant other. Sometimes the circumstances are less than ideal, as well, as sex is sometimes a phenomenon of opportunity rather than careful planning. It's not pretty, but it's real.

And so it happens. Those who insist that unmarried Africans should simply stop having sex are living in the same dream world as those who think it should be sufficient simply to tell American teens not to have sex. We need to deal with the reality of human beings, and not try to force the round peg of human nature into the square hole of unattainable self-control.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

On Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Computation

Atrios, at Eschaton, has only this to say:
This Washington Post column is, perhaps, the stupidest thing I have *ever* read.

I went through it, and wow ... I agree.

Columnist Sally Jenkins' rumination on Intelligent Design wanders from topic to topic. She seems to like the idea that athletes are "transcendental," in the sense that they can do things the rest of us can't. Then she gets into the idea that athletes do stupid stuff. She lists a couple of dumb things that jocks have done ... well, you don't need Google for that. Then she gets to her point. She wants to talk about Intelligent Design:
But athletes also are explorers of the boundaries of physiology and neuroscience, and some intelligent design proponents therefore suggest they can be walking human laboratories for their theories.

First, let's get rid of the idea that ID (intelligent design) is a form of sly creationism. It isn't. ID is unfairly confused with the movement to teach creationism in public schools. The most serious ID proponents are complexity theorists, legitimate scientists among them, who believe that strict Darwinism and especially neo-Darwinism (the notion that all of our qualities are the product of random mutation) is inadequate to explain the high level of organization at work in the world. Creationists are attracted to ID, and one of its founding fathers, University of California law professor Phillip Johnson, is a devout Presbyterian. But you don't have to be a creationist to think there might be something to it, or to agree with Johnson when he says, "The human body is packed with marvels, eyes and lungs and cells, and evolutionary gradualism can't account for that." Just Check the ID

But of course that's wrong. Evolutionary theory has no problem explaining "marvels" like these. Remember, life has had five billion years to work these things out. Eyes and lungs and cells exist in many types in various species, and the evolutionary descent of modern forms is not really mysterious at all. It may be amazing to us as humans, but the process of evolution is clearly sufficiently powerful to produce these complex forms.

Oh, and let's get rid of the idea that ID (intelligent design) is anything besides a form of sly creationism. That's all it is. None of its adherents are "legitimate scientists," as she asserts, at least they are not legitimate scientists who publish research on ID. Simply stated, it is not science.

As she mentions later in the story:
Crackpot speculation? Maybe -- maybe not. ID certainly lacks a body of scientific data, and opponents are right to argue that the idea isn't developed enough to be taught as equivalent to evolution.

Look, there's no data. There are no publications. There is no theory.

It is crackpot speculation, and nothing else. There's no maybe about it. If it "lacks a body of scientific data," it's just plain not science, it is exactly crackpot speculation -- did an editor look at this? It is simply irresponsible for a paper like The Post to lead uneducated readers down this path.

One thing Ms. Jenkins seems to want to say is, if this is intelligent design, how come there're so many things wrong? Why do body parts wear down and break, and not work right sometimes? But then, she wants to think that maybe, even though there's no evidence for it, it just might be true, there just might be an intelligent designer behind the complexity of life.

That's absurd. There is no evidence to support the idea, and no valid inferential chain that concludes that there is an intelligence behind life. If you want to believe in deity, you will have to take it on faith, because the empirical world does not provide any evidence one way or the other. There are no phenomena that can only be understood through reference to a deity. On the other hand, if you prefer to think that deity is behind and inside all of it, there's no evidence to prove you wrong. Science and religion don't need to be in conflict, unless they both try to explain the same phenomena. And that's where different ones of us prefer to accept one kind of answer or another. Me, I like the explanation with the evidence.

I'm going to mention something real quick here and get off it, because I don't think people will find it very interesting. But I have never seen anyone else make this case.

There are some mathematical and engineering problems that are so hard, nobody knows how to solve them. There might be a lot of variables, and maybe every time you change the value of one, it changes the effects of all the others. There may be combinations of values that produce a pretty good solution, but better solutions exist somewhere else, in a set of values that are entirely different, and you want to find those.

The best way to solve a problem like that, these days, is through the use of something called Evolutionary Computation (EC). This is a kind of computer program that starts with random guesses at the solution to the problem, and then uses Darwinian processes -- typically recombination, mutation, and selection or "survival of the fittest" -- to evolve problem solutions.

Every year I go to a couple of conferences on this topic, and know something about it (actually, I publish several papers every year on the subject), but it's a little nerdy for this blog. The reason I bring it up here is that it needs to be noted that evolutionary processes are more powerful for optimization, for instance, for tuning a species' characteristics to an environmental niche, than any known methods that rely on human "intelligent design." These random programs can do things no heuristic program can do.

PS This is a strange coincidence. Just as I wrote "I have never seen anyone else make this case," just as I was about to submit this post to the blog, I got an email from somebody over at GMU, pointing out this article in yesterday's Boston Globe: And Now, Digital Evolution.
Recent developments in computer science provide new perspective on "intelligent design," the view that life's complexity could only have arisen through the hand of an intelligent designer. These developments show that complex and useful designs can indeed emerge from random Darwinian processes.
A growing sub-field of computer science is devoted to "evolutionary computation." The user of such a system specifies the ingredients that can be used and how the "goodness" of any particular design can be measured. The system then creates and tests thousands or millions of random combinations of the ingredients. The better combinations are allowed to produce "children" by mutation (random changes) and recombination (random part-swapping). This often produces, after many generations, genuinely novel and useful designs and inventions.

Evolutionary computation has proven to be useful for solving practical problems. It has been adopted by researchers and engineers, and it is the focus of scholarly journals and international conferences.

Go read the article, it is better than my little description.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Fred and Dino Together in California

Here's a little story about some nuts out in California, courtesy of the L. A. Times -- look, do you want these people deciding what the public school district is going to teach your kids?
The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.

Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes the fact that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least half a dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism. And more are on the way.

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25-million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that's already overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors.

"They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous and say children are being misled by dinosaur exhibits that take the Jurassic out of "Jurassic Park."

"Dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden, and Noah's Ark? Give me a break," said Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley and president of National Center for Science Education, an Oakland group that supports teaching evolution. "For them, 'The Flintstones' is a documentary." Adam, Eve and T. Rex

There's more, but I wouldn't bother to read it if I were you. These people are just as dumb as you can imagine, and then a little more.

But I gotta remember that Flintstones line.

Religious Groups Sue to Lower Academic Standards

There is an anti-education movement in this country, opposing the teaching of accurate science-based knowledge and honestly expressive culture. An active cell here in Montgomery County has been campaigning tirelessly against our public school district; on the other hand, our group,, exists to support knowledge-based education in our public schools.

When you apply to enter a university, they rate you according to what high-school classes you have taken. You can imagine why this is. If you have one kid taking physics and calculus, and another one taking PE and band, even if they both got A's, you'd expect the kid with the math and science to get preference over the other one -- they appear to be a better and more serious student.

Some schools are substituting religion for history, science, math, literature, and guess what -- the universities don't want to give students credit for that.

So now some religious groups are suing, hoping that activist judges will force universities to lower their academic admission standards.
Amid the growing national debate over the mixing of religion and science in America's classrooms, University of California admissions officials have been accused in a federal civil rights lawsuit of discriminating against high schools that teach creationism and other conservative Christian viewpoints.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday by the Assn. of Christian Schools International, which represents more than 800 religious schools in the state, and by the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, which has an enrollment of more than 1,000.

Under a policy implemented with little fanfare a year ago, UC admissions authorities have refused to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging Darwin's theory of evolution, the suit says.

Other courses rejected by UC officials include "Christianity's Influence in American History," "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" and "Special Providence: American Government."

The 10-campus UC system requires applicants to complete a variety of courses, including science, mathematics, history, literature and the arts. But in letters to Calvary Chapel, university officials said some of the school's Christian-oriented courses were too narrow to be acceptable. Christian Schools Bring Suit Against UC

American education is already a national embarrassment. American students already lag behind much of the civilized world in almost every subject.

