Friday, September 23, 2005

Gearing Up for the Forum

As you see in the banner at the top of the screen here, Sunday we are holding a forum to discuss some dimensions of the controversy around sex education here in Montgomery County. We have lined up some really good speakers, both experts in the field and people with personal experiences to relate, and it will be an enlightening afternoon for all.

There are two broad topics to talk about. First is the topic of comprehensive sex education. As you realize, there are people in our country who believe that teaching teenagers about sex is the same as encouraging them to have sex. So there is, for instance, federal funding for abstinence-only programs, where students are given very little in terms of information about sex, and are simply encouraged to abstain from it until they marry. supports the view that teenagers make decisions in their private lives that reflect what they believe, and if they are given good, thorough, scientifically supported information they will have good, correct beliefs, and will be able to make good, wise decisions when they find themselves in critical situations. It doesn't really make sense to count on teenagers doing what they're told, without any real explanation. A comprehensive sex-ed curriculum gives them information to support good thinking; if, as half tend to do, they decide to abstain from sex in their teen years, then that is -- we all agree -- a good decision. If, as the other half tends to do, they decide to have sex, then they should have information about how to make it as safe as possible, to prevent the spread of diseases and to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The other issue is what the state calls sexual variation. Mainly, this means discussion of homosexuality and transgender topics. Here, we need to make a commitment as a society. One side wants to drop this topic altogether, or, since state law requires it be taught, they want to include a lot of stuff with no scientific basis, for instance discussions of reparative therapy, which is intended to convert people from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation (and is considered an unethical practice by all mainstream psychological organizations). They will push to include discussion of "ex-gays" in the curriculum, though the concept of "ex-gay" is a religious construction, and is not found in the scientific literature. There is no evidence that anybody's sexual orientation changes, and it would be wrong to include this sort of thing in the curriculum.

The real point, of course, is to continue stigmatizing sexual minorities. It's a complicated strategy they have, but the bottom line is they don't want to have to treat gay and transgender people as real citizens, they want to continue discriminating against them. If they can argue that sexual orientation is a choice -- if you can choose not to be gay, then you must have chosen to be gay in the first place -- then they can more easily justify persecuting people for having "different" sexual preferences. From our side, it does not appear that society gains anything by treating these people badly. Some people are going to be gay, whether anybody likes it or not; it's not something you choose, and it is not right to be unfair to people simply because they are different. Sone small proportion of the population is gay, and it makes sense for students to spend some small proportion of their time learning a little bit about it. The payoff will be an increase in tolerance and a decrease in the pain that young gay people have to go through, growing up in a world that cannot understand them. That's called win-win.

Americans in general are uncomfortable talking about sex, even though we surround ourselves with it. A good, solid majority of us want sex-education taught in the public schools, and a majority want comprehensive sex-ed, not abstinence-only. And a majority believe that the topic of sexual orientation should be addressed in sex-ed classes. But take the discomfort that people feel, and add to it the expressed objections of some religious groups, and you have the makings of a controversy.

The anti-MCPS groups exploit our discomfort with the topic of sex. They talk about health classes as if they were pornography, and in fact it is not clear that they are capable of distinguishing between porn and rational dialogue about sexuality. Their comments about the planned curriculum -- which we saw repeated again this week on a PTA listserve -- are inflammatory and fictional, not intended to reason about the issue but to malign those who disagree with them. It appears that their intention is not to craft a good curriculum, but to take over the process.

Our forum on Sunday is intended to raise the level of the discussion. Everyone has concerns about what their children will be told in school, and everyone wants the best for their kids. How should the schools present information about sexuality? What is best from a public health standpoint? From an educational standpoint? How does morality play into it? How does prejudice against homosexuals affect the development of a curriculum? What are the facts about sexual orientation, teen sexual behavior -- does sex-ed in school really affect behavior at all? What is the role of values, and of the family, in sex education?

We will hear from people who take these things very seriously. Some of it will be fun, some of it might be scary. All in all, the point is to bring the discussion to the people, bring the facts out into the open, so we know where we want to stand on these issues that affect all of us.

Please plan to attend. You'll learn something, I guarantee it.


Blogger Kay2898 said...

We certainly will learn that a comprehensive sex education program is not an indoctrination program.

September 23, 2005 12:24 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

I have decided to speak clearly about a lie by Michelle Turner that she had in the letter she posted to the MCCPTA listserve and has put out before on other listserves. Ms. Turner says condom packages says do not use for anal sex.
well, I don't know what condoms she looked at(actually, none, I am sure) but I went to CVS Pharmacy yesterday and looked at several condom packages by Trojan and Durex. They say that sexual activity besides vaginal intercourse may damage condoms and to get your physician's advice. I did not open the packages and look for further info but the FAQ at the Trojan website says to the question "should I use a condom for anal sex?" Answer"always use a condom for anal sex"- and more information.

So when I read something from CRC- I generally assume it is a lie or wrong- but check it out for yourself- like I did- and be sure of the facts. No big research project- I just read the condom package. So if you lie about little things- probably you lie about the big ones. Ms. Turner likes to say we don't have the facts-but I know who has the lies.

You think this isn't nice to say- well, I think the truth is important and I think exposing liars and homophobes is important too- and I just can't figure out the way to do it nicely- and I don't even care.

Andrea Kline

September 24, 2005 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


September 24, 2005 9:26 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thank you Andrea. Weird, I still believe people when they say something. I assumed there was some sort of lawsuit-deflecting statement on the package, it never occurs to me that people will just make stuff up. Well, we'll file that with the one she told on Einstein listserve this week.

September 24, 2005 10:18 PM  
Blogger Alex K. said...

I'm sorry I couldn't make it.

I had a Carnegie Mellon Seminar to attend.

How'd it go?

September 25, 2005 5:04 PM  
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