Friday, March 31, 2006

Will the State Take Over Baltimore Schools?

It's hard to know where this one is going. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the state can take over schools that don't meet a criterion.

... Some say this might be a political move ... mmm, could that be?

From the Baltimore Sun:
Maryland schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick plans to ask the state school board today to seize control of 11 failing Baltimore middle and high schools - an action that is believed to be the first school takeover in the nation under the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.

Grasmick's bold move is the most recent shot in a nine-year power struggle over control of the city school system and comes in the midst of a contentious governor's race between Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., both of whom have sought more influence over Baltimore schools.

Under Grasmick's plan, the board would put four high schools, including historic Frederick Douglass, into the hands of a company or nonprofit group that would report directly to the state. Seven middle schools would become charter schools or be operated by a third party but would remain under the ultimate authority of the city school board.

The changes would take effect in 18 months. All 11 schools have posted at least nine years of very poor test scores.

"If the state of Maryland takes over schools in Baltimore, that is ground-breaking in terms of No Child Left Behind," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a national group that has closely monitored the federal law. "To my knowledge, no state has gone that far. State agencies are very reluctant to take over schools."

City school officials were furious late last night. "This political [expletive] is eroding our ability to educate the children of our city," said Brian D. Morris, chairman of the city school board.

In the gubernatorial campaign, Grasmick has clearly aligned herself with Ehrlich, who had sought to make her his running mate in the 2002 election. She has again been mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor but has said she doesn't want the job.

Grasmick dismissed any suggestion that her actions are politically motivated. Md. acts to seize 11 city schools

And when a politician says their behavior is not politically motivated, that means ... it's not politically motivated, right?

Remember, the governor is a Republican, the legislature has Democratic majorities in both houses.

The Post:
The Maryland General Assembly moved swiftly yesterday to block a state-ordered seizure of 11 low-performing schools in Baltimore, maneuvering in dramatic fashion to pass legislation by this weekend to thwart the will of the State Board of Education.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said lawmakers were angered that Wednesday's board actions took place without any advance notice. And he said the actions, proposed by State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick and supported by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), smacked of politics, because Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this year.

"People wonder if [O'Malley] weren't running for governor, would this action have even taken place, and in this manner?" Miller said. "This is raw politics at its worst, because it involves our schoolchildren."

Emergency legislation that would postpone the state intervention in Baltimore for a year was introduced yesterday in the Senate and House by Baltimore lawmakers. To speed up passage, the provisions were later added to another bill affecting Baltimore schools already nearing passage.

Democratic leaders predicted that the amended bill would pass both chambers today and land on Ehrlich's desk by evening. That would allow lawmakers enough time to attempt an override of an expected veto before adjourning April 10. Bill Would Block State Takeover of Baltimore Schools

Ah, but speaking of not being politically motivated:
Ehrlich said he was stunned that lawmakers would seek to postpone steps -- authorized by the federal No Child Left Behind law -- designed to improve schools with long track records of failure.

"I'm not going to sentence another generation of kids to dysfunctional schools," the governor said. "We have one school system that's not cutting it."

Stunned, I tell you. Governor Ehrlich wants you to know that the legislature is anti-child, anti-education, anti-decency, anti-everything-the-governor-wants-to-associate-with-himself. They're bad people, and you should vote for him. Not that this is political.

In case you can't see through the gunsmoke, the effect of this not-political move is to start converting public schools into privately-run schools, including charter schools, with government oversight. Except that they said it's not politically motivated, you might think it was part of a larger conservative agenda to destroy public schooling in general. I don't see anything like this happening in Montgomery County, a state takeover, but we have seen certain elements try to undermine the public schools, with lawsuits and constant complaining, even establishing a web site to recall the county school board. They'll take the erosion of the public schools where they can get it.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Magnifying Trivialities

This morning's Gazette is reporting on a potentially troublesome issue.
The group that sued last year to block new sex education lessons in county schools says the committee reviewing the latest proposed curriculum has violated state law, and school administrators agree there may be a problem.

Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said her group is concerned that the school system has run afoul of state law by not including a member of the county’s Health and Human Services Department on the committee.

‘‘When was the last time the HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum was reviewed by a MCPS citizens committee that had a representative from the local health department?” Turner asked the county school board during testimony on March 14. ‘‘[State law] indicates that the Citizens Advisory Committee can be used for the purpose of reviewing materials, but only if the committee has a representative from the local health department.” MCPS re-examines sex ed panel makeup

We talked about this on this blog a few days ago. The COMAR regulation seems clear enough, and MCPS lawyers decided that the current committee is in accordance with the law. The law says "The local school system shall use an existing committee or appoint a committee comprised of educators, representatives of the community including parents/guardians of students enrolled in a public school program, and the local health department... etc." That word "or" in the middle makes the meaning of this text pretty clear to me. If it's an existing committee then that's one thing, OR if it's a special committee it needs a public health person.
In a memo Monday to Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, Deputy Superintendent Frieda K. Lacey cited a state Department of Education Web site brought to her attention by Turner.

‘‘The Web site cited by Ms. Turner ... does appear to contradict our understanding of the requirement,” Lacey wrote. ‘‘The Web site itself is somewhat confusing and inconsistent, but there is enough ambiguity to warrant seeking further clarification.”

State law requires that school systems have an advisory committee to review family life and human development curriculum. That committee also may review HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum, or the school system may establish a separate committee to do so.

Legal interpretations of the state law are hard to find. The state Department of Education did not have anyone who could comment.

The Maryland code is on the web HERE. Under consideration is section 13A.04.18.04.B(1) and (2).

The ambiguity arises from another Maryland web site, where the law is explained, and they say: "As stated in the regulation, local school systems can use the existing system wide citizen advisory committee for both the family life and human sexuality and HIV/AIDS prevention education provided that this committee has a representative from the local health department." (Read this HERE.) The problem is, the regulation doesn't really say that.

So now the Montgomery County school district is asking the Maryland state school board to explain what they're supposed to do.

Ah, here's the crux of the argument -- it depends on what "is" is:
The Citizens Advisory Committee should not be considered a new committee because it existed before the state required a review of HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum, administrators said.

Turner does not consider the panel to be a pre-existing committee because after settling the federal lawsuit brought by CRC and Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays last year, the school board replaced the entire committee with new members.

So, the law says you can use "an existing committee." Did this committee "exist" already? Some say yes, same committee, different members. Some say no, different members, different committee.

And this is why lawyers make so much money.
For now, Turner said, her group’s role is that of a watchdog.

‘‘I wouldn’t go so far as saying a lawsuit is anywhere near in the future,” she said. ‘‘... Our only plan right now is to make sure that the system is aware that we know what the laws are, what the guidelines are and to make sure that it is made a public issue whenever necessary, whenever state law is not being followed.”

That's one way of putting it. I would like to play with that "watchdog" thing a little bit, like, what kind of dog they really are, or what that dog is doing to the county's leg, but ... I won't go there.

Compounding this situation is the fact that last year's settlement agreement between MCPS and the anti-MCPS suers stipulated that the citizens advisory committee could not have more than fifteen members. There are fifteen members already, so one would have to go, if a public health person was necessary.

The fact is, as everyone involved understands, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have failed to stop progress on the development of a new curriculum. Oh, they slowed it down with their little lawsuit, but it's up and walking again. So now, the CRC has deteriorated to, it appears, three or four people, no public support, the dream of a coup smashed, there's nothing for them to do but pick at MCPS for not following some rule or another.

They have a whole list of little rules that they think are not being followed, you can expect more of this sort of thing. It doesn't matter to them, of course, that there's a public health person on the committee. Apparently, nobody has ever questioned this regulation before. Nobody knows the answer to this question, because it is so trivial that no one has ever thought about it. The committee right now has a bunch of physicians on it, and the curriculum is being developed largely by a team of physicians -- it isn't like MCPS is failing to pay attention to medical experts.