It is a truism to say that knowledge is power -- everybody says it, everybody knows it's true. The saying means that the person who possesses knowledge has the ability to make good, self-empowering decisions. But there is another side to it: we could say, ignorance feeds power. An ignorant population is easier to manipulate. For instance, if every decision is depicted as a choice between good and evil, and a leader can insinuate that God Himself takes one position on an issue, then those who have been taught not to reason will take that position without question or consideration. It leads to a very pliable populace, and even though they may as individuals feel that they are making their own choices, this hardly meets the criterion of a "free" society. It is crucial to us as patriotic Americans to promote education that teaches students to reason with facts.

Our local fight takes place in the middle and high schools. Many of these young students, admittedly, will go into the workplace right after twelfth grade. It is arguable then that the schools should be training them to cope with the low-skill, low-paying jobs they will be going into. But according to the Census Bureau, about 38 per cent of Marylanders will end up with Bachelors degrees or higher -- ours is one of the top states for attaining a college education. The universties should be devoted to scholarship, they should be the focus of research and culture and serious thought -- university erudition should be the pinnacle of the American education process, not something that gets pushed around by political and religious interests; the university should not be an institution, like network TV, say, that panders to the preferences of the majority. This California lawsuit is a direct attack on the centers of higher learning -- it is not enough that these people undereducate their own children in the private schools, now they intend to create lower standards for everyone.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Transcripts of Public Comments at the BOE Meeting on 8-25-05

There were 15 speakers scheduled, 13 of whom showed up to give Public Comments to the Montgomery County Board of Education. Here are transcripts made from a videotape recording of the meeting of some of the speakers:

Speaker #1 Ruth Jacobs
A man came to me for a sexually transmitted disease. He was a well-developed, muscular man. He stated he was taking steroids. Routine lab work was done and I called him in dismay about the results. Both anabolic and female steroids/hormones can cause liver damage, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, stroke, blood clots, irritability, and depression. Recently, the suicide risk of androgen hormones has been highlighted in the death of Rob Garibaldi, Taylor Hooton, and Ephriam Narkio. All athletes. The sudden heart attack death of former baseball star Ken Caminiti at age 41 highlighted both the risk of substance abuse and performance enhancing steroids.

Transgender youth also use steroids. They have higher than average rates of depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, school failure, family rejection, and homelessness. HIV is 35% in men transforming to females. In October 1979, sex reassignment surgery was stopped at Johns Hopkins University. The chairman wrote, "The zeal for this sex change surgery, perhaps with the exception of the frontal lobotomy, the most radical therapy ever encouraged by 20th century psychiatrists, did not derive from critical reasoning or thoughtful assessments. This sex reassignment surgery has distracted from genuine investigations attempting to find out just what has gone wrong for these people.

In the prior curriculum, MCPS was distracted from critical reasoning into embracing transgender as normal. It is wrong to promote the use of steroids and mutilating surgery to change sex as normal to our youth. MCPS must warn that the devastating risk of transgender lifestyle...

Pat O'Neill:
Thank you very much...

Speaker #3 Rosemarie Briggs
Good morning. I was encouraged to hear at the last Board of Education meeting several Montgomery County residents request that the word "marriage" be emphasized in the 8th and 10th grad health curriculum. I personally appreciate Mr. O'Neill's mention of her 34 year marriage. In my experience, teenagers need concrete words when making important decisions and setting long-term goals. "Marriage" is a concrete word.

Marriage is a legal union between a man and a woman that requires a license. Youth especially understand the meaning of a license because they are anxious to qualify for a driver's license. Marriage involves a ceremony. For most people the marriage ceremony is attended by family and friends and followed by a big celebration. Marriage is necessary to be called husband or wife. For these reasons, youth can understand that marriage is a long-term commitment with the goal of a lifetime commitment.

I believe youth are confused when parents, educators, and society throw abstract words at them. In regards to when a person should have an intimate relationship, words like mature, ready and responsible are too abstract. Imagine if the state of Maryland said a youth could drive a car when he or she feels mature, ready or responsible. I personally would not feel safe on the road.

My goal is to help teenagers look at important decisions with a long-term perspective using concrete words they are capable of understanding. Studies show a majority of youth want a good marriage and family life. Youth in other school districts are benefiting from this type of curriculum. State and federal are available to defray costs. The state of Maryland recognized the wisdom of marriage instruction with the passage of a marriage law in 2001 that provides a reduced marriage license fee for couples receiving 4 hours of instruction. Let's start this valuable instruction in high school and teach youth relationship skills to prepare them for a marriage.

Speaker #4 Matthew Lowe
Good morning. My name is Matthew Lowe and I'm a senior at Sherwood High School. I'm an Eagle Scout, Captain of the Varsity Cross Country team, straight A student and profound advocate of pro-abstinence and traditional family oriented sexual education. I wish to depict how the current options for sexual education are not satisfactory, how an alternative class is the correct solution, and to stress that education must include complete coverage.

The truth is that there are youth in this county who have not forsaken the moral fiber of their elders, who have decided for religious or moral reasons that sexual intercourse is to take place only within a marriage between one man and one woman. Yet despite these convictions, the County has constructed a curriculum opposing these beliefs, requiring students (unintelligible) to listen to degrading notions and suggestions such as homosexual role-playing and the encouraging of teens to practice mutual masturbation and watch erotic movies.

The current alternative? Those who find this material offensive must stand up in front of the whole class of peers and not really make an exit, to go find the packet as if being punished for their views. It is absolute intolerance. Tolerance is not being dismissed from an opportunity to sit in the classroom and learn, nor is it forcing misleading and offensive material against someone's moral and religious convictions into one's head. I find it simply humiliating. The correct answer is an alternative class where those who promote traditional values have the option to sit through a more censored class.

It is your responsibility as educators to teach what is best for our mental and physical health, giving us complete coverage of the topic. Premarital sex remains more dangerous than currently taught. The highs and lows that accompany the passion and excitement of sex leave the participants depressed and low on self-esteem. Depression driven suicide is 3 times more likely in sexually active girls and 8 times more likely in sexually active young men. This is absent in the new curriculum. Also in encouraging protected sex and the alternative encounters, the high rate of STDs is hardly even mentioned, despite their frequent and fatal side effects.

Thank you.

Speaker #6 Teresa Wallace
Good morning. In the early 1980s I managed several stores in downtown San Francisco. A large percentage of my employees were gay men. Most were my employees as well as my good friends. It was a time before AIDS and sexual promiscuity was rampant, encouraged, and an integral part of that community.

One of my assistant managers immersed himself in the philosophy that permeated the gay organizations and newspapers at the time which was basically anything goes sexually -- if it feels good, do it. One day this friend called in sick. Doctors thought he had mono, then leukemia. Finally after a long period of endless suffering, he died of pneumonia. Later when the AIDS virus was identified and ravaged that community, we all realized that he had the classic symptoms of AIDS and was probably one of the first to die from it there.

No one knew then that gay sex could be deadly. No one knew the risks, now one knew the facts. That ignorance resulted in untold pain, misery, and a horrible waste of human life. Today we do know the risks. For example in 2003, 63% of the newly reported HIV cases that were identified were in gay men. The gay community has significantly higher rates of rectal cancer, hepatitis B, and other STDs. In addition, Dr. Ronald Stall of the CDC stated, "We have a least four other epidemics going on among gay men. Among these are higher than average rates of partner abuse, drug abuse, and oppression." As a result, the CDC has recommended the ABC framework. A for abstinence first, B for be faithful to one partner, and C to use condoms correctly and consistently if you do choose a risky liflestyle.

This is an intelligent basic and common sense approach to sex education and I strongly encourage you to include it in the curriculum. Teaching tolerance does not mean relinquishing responsibility and white washing the facts....

Speaker #7 Sarah Fletcher
Sex is everywhere you look – on TV, in magazines, books and movies. Since we live in a society awash in sexuality, the messages kids gain about themselves and morality is extremely important but now may be harder to impart.

I was 12 years old in 6th Grade when I opted out from the sex education unit. My teacher sent me to the library with a thick packet filled with nutrition and health exercises, which he didn't even collect at the end. Although I completed the packet, I knew it was simply busy work and I remember feeling alone and bored.

Two years ago health class was a required course for graduation so I assumed we had to take all units. I wasn't told that I could opt out. When the homosexuality unit surfaced, it was taught with much laughter, awkwardness, and blunt description. While some peers joked about it, the majority felt as I felt – awkward. It assigned the same value to a committed relationship as marriage. Maybe that's why the divorce rate has risen to nearly 50%.

At the same time, I do have a gay friend and while I respect his decision and enjoy friendship, I am not interested in hearing explicitly about safe sex and anal intercourse, etc. Students who have found the courage to state their own beliefs are told that they are uninformed, naive, bigoted and even laughed at. When I said that the material violates my family and religious beliefs, I was told that the instructor would handle any trouble from my parents. I felt ridiculous. Should I have?

Family is such a main part of my life. They are the people who support me, laugh with me, teach me, and the people who I have the strongest relationships with. I believe that kids who don't want to learn or hear about homosexuality and the safe ways of intercourse shouldn't have to opt out but rather have the family unit as the main course and allow the small minority of those who'd like homosexuality information to opt out.

If the course is outlined as family life education, then let's focus more on the strength that comes between a mother, father, and children. It is my hope that the school board reevaluates the homosexual material being taught in health class in high schools and puts a stronger emphasis on family unity and relationships. It's rather funny to me that I learned about the implications of homosexual intercourse a whole year before I even had kissed a boy.

Speaker #10 Christine Grewell
Good morning Dr. Weast, President O'Neill, and Members of the Board of Education: I was going to bore you with more statistics today, but instead I have something much more exciting to share with you! is very pleased to announce that one month from today, on September 25, 2005, at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, we will host an educational forum that we call, "Teach the Facts – Just Say NOW to Comprehensive and Inclusive Health Education." Speakers will include an expert from the American Medical Association, a nationally renowned Maryland health educator, and a Montgomery County resident who is also the Sexuality Education Policy Manager at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, among others. is pleased to personally invite each member and officer of the Montgomery County Board of Education and Superintendent Weast to attend this educational forum. We hope you will join with us as we raise public awareness about the need to promote tolerance and fact-based health education curricula.

As we did in June of this year, we will again demonstrate the deep support in this community for teaching about and acting with mutual respect. All supporters of the newly revised curriculum feel strongly that our children should learn mutual respect for all people regardless of their own or a family member's sexual orientation. In June, recent Walt Whitman High School graduate Andrew Bennett pointed out the MCPS Student's Rights and Responsibilities Handbook states, "All students and staff will conduct themselves in a manner that promotes mutual respect for others." In the past, this policy could not been fully followed, due to the deafening silence in the family life and human sexuality curriculum on basic information on sexual orientation. Now, finally, MCPS is on the way to fully realizing their goal of "conduct[ing] themselves in a manner that promotes mutual respect for others."

Thank you for your efforts to ensure mutual respect for all is taught in our public schools and for this opportunity to show the community's support for your efforts. Please join us on September 25th. Thank you.

Speaker #11 Ben Patton
One of the sexual categories in what would have been introduced to our children under the now banned revised curriculum is transgender. I ask you, why do you want to teach our children that transgenderism is normal, natural, and healthy? I don't get it.

Why do you want the schools to instruct children as young as 13 about transgenderism in the first place? I don't know.

Would the discussion also have included the particular sexual practices associated with this supposed gender, perhaps fisting and rimming where participants ingest feces? Of course not.

Are you even aware that the American Psychiatric Association categorizes transgenderism as a gender identity disorder and advises children and adults so afflicted to seek therapy? It appears not.

Apparently you have sided with extremist social activists who are attempting to normalize the abnormal. In fact, a teacher's resource actually includes a reference linking a Scotsman's wearing of a kilt with transvestitism. Scotsmen wear kilts ergo they are cross-dressers; therefore cross-dressing is a normal and accepted practice in some societies.

This type of sophistry is unworthy of a major public school system. Our children should not be the lab rats of these social engineers who have a highly disturbed view of the world, especially when their agenda runs contrary to parents' deeply held religious and moral beliefs.

It is very disturbing that the disbanded Citizens Advisory Committee had several representatives peddling transgenderism as a sexual variant. NARAL, Planned Parenthood, PFLAG, Montgomery County Mental Health Association which were all represented on the committee, each have stated unequivocal support of the transgendered. PFLAG in fact believes, and I quote, "There is no known cure or course of treatment which reverses the transgendered persons' manifestation of the characteristics and behavior of another gender." This of course is flat earth bunk. But then again there is so much about that curriculum that was false and misleading let's not repeat the mistakes.

Speaker #13 Letitia Hall
Last month I heard people ask you to create a class on "traditional families." I noticed that none of them specified what family traditions they wanted you to teach. When I was a student at Montgomery College from 1997 through 2000, I had classmates who were born in Africa in traditional polygamous families. I remain friends a young South Asian woman who vigorously defends arranged marriages. Her twins will be enrolling in MCPS next year. Will we teach these family traditions?

Last month I heard that long-married people are healthier and wealthier than people who divorce. That testimony implied a false cause/effect relationship by omitting the stresses that poverty and ill-health place on families and the role they play in divorce.

The "traditional family" class is a red herring; students do not need a semester in blinders to avoid two 45 minutes classes. Colleges and universities have many classes on marriage and family. I think our job in MCPS is to get students there with the skills they need to be successful, and that brings us back to our health ed. curriculum. Students who accept diversity are better prepared for college. Students who know about sex and contraception, including condoms, are better prepared to safely navigate the dating scenes on campus.

I transferred to College Park the year my daughter entered as a freshman. As an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in a "University 101" class, I worked with students who had never before known anyone not of their own faith or economic class, who feared their gay and lesbian classmates, who knew nothing about different methods of contraception. The University 101 class includes diversity training and condom demonstrations because experience proves that the students need it.

I don't want to misrepresent college as a den of iniquity, because it isn't, but university campuses provide an astonishing array of stupid choices. Alcohol is there. Sex is there. While not all college students will be sexually active, they all will need reasons to say no and knowledge to stay safe. MCPS graduates should not go to college needing remedial sex education. They should enter their college years already prepared to make good choices.

Speaker #14 Alexis Guild
I understand that the Board of Education will soon be considering applicants to the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development (CAC). I strongly encourage you to include a representative from a local reproductive health organization like Pro-Choice Maryland to protect the interests of Montgomery County parents and residents.

For the past several months, Pro-Choice Maryland’s public outreach efforts have included discussions with hundreds of Montgomery County residents about the Family Life and Human Development curriculum. We have found residents strongly support a comprehensive curriculum that includes a condom demonstration video, and medically-accurate information about preventing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

We have also found Montgomery County residents are very concerned they will not end up with a curriculum reflecting local values. They fear the process has been hijacked by nationally funded anti-choice, anti-education groups, and that their children will end up the losers in a larger political game.

I am here before you because we at Pro-Choice Maryland know this is not the case. We are confident you are committed to providing MCPS students with an appropriate sex education curriculum that equips them with facts about preventing unintended pregnancies and disease, and we applaud this effort.

As you probably know, Congressman Waxman’s report on abstinence-only education found countless errors in federally funded curricula including: grossly distorted information about birth control and condom failure rates, rampant gender stereotypes, and erroneous information linking abortion to infertility and breast cancer. There is no doubt a national movement to present as fact misleading information to our children. We cannot let this take hold in Montgomery County.

This is why I encourage you to include a representative from a local reproductive health group, like Pro-Choice Maryland, on the new CAC. We will ensure no biased or misleading information becomes part of our local curriculum, and that the curriculum does not omit vital information. We will advocate for a curriculum reflecting the views of the majority of Montgomery County parents. We work with them on a daily basis, and we understand their concerns.