CRC is not trying to make a better curriculum, they are purely trying to undermine the development of anything. Everybody in this game knows that.

Wall Street Journal Writes About Sex Ed Controversy

The Wall Street Journal this morning has a longish story about the effects of federal funding for abstinence-only education. It's a complicated situation, where the federal government will pay states to promote nonsense. Do you take the money, or do what's right?

For some people, that's a hard decision.
A push to promote sexual abstinence in teens -- backed by a steady increase in federal funding -- is starting to affect the way sex ed is taught in the U.S.

In middle schools and high schools across the country, sex-ed classes that discuss birth control as a way to prevent pregnancy and sexual diseases are increasingly being replaced or supplemented by curricula that promote abstinence until marriage and discuss contraceptives primarily in terms of their failure rates.

Though parents and health professionals generally embrace the idea of encouraging teens to abstain from sex, some are starting to question whether kids are getting the adequate and accurate information that they will need to make responsible decisions as they grow older. Educators, parents and politicians are starting to lobby for sex education that goes beyond abstinence teachings. Bills that support this approach, known as comprehensive sex education, are under review in the legislatures of several states, including Illinois and Massachusetts. One bill in New York state, dubbed the Healthy Teens Act, calls for funding for programs that emphasize contraception as well as abstinence.

Earlier this month, Rhode Island's Department of Education instructed all school districts to refrain from using a federally funded abstinence curriculum in public schools. A spokesman for the department said officials were concerned because the program included "medically inaccurate information" as well as possible religious instruction. Sex-Ed Class Becomes Latest School Battleground

To which I say: yay, Rhode Island!

I do notice that this article starts by saying that comprehensive sex-ed is being replaced by ignorance-ed, but then their examples show the tide rolling the other way, toward common sense.

I had this conversation yesterday. We all want the same thing. Nobody wants to encourage promiscuity, everybody hopes their own children will abstain from sex. But what is the best way to get them to do that? Some think the best way to get teens not to do something is to tell them not to do it: abstinence-only education. Don't tell them anything except that they should not have sex. Don't tell them how it works, don't explain the dangers, don't tell them how to reduce the risks ... can you tell I stand on the other side of that line?
The expansion of abstinence programs has been propelled by a steady increase in government funding. The funding started ramping up under the Clinton administration. Since 1998, the federal government has spent about $890 million on abstinence programs, including sex-ed courses taught in schools (as well as pregnancy crisis centers and government agencies). But the bulk of it -- $779 million -- has been spent since President George W. Bush took office in 2001. The government is slated to spend $176 million on abstinence programs this year -- up from nearly $167 million last year and $82 million in 2001.

Schools and other groups that accept the federal funding have to promote abstinence and play down the effectiveness of contraception. In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services effectively tightened its restrictions on what abstinence courses can teach. In a request for grant applications, new and detailed guidelines said that an acceptable curriculum should include teaching about "the potential psychological side effects (e.g., depression and suicide) associated with adolescent sexual activity" and stress points such as the following: "Non-marital sex in teen years may reduce the probability of a stable, happy marriage as an adult" and "Teen sexual activity is associated with decreased school completion, decreased educational attainment and decreased income potential."

These statements "misuse" scientific data, says John Santelli, a professor of pediatrics and of population and family health at Columbia University, as well as a former official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "There may be some truth to the associations they draw, but their conclusions are confused," he says.

If you want to see some amazing stuff, read the report produced by Congressman Henry Waxman in December 2004 on this very subject. See it HERE

This story goes back and forth ... I'll skip down a bit:
Other groups that support the abstinence approach are urging states to further limit sex ed. Earlier this month, Kansas's board of education recommended to local school districts that teachers secure written permission from parents before students attend sex-ed classes. Some state legislatures are considering bills that would circumscribe the teaching of sex ed: A bill in South Dakota seeks to prevent any instruction in the use of contraceptives in sex-ed classes. A bill under consideration in Missouri would prohibit groups that provide abortions from teaching sex ed in the schools, effectively banning organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

Some parents welcome the new approach to teaching about sex. Gladys