After the Public Comments were over, Board of Education President Patricia O'Neill made some remarks about a conference she had just attended.

: .....I had the privilege as the President Elect of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education to attend the National School Board Associations President's Retreat....I was supposed to be back on Monday for the bus campaign but I got stuck in Minneapolis, but I have to say I've been to many conference in the seven years I've been on the Board of Education and this was one of the most inspiring. There were Presidents from every state. Some states sent 2 representatives. There was a representative of Canada.

Many of the Presidents cone from very small districts. The president of the New Jersey Association came from a district of 350 kids K to 8. The National School Board President Elect is from Pinellas County, which is one county that we benchmark against frequently. But the commonality of issues whether you were big or small was so great and we worked on many issues on the National level.

No Child Left Behind and the problems created by No Child Left Behind were tremendous. Saturday afternoon there was a presentation that involved the Presidents from Texas, Florida, Connecticut, and Utah, and the intrusion into states rights and the ability of states to determine education. No one said we wanted to step away from accountability. No one wanted to step away being able to prepare all children for college and have high expectations. But I was struck by the burdens for many of the states. Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire, very small states that have less kids than we have, have combined to create a consortium because they can't afford to do the testing and create the testing. The President of the Florida Association said it appears to him that the two Bush brothers do not communicate because the problems in Florida with No Child Left Behind are not being taken care of by the national level so it was wonderful.

We had exercises in some legal areas and I participated in one involving stickers on books regarding evolution, creationism, intelligent design, and establishment clause issues. I was struck at how in some jurisdictions, the small minority is trying to create a situation where religious values are imposed into schools and there was a situation in Georgia where there were about 2,300 who signed petitions who wanted intelligent design added into the curriculum.

It was a wonderful conference. I learned a lot. We had a discussion – Arthur Levine who is President of the Teacher's College at Columbia University talked about preparing education leaders, the need for more Superintendents, for teachers to become principals.

Dr. Weast, you'll find this interesting. The President elect of the Vermont School Board Association was a Superintendent in New York state for over 20 years, retired, moved to Vermont, became an elected School Board member so there's a future calling for you. (laughter)

But I would say most of the Presidents talked about No Child Left Behind, money, Governors, and state legislatures trying to impose their will on local school boards. There was unanimity of the concerns. So I hope to share what I've learned and continue to represent Maryland and Montgomery County on the national level.

I'll be going to Vermont in a few months to attend another conference – paid for by me, not Montgomery County.

Dr. Weast?

Steve Abrams interjected:
Well, Miss O'Neill, just a brief aside on that. I was struck by your reference to Connecticut which is one of the leaders in attacking Leave No Child Behind. I would also point out that Connecticut as a state has probably the broadest achievement gap of any school system in the country. There's some argument that their opposition is because they do not wish to be held accountable for their problems.

President O'Neill continued:
It's interesting because in the presentations from President of the Connecticut Association, there is a lawsuit that is being filed against the...

Mr. Abrams again:
I think they already filed it.

President O'Neill concluded:
And there are, I forget how many jurisdictions – they don't run county wide school systems in Connecticut, but of the Connecticut districts.... One, the Connecticut Association of School Boards has not taken a position on whether to pursue this lawsuit. and two, so far I think it's 47 jurisdictions in Connecticut have signed on to the lawsuit but not – by far and away – not all jurisdictions. There is also the Utah President who said that there had been a bill in the Utah legislature to opt out of No Child Left Behind and when push came to shove, there were 118 million reasons why not to opt out of No Child Left Behind, meaning 118 million dollars worth of money to local districts that was sorely needed in Utah. And there actually was a member in Maryland that wanted us to opt out of No Child Left Behind and their significant money.

Everyone really spoke to the need for accountability and that's not the problem. But the problem is the burden to local states and the funding. The vast difference in the end – Maryland is using a number 5 for their accountability system. Other states are using 50 or 100 so I look forward to sharing that.

Dr. Weast?

Christine Grewell

Friday, August 26, 2005

Kid One and Kid Two Get It Wrong

I was out of town and didn't get to attend this week's Board of Education meeting, but I see that the CRC brought in a couple of students to talk at public comments. And this is creepy to write about, because I hate to have to call a kid a liar and criticize what they say -- they're just doing what they're told to do.

I won't use their names, just Kid One and Kid Two. Also, I'll spare you the whole thing, just quote a few lines.

Kid One said:
Two years ago health class was a required course for graduation so I assumed we had to take all units. I wasn't told that I could opt out. When the homosexuality unit surfaced, it was taught with much laughter, awkwardness, and blunt description.

One thing. You opt in, you don't opt out. The kid's parents had to sign a permission slip to take sex ed. If they signed it without reading it, well, you can't blame the school for that, can you?

Second thing. There was no homosexuality unit. Whoever told you this made you lie.

The "homosexuality unit" was not even pilot-tested. Teachers are not allowed to talk about homosexuality in Montgomery County schools. That's since, I think, 1970, and Kid, you're just a little young to go back much further than that.

Kid One ended up with this zinger:
It’s rather funny to me that I learned about the implications of homosexual intercourse a whole year before I even had kissed a boy.

So ... hey. How bout those implications of homosexual intercourse?

-- There's nothing in any class about homosexual intercourse.

Listen, Kid, we've been looking pretty closely at this, I don't think you're gonna slip one like that past anybody here, okay?

Kid Two is an Eagle Scout and straight-A student who told the school board this:
The truth is that there are youth in this county who have not forsaken the moral fiber of their elders, who have decided for religious or moral reasons that sexual intercourse is to take place only within a marriage between one man and one woman. Yet despite these convictions, the County has constructed a curriculum opposing these beliefs, requiring students [unintelligible] to listen to degrading notions and suggestions such as homosexual role-playing and the encouraging of teens to practice mutual masturbation and watch erotic movies.


Kid ... kid, what are you saying?

"Homosexual role-playing?" Oh, these are the moments when I struggle. I can just picture the classroom ... no ... must ... not ... go ... there ... must ... not ... use ... humor ...

Kid, there was no "homosexual role-playing" in any sex-ed curriculum in this county. Never was, never will be. Whoever told you that, you need to have a talk with them. Because they just embarrassed you.

" ... encouraging of teens to practice mutual masturbation..." Mmm, kid, what can I say? I'm sorry. Whoever told you that, you're the one who went out there and said it. You should have checked your facts, because somebody has been lying to you. And now you, an Eagle Scout (and I used to be a den leader myself, I appreciate your achievement), have repeated an untruth. To the school board, and to the community on television. It may be important to you to remain pure, that's fine, but please, it must be important to our upcoming leaders to tell the truth.

" ... watching erotic movies ..." Same thing. Nobody shows erotic movies in the health class, nobody tells you to watch erotic movies. Nobody talks about them, there's just plain nothing at all about erotic movies.

Look, if either of these kids sees this blog, or their friends tell them about it, let me say something important.

When you say something in public, it's up to you to make sure it's right. When somebody tells you what to say, and you just repeat it, and it's wrong, well, that makes you the liar. The person who told you that stuff gets away with it, because you're the one who said it where everybody could hear.

So, kids, come on, check your facts, okay? We're going to need you guys to run the world in a few years. Don't just repeat whatever some person tells you. Please?

You don't have to agree with my opinion about the sex-ed program, but please, learn to think for yourselves.

More CRC Ugliness at the School Board Meeting

This week, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) member Ben Patton took up two minutes of Board of Education public comments to lie about what was going to be included in the new sex-ed curriculum, to mislead about what psychiatrists consider a disorder, and to talk about some gross stuff.

Patton jumped right in with some words of real smart wisdom:
One of the sexual categories in what would have been introduced to our children under the now banned revised curriculum is transgender. I ask you, why do you want to teach our children that transgenderism is normal, natural, and healthy? I don't get it.

Why do you want the schools to instruct children as young as 13 about transgenderism in the first place? I don’t know.

Now, reader, I am going to ask you to do something. On the right-hand side of this web page, there are some links. One is labeled "Grade 8 Revised curriculum," and one is "Grade 10 Revised curriculum ." These are the courses that were going to be introduced this last spring.

These PDF files open in Adobe Reader. Click on the little binoculars at the top, which let you search. Type in the word "transgender." Let's just go to the source and see what "would have been introduced to our children under the now banned revised curriculum."

Both curricula have the same thing. It is a section that says:
For Teacher Reference Only (The information in the 
shaded area is not to be shared with students.)
Transgender refers to someone whose gender identity or
expression differs from conventional expectations for their
physical sex. This term includes transsexual and transvestite.
(Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Vol. 92,
No. 4 (Oct. 1993), pp. 631-634)

That's it. That's the whole thing.

Now, let me ask you, reader -- is there something about "not to be shared with students" that is hard to understand? This was NOT going to be taught to anyone, and was just there, in a list of definitions, so teachers could know a little more than their students.

There is not and was not going to be anything, anything at all, about transgenderism in the curriculum.

And he tells the board that the schools were going to teach that transgenderism is "normal, natural, and healthy?" In his dreams.

OK, that's bizarre to tell the board this as if it were real -- I mean, this is the school board, they've read the curriculum -- but this CRC guy is just getting started. Now, in classic form, he has to talk about the grossest aspect of sexual behavior that he can think of.
Would the discussion also have included the particular sexual practices associated with this supposed gender, perhaps fisting and rimming where participants ingest feces? Of course not.

He sits in front of the Montgomery County school board to tell them that transgendered people stick their hands up each others' butts and eat poop?

This is unbelievable.

Think how it must be, to be a board member and go to work, knowing that these CRC guys are going to pull this. Last time, it was another CRC member talking about flushing kids' heads in the toilet, and anus-licking.

Then he changes directions again.
Are you even aware that the American Psychiatric Association categorizes transgenderism as a gender identity disorder and advises children and adults so afflicted to seek therapy? It appears not.

This is incorrect. I was going to call it another lie, but I see that the former citizens committee actually approved a source (a Discovery Channel article by an Ann Reyes, PhD) that incorrectly supports this interpretation, so I'll give him a point back.

Maybe that's where he got his information. It would have been better, though, to go to the source, not a TV-show article. (And I hope the new committee follows that advice, too.)

There is, in fact, something called "gender identity disorder." The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, used to make psychiatric diagnoses, says this:
The diagnosis is not made if the individual has a concurrent 
physical intersex condition (e.g., androgen insensitivity syndrome
or congenital adrenal hyperplasia) (Criteria C). To make the
diagnosis, there must be evidence of clinically significant
distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important
areas of functioning (Criteria D).

This tells us a couple of things. If a person is actually physically transgendered, that is, if they have a hormonal or physical condition that makes their sex ambiguous, then it's not gender identity disorder. Second, if they are comfortable with their transgenderism, again, it's not a disorder. You gotta think you're the opposite sex from your physiology -- you have to be clearly, a hundred per cent male or female biologically in the first place -- and it has to impair or distress you.

Patton continues to tell the school board:
Apparently you have sided with extremist social activists who are attempting to normalize the abnormal. In fact, a teacher's resource actually includes a reference linking a Scotsman's wearing of a kilt with transvestitism. Scotsmen wear kilts ergo they are cross-dressers; therefore cross-dressing is a normal and accepted practice in some societies.

To which I can only quote our Spanish-speaking friends: jejeje.

Man, I'll tell you, that is silly. What is this guy so wound up about? A guy wears a skirt, big deal. Maybe he's Scottish, maybe he's gay, maybe he just likes to dress like a woman -- lighten up, dude, nobody gets hurt.

It seems to me that normal people accept things they can't change, especially when those things are none of their business and don't do any harm.

Oh, anyway, we were talking the other day about misconstrual. You don't really think there's any teachers' resource that says Scotsmen in kilts are cross-dressers, do you? I never saw anything like this in any teachers' resources, and I am not inclined to believe this character when he says it's in there. I'll bet he's misconstruing something, which of course we can't check on, because he doesn't say which resource makes this weird claim.

There's a paragraph I'll skip, where he gets to use the word "sophistry," but doesn't say anything important. Then he delivers his knockout punch:
It is very disturbing that the disbanded Citizens Advisory Committee had several representatives peddling transgenderism as a sexual variant. NARAL, Planned Parenthood, PFLAG, Montgomery County Mental Health Association which were all represented on the committee, each have stated unequivocal support of the transgendered. PFLAG in fact believes, and I quote, "There is no known cure or course of treatment which reverses the transgendered persons' manifestation of the characteristics and behavior of another gender." This of course is tattered bunk. But then again there is so much about that curriculum that was false and misleading let's not repeat the mistakes.

OK... was any of this worth saying? Was this a good use of the school board's time? This guy doesn't like the idea that some people are transgendered ... ok, so what?

And as far as your "tattered bunk," well, what do you suggest? Are you implying that you have the secret solution for all this, the Philosopher's Stone of proper gender identity? [Note: the written transcript shows the intended phrase to be "flat earth bunk," not "tattered bunk," which is what it sounded like.]

So what if the committee had members of some groups that accept transgendered persons? This is ... oh, I hate to throw this word around, but ... this is stupid. "Peddling transgenderism": a stupid thing to say. Sorry. Nobody can even imagine what that means, how you "peddle" something like that.

And remember, the citizens committee had somebody from PFOX. It had Parents Against X-Rated blah blah blah. It had the Daughters of the American Revolution. It had the President of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, for cryin' out loud. So stop your whining.

The curriculum was not going to say anything about transgendered people. Lots of transgendered people do not have gender identity disorder.

Oh, and by the way, the fisting and rimming thing that these guys love to talk in public about. Straight people do that stuff too, you know.

Once again, the CRC has shown us the ugliest combination of hatred and ignorance -- please join us in stopping these people who want to influence the Montgomery County public school curriculum.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Randy Little Buggers? -- 65 Pregnant at One Ohio School

The initial news story was a local one, over in Ohio, about a high school where 65 of the female students were pregnant. Out of 490. You look around our Montgomery County schools and you see a few, but ... you wonder what this particular school was doing wrong.
CANTON, Ohio -- There are 490 female students at Timken High School, and 65 are pregnant, according to a recent report in the Canton Repository.

The article reported that some would say that movies, TV, videogames, lazy parents and lax discipline may all be to blame.

School officials are not sure what has contributed to so many pregnancies, but in response to them, the school is launching a three-prong educational program to address pregnancy, prevention and parenting.

The newspaper also reported that students will face mounting tensions created by unplanned child-rearing responsibilities, causing students to quit school and plan for a GED. This will make it difficult for the Canton City School District to shake its academic watch designation by the state.

According to the Canton Health Department, statistics through July show that 104 of the 586 babies born to Canton residents in Aultman Hospital and Mercy Medical Center had mothers between 11 and 19.

The newspaper reports that the non-Canton rate was 7 percent. Canton was 15 percent. 65 Girls At Area School Pregnant

The good news is that the school district recognizes the problem and assumes the responsibility for addressing it.

You wonder, do these girls know what happens? Was pregnancy a total surprise to them?

The Great Swarmy time-travels back to last month, when the Canton Repository ran this story:
CLEVELAND (AP) — Some abstinence programs taught in middle schools and high schools in Ohio contain scientific inaccuracies about contraceptives and cite religious belief as fact, according to a researcher who reviewed the material.

Some of the material wrongly suggests that HIV can be transmitted through tears and open-mouth kissing, among other concerns raised in a report by Dr. Scott Frank, director of Case Western Reserve University’s public health program.

"I was surprised at what I found," Frank said. "Sometimes I found myself shaking my head wondering what decade are we living in."

Frank’s 29-page report takes issue with one program that recommends that teens "follow God's plan for purity." Other programs overstate the failure rates of condoms and suggest that birth control pills increase the likelihood of infertility. Case Western researcher criticizes state’s youth abstinence programs

Now, I wouldn't say that these kids don't have lazy parents, or that they don't play too many video games. But I will just underline the correlation between ignorance-based sex education and a whole lot of girls getting pregnant. I mean, there are lazy parents everywhere, and I even heard of a kid in our county who played a lot of video games.

You gotta chuckle at the British perspective, as they gaze over the pond to try to figure us out. The Inquirer seems to love the blame-anything-but-education approach to explaining this phenomenon, and built it into their headline: Videogames to blame for 65 pregnant girls: And definitely not the lack of proper sex education. The Inquirer's little piece ends like this:
The DVD boxes in which movies and videogames come these days are real killers though, eh? You can’t blame San Andreas, that's for sure - one look at the pixilated vertical jogging sessions in which the male doesn't even have the courtesy to strip down will have anyone laughing so hard that you could probably sell the game as a contraceptive.

We don't suppose that, rather than TV and video games corrupting the minds of our innocent youth, teenagers are just randy little buggers. That would be preposterous. Videogames to blame for 65 pregnant girls: And definitely not the lack of proper sex education

Agh -- how can they bring up reality at a time like this?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

PingPong Balls

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll has the perfect -- absolutely perfect -- analogy for understanding people who insist that "intelligent design" is a theory that should be considered competitive with Darwinian evolution. As the Vigilance blog is concerned with the sex-ed curriculum in Montgomery County, I propose that this analogy is just as perfect if you substitute "ex-gays" for "intelligent design." Here's what Carroll says:
Here's what it's like. Suppose there were a conference on child development and parenting. And some people are saying that children should start early on a rigorous academic program, and others are saying no, they should have real childhoods and be allowed to develop their creative abilities naturally. And some people say that children should get regular allowances, and others say, no, children should always do chores to get money. And some people say children should get complete sex education and access to birth control devices as soon as they reach puberty, and others say no, that just encourages promiscuity and reinforces our society's unhealthy preoccupation with sex.

And then someone says, "We should throw pingpong balls at them. All day, every day, we should throw pingpong balls at our children. It just seems like the right thing to do."

That's the role of the intelligent design people in serious discussions about the nature and the origin of life. They are the pingpong-ball people. They're not even talking about the same thing. They have an agenda. They want to change the subject. Jon Carroll

In our county, those who insist that the schools should teach about "ex-gays" are the pingpong people.

There is no science of ex-gays. The word "ex-gay" was invented by gay-haters to make it harder for homosexuals to accept themselves. It was developed as a clever strategy to attack the reasonable public, who are largely unaware of the fact that sexual orientation cannot be changed. It is a pingpong concept, absolutely off-the-wall, and merely introduced to confuse the discussion, because no thinking person would have ever thought of it. No thinking person has an answer to the "ex-gay" challenge, because it doesn't make any sense. Accused of "discrimination" against this fictitious group, a thinking person will seek to make up for their lapse -- no one intends to discriminate against "ex-gays" or anybody else, and so the thinking person is put on the defensive. Maybe they'll try to atone for their misjudgment, for discriminating against some group they never heard of in ways they didn't realize they were doing. It's clever, it's insidious.

And there is no way for the thinking person to figure this out, because nobody tells them what the game is.

People, it's pingpong balls.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The White Knight is Talking Backwards

I recently posted some follow-up about the Montgomery Community Television show that was going to feature an anti-MCPS group explaining what the "future of health education" in Montgomery County should be. It turned out the producer of the show had a bit of a ... history, shall we say ... with the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), and was going to use this show to promote their point of view as if it were legitimate. I concluded that the bias of the show as it was planned was not accidental.

Today two different people forwarded the following letter to me, so I guess it's out there circulating on the Internet. I'm not quite sure who the "Neighbors" are that it was addressed to, but it seems to be quite widespread. I wouldn't publish a private email, but this seems to have gone well beyond any useful definition of "private."

It appears to have been written by the producer of the show, who cancelled it after CRC backed out. Instead of giving the real reason, she posted an announcement on the web saying that there were "email attacks" (which she has not yet shown anyone, as far as I know). Here she's writing to say she's sorry but people are being mean to her. I am going to interrupt her monologue with my own comments, blog-style:
Dear Neighbors:

Subject: The Golden Rule

It seems after an innocent attempt to build awareness by airing a TV Show of the upcoming new MCPS Health & Family Life Curriculum, I have opened old wounds and I am sorry.

Why did I not know this would happen when I suggested the subject for a show? Never did I imagine that good intentions would be so confusing. Unfortunate, but although I've had items posted about me on the website, this was not exactly the best way to feel inclusive in their conversations (smile).

Uh, I would respond to this, but I don't really know what she's saying about us. She has every opportunity to "feel inclusive" in the discussion here, with Orin and Aunt Bea and ~L and Alex and Bianca and multiple Anonymice and everybody else. She obviously has our URL, it's not hard to click on "Comments" at the bottom and say what you think about something here.
I do not in any way condone this type of behavior, but at the same time, I feel I must make a point perfectly clear. For the sake of being adults, I must say this:

When I discussed with my Production members to bring the Health Educational program to a show, we were not totally aware of the data and information available. Which, in a nut shell is sometimes why we host the specific shows. One of us on the team may very well be well versed on a particular subject, but others not. This again makes the shows unique and exciting. Our host commentator always cordial and many times not fully aware of the subject until after guests have been invited. Again, possibly causing a bit of adrenaline to flow, but never did I imagine such a force to be put on us as this topic, and by such unfortunate intimidation.

Now she's making me wonder who has intimidated anyone. Listen, if there's something going on, yall can send us an email, post a comment on the blog, let us know what's up. Hey -- you ... you don't mean me, do you? Intimidating someone? Naw, I just tell you what I see, you don't have to pay any attention to it. I don't want you to do anything different, I'm just going to say out loud what it is you're doing. So .... she must not mean me.
Now...the reason I must sincerely apologize is because I stand before you, humbled... I cannot and will not speak for anyone else, but myself. I have always tried to remain open minded and fair. I have always hoped to stand on the side of justice and good character.

I had a vision when planning the show. It was innocent. I looked into the future of the 2005-06 school year and thought what a good opportunity to begin now, during the summer months to get families talking about the new curriculum. Schools out, families normally spend more quality time together and what a great moment to air the Citizens Link Show that discusses the different issues. Our program was not to fix the curriculum, but to simply address various questions, concerns and challenges.

Um hmm, sure, innocent -- she's used that word twice already. With Michelle Turner, Steve Fisher, Ruth Jacobs, and -- unbelievably -- Richard Cohen? Innocent? Nobody buys that. The fact that she was involved in the Germantown meeting last winter is enough to show that she knew what she was doing when she invited this cell of radicals who have worked so hard against the school system.
Knowing that I had an application in my hand to apply to serve on the new committee, I also wanted to be aware of items that may cause concerns should I be selected. I then thought, well why also educate others in the community in case they too are applying to serve. Then because our show offers the benefit of a DVD copy, I thought it could serve the public as an additional benefit to have the ability to re-watch and discuss the items covered in the show continually.

What?!?! She was applying to be on the committee? Well what do you know -- the CRC is running stealth candidates. That's pretty tricky, trying to stack the citizens committee with people whose names have not been linked with yours.

Note to MCPS Board of Education: look at those applications very carefully. Please.

I am more convinced than ever now that this TV show was an intentional, divisive, and sneaky act of political radicalism.

In case you are new to this situation, let me explain. Earlier this year, CRC and PFOX sued the school board and won money for their lawyers and one seat each on the citizens committee that advises the school board in developing the new curricuum. Here we see that they were going to try to sneak more people onto the committee, by having individuals apply who will support the CRC/PFOX anti-gay and anti-safe-sex mission.

This is a very interesting admission, indeed, and I was unaware that she was doing this.

Who was it that said curiouser and curiouser? Was it me?

It should have been.
Speaking again, only for myself... I broke my own rules and now suffer the same unfair judgements like some of the planned guests.

So without any hesitation or excuse... I offer my sincere apology to our guests. If it has caused anxiety, it was not intentional. Everyone deserves respect.

Hmm, the guests I have heard from don't seem to have suffered any anxiety. It was a bit of an eye-opener, if anything. They seem very cool about it. So maybe she's apologizing to the CRC. Yes, as a secret agent, she has something to apologize for, doesn't she? Her cover was blown; now her mission is impossible.
I would also like to conclude that in one of the website postings from the "teachthe" group, a hurtful remark was made against my rights to advocate for our school children saying;

That's the very same Alice Gordon (who by the way homeschools and doesn't have any stake in the MCPS health curriculum),

I'd like to share that my family did elected to home educate seven years ago with our youngest child in her latter school years, because she developed a serious health issue that directly impacted her attendance.

I would like to say something about this. The health curriculum under discussion applies to Montgomery County Public School district eighth and tenth graders. Anybody in the county of course can have an opinion about it, well, anybody in the world can think what they want about it. But you do question the motives of activists who have no apparent stake in the outcome of a political decision.

We sometimes think that this particular issue, the sex education curriculum in MCPS schools, is only one little battle in a bigger culture war. And this sort of thing is evidence of it. Steve Fisher doesn't have kids in the public schools, Michelle Turner keeps her kids out of the sex-ed classes, Richard Cohen doesn't even live in this county -- why does it matter to them if our kids get comprehensive sex education?

It's something different to them, it's not about what their kids learn in these classes, it's about imposing their weird world-view on the rest of us.

It doesn't matter why she home-schools, that's her business. But why in the world does she want to undermine the public schools for the rest of the community? Can anybody tell me why that's not a legitimate question?
My comments to all as we voice our rights to one another is to be mindful of how it reflects on our children. Many times in history our children have suffered the consequences for the actions of adults. Many times we don't mean to do it, but we act too quickly and we victimize the victim all over again. Let's slow down and rethink our next steps. youngest child is now almost twenty years old and even though my children are grown, I am about to become a grandmother in two weeks, and my families right back into the school world again. So please keep in mind, everyone has a story to tell, so let's be a compassionate society and not jump too fast to judge.

Thank you,

A quick word. I wouldn't bother to "judge" this person. I don't give her a thought except for those few moments where something like this is put in front of my face. She wants to support CRC in their attempt to destroy public education in Montomery County, well, whatever, I wouldn't judge her for that. She can do that if she wants, I don't have the energy or motivation to judge her. Some small number of people feel like them, they can express their opinion, and then the sensible majority needs to do the right thing. There's no judgment of any person in any of this, as far as I'm concerned.

I happen to be one of the group who supports the school board's decision to improve health education in our county. Sometimes that means pointing out when the opposition tries to pull dirty tricks ... as in this situation. And this lady simply made the mistake of thinking that her "cause," the promotion of ignorance in the MCPS heath curricuum, was more important than behaving ethically.

Sorry you had to be sorry. It's not that big a deal.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Light Blogging

It's time to take a little family vacation, and I won't be blogging much. I may encounter a wifi hotspot on the trip, but mainly the laptop's just for saving pictures from the digital camera.

Last chance to have a little fun -- summer's almost over!

Good News All Over the Place

Up in Maine they want that federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education. But the classes don't meet state standards. From the Portland Press Herald:

The Maine Department of Education informed school districts on Friday that a federally funded sex education program doesn't meet state requirements for teaching health.

The two-page letter sent to all school superintendents says Heritage of Maine and other programs that focus on promoting abstinence alone fall short of standards outlined in state law and Maine Learning Results.

The letter says that so-called "abstinence only" or "abstinence until marriage" programs don't fit the state's comprehensive requirements.

Greg Scott, legislative coordinator for the department, said the commissioner's office sent the letter after receiving questions from school districts about Heritage.

The nonprofit organization, which started receiving federal funding in July 2004, has reached out to schools in Maine, volunteering to provide its alternative approach to sex education. Sex education course fails state's test

So it looks like Maine is about to wake up in the twenty-first century.

It's tough, I know. We all want our teens to make the right decisions, and for almost all parents that means we want them to abstain from sex.

The issue is this: one side thinks you get kids to abstain from sex by keeping them ignorant, and just telling them that sex before marriage is wrong; the other side (that would be us) thinks that kids will make good decisions if they are given good information, and the best decision for them at this time of their lives is to abstain from sex.

Do you have a teenager? What happens when you tell them to do something?

Do they do it?

Mine neither.

It looks like Battle Creek, Michigan, is going through something similar. They've been teaching kids to just say no, but the adults of the community have realized they have to do more:
Battle Creek's Board of Education voted unanimously to change the district's sex education curriculum in hopes of better educating students and reducing teen pregnancy.

The changes were approved Monday by a 6-0 vote with one trustee absent.

"We're at a time where we need to include some additional measures," said Board President Kim Watson. "They will help students be more informed and educated to make better decisions."

The changes will take effect at the start of this school year, Aug. 23.


During the 2004-05 school year, a nine-week health course was offered to Central's ninth-graders. The course incorporated "Reducing the Risk" curriculum that focused on teaching refusal skills to students in high-risk situations involving sex, alcohol and drugs, to name a few.

This year, students will be taught those same lessons but with more information about contraception in an effort to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases among teenagers living in Calhoun County.

In 2002, there were an estimated 386 pregnancies and 249 live births among 4,841 females ages 15 to 19 living in the county, one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state.

As mandated by state law, the district's sex education curriculum will continue to teach abstinence as the best preventative method. Teens to get more sex education

And out in Washoe County, Nevada, we learn this:
School board members have approved a video to be used in the SHARE Program, "Sex, Health and Responsibility Education" in the Washoe County School District.

Kids at more than a dozen area schools will see the tape, which was approved Tuesday night at the school board meeting.

It's designed to teach them there are consequences to their actions, and in the case of sexual behavior, consequences that could have an impact on the rest of their lives.

The tape will be shown to some 30,000 Washoe County middle-schoolers this year.

Board member Jonnie Pullman says it is far from a boring lecture or purely technical discussion. "This shows role playing, consequences of peoples' actions, teens dressed like kids dress today, etc."

SHARE Coordinator Katherine Loudon says it is meant to hit home with an important message for young people. "It covers sexual health, responsibility, reproduction, sexually transmitted infections, etc. Those lessons were already there, but this is a new video."

Among some parents, there was concern about this tape. The lessons were described as abstinence based, which is different from abstinence only. Many people believe sexual abstinence only is unrealistic, even among middle-schoolers.

After more than an hour of discussion, the vote was unanimous: the new SHARE tape was approved for use in the coming school year.

Board members agreed the tape taught age-appropriate lessons.

Share lessons are taught to fourth-through-ninth graders in the school district, but this tape will be shown to middle-schoolers only, because the lessons are too advanced for younger students.

Older students continue sex education through their health classes.

I could go on and on here, you know, there are news stories like these coming from every corner of our nation. It's not just Montgomery County, people all over the country are debating the best approach to sex education in the public schools, and are deciding against ignorance education. There is a crisis in teen pregnancy and STD rates, and the answer just might be to educate, rather than indoctrinate.

The TV Show Again: A Slow-Dawning Thought

I just had one of those "well, duh" moments. I was reading an old Gazette article about the time that the CRC and the Germantown Citizens Association (GCA) were going to meet with some school board members. Remember? It was strange, because The Gazette at first said that the meeting was cancelled because of threats to the school board, and then they changed the story but never said there weren't threats to the school board, and anyway CRC President Michele Turner apologized to the school board publicly for the threats ... but then we saw in the CRC's purloined messages that they were calling The Gazette and trying to get special treatment to make up for ... whatever.

Jump ahead to last week. Montgomery Community TV was supposed to tape a show about the future of health education, featuring a whole half hour of CRC people. Lots of people complained, including us, and then the show's producer, Alice Gordon, added some people to the show who represented the majority in Montgomery County, and then after CRC backed out she cancelled the whole thing, with a note on the Internet implying that it was because of threatening emails.

So, tonight, I'm looking for something, and here's a little chunk from way back in January that jumps out at me:
CRC members said they are asking that the school board delay the pilot of the curriculum until a public hearing has been held and enough community input has been gathered.

The GCA will draft a letter to the board vocalizing Germantown residents' opposition to the curriculum, board member Alice Gordon said.

However, because the GCA must remain impartial, she said the letter would present both sides of the issue.

"There's no way that we can choose sides, we have to remain open-minded," Gordon said. Cox avoids Germantown meeting after receiving threats

Besides the obvious fact that you can't both "vocalize Germantown residents' opposition to the curriculum" and not choose sides -- do you see what I see?

That's the very same Alice Gordon (who by the way homeschools and doesn't have any stake in the MCPS health curriculum), up to her neck in CRC's business, seven months ago.

Well, duh.

Interestingly, the not-a-retraction that appeared later in The Gazette changed that part:
The GCA plans to draft a letter to the board spelling out the issues and seeking more discussions. The GCA did not take a position on the issue, contrary to an earlier report.

"There's no way that we can choose sides, we have to remain open-minded," GCA board member Alice Gordon said. Group opposed to sex ed pilot briefs GCA

Man -- don't you just love this stuff? It sounds like the Germantown Citizens Association didn't take a position, but one Alice Gordon did.

Maybe I'm just a little slow, I figured she was friendly to the anti-MCPS radical cell. I hadn't realized how friendly she was. This goes back.

Something Weird

There was something strange in that Washington Post article the other day about Richard Cohen, the "ex-gay" President of PFOX. Here's what they said:
Touch plays a central role in his therapy, said Cohen, who does not treat women. He recommends that clients develop intimate friendships with heterosexual mentors who will cuddle them in a parental, nonerotic way, making up for the love they did not get from their fathers.

When I first read this article and blogged about it, I started to say something about that part, but I decided to leave it out, mainly because it just seemed too unkind. This Cohen guy is just another minor league screw-up, and if his ... therapy ... is a little on the touchy-feely side, that's not really my issue with him.

Well, there were quite a few comments on our Yahoo group about this. Seems it just stuck in some people's craws.

Like, somebody said
"Now the question I have does Cohen hug his clients to help them develop intimate friendships with heterosexual mentors? Does he consider himself a mentor too since he considers himself a heterosexual now?"

Somebody else wrote and said
"OK - now this just may be me but, doesn't it strike you that the premise that "he recommends that clients develop intimate friendships with heterosexual mentors who will cuddle them in a parental, nonerotic way, making up for the love they did not get from their fathers" is a really convenient way for this so-called heterosexual "therapist" to get close to the men he has otherwise denied himself? Creepy squared."

To which somebody replied
" isn't just you...I think most of us had the same reaction. It's Cohen's way of expressing his homosexuality while cloaking it in therapeutic nurturing. How is this different than male psychiatrists convincing women that having sex with them will help them "liberate" themselves and move on...when I lived in NYC there were several high-profile cases just like that. Those folks went to prison for a long time."

See, we find ourselves basically siding with the gay community on this MCPS sex-ed issue. They want to be treated with respect, and we want to see our kids get a fact-based education, so we're on the same side in this one. And Richard Cohen is, well, I hate to say it, but the guy is gay. It's nice that he's married and everything, but nobody over here is buying the "ex-gay" thing. He used to be gay, now he's ... gay. We spend some effort fighting idiots who spread hateful stereotypes of gay people, and so it makes us a little uncomfortable when we look at a situation like this and think, that guy is cuddling these sexually confused male patients?

You see what I mean? There's a little cognitive dissonance in it for us.

And we're not the only ones thinking this. Republic of T. blog (motto: "Gay. Black. Father, Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.") commented:
If you ask me, there's a bit of "Daddy/Son" roleplay going on here that ought to raise at least a few eyebrows.

So ... is that what's going on? Now that Cohen calls himself "heterosexual," is he playing the part of the "heterosexual mentor" who cuddles these confused gay men in a "parental, nonerotic way?"

It sounds like it, doesn't it?

blogACTIVE (motto: Real Truth, Direct Action Tools) had this to say:
"Cohen is married with kids (not that he'd be the first gay man to do that, Right Mr. Schrock?). What really hit me hard in the article was this interesting paragraph (the next to last one):[quotes same paragraph as above] So Richie thinks the way to straighthood is by being cuddled by "heterosexual mentors"...Isn't that what they used to call being in the closet?"

OK, I don't really know what's going on here, I don't know if that's what he actually does. I only know that this seemed fishy, no ... creepy ... to a lot of people who read this article.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Is Reparative Therapy Legitimate? --No

The Advocate recently had a story called "Brainwashed No More," about reparative therapy, which tries to convert gay people to straight. In response to that story, the American Psychiatric Association sent them a statement on the subject.

We have seen certain characters try to put forward the idea that reparative therapy is a legitimate form of psychotherapy. I think this statement kinda nails that coffin shut.
The following statement from the APA [American Psychiatric Association] was provided to The Advocate in response to a request related to the story "Brainwashed No More" in the August 30, 2005, issue:

The term "reparative therapy" refers to psychotherapy aimed at eliminating homosexual desires and is used by people who do not think homosexuality is one variation within human sexual orientation, but rather still believe homosexuality is a mental disorder.

The most important fact about "reparative therapy," also sometimes known as "conversion" therapy, is that it is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers, together representing more than 477,000 health and mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, and thus there is no need for a "cure."

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association and defining the standard of the field, does not include homosexuality as a mental disorder. All other major health professional organizations have supported the American Psychiatric Association in its declassification of homosexuality in 1973 as a mental disorder. Thus, the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder, or that the emergence of same-gender sexual desires among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy, has no support among health and mental health professional organizations.

Despite the unanimity of the health and mental health professions on the normality of homosexuality, the idea of "reparative therapy" has recently been adopted by conservative organizations and aggressively promoted in the media. Because of this aggressive promotion of "reparative therapy," a number of the health and mental health professional organizations have recently issued public statements about "reparative therapy" as well.

The American Psychological Association, in its Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, which is also endorsed by the National Association of School Psychologists, states: "The American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation."

As these statements make clear, health and mental health professional organizations do not support efforts to change young people's sexual orientation through "reparative therapy" and have raised serious concerns about its potential to do harm. Many professional associations are able to provide helpful information and local contacts to assist school administrators, health and mental health professionals, educators, teachers, and parents in dealing with school controversies in their communities.

"Transformational ministry" is a term used to describe the use of religion to eliminate homosexual desires. While "reparative therapy" relies on secular approaches, "transformational ministry" takes the approach that "freedom from homosexuality is possible through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord." While there is some diversity within the movement, most "transformational ministries" adhere to a belief that "upholds heterosexuality as God's creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression as outside God's will."

The "transformational ministry" movement, which began in the early 1970s, has gained more visibility in the media recently through the efforts of Christian publishers and conservative political organizations.

The most important fact about "transformational ministry" is that its view of homosexuality is not representative of the views of all people of faith. Many deeply religious people, and a number of religious congregations and denominations, are supportive and accepting of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and their right to be protected from the discriminatory acts of others. For example, the following [religious] organizations have endorsed passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation:

  • American Ethical Union
  • American Friends Service Committee
  • American Jewish Committee
  • American Jewish Congress
  • Church of the Brethren,
  • Church Women United
  • Dignity/USA
  • Episcopal Church
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America
  • The Interfaith Alliance
  • Jewish Women International
  • National Council of the Churches of Christ USA
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • North Georgia United Methodist Conference
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
  • Unitarian Universalist Association
  • United Church of Christ
  • United Methodist Church
  • Women of Reform Judaism
  • Young Women's Christian Association

Although "transformational ministry" promotes the message that religious faith and acceptance of gay, lesbian, and bisexual sexuality are incompatible, that message is countered by the large number of outspoken clergy and people of faith who promote love and acceptance. The real meaning of "ex-gay"

Is that clear enough for you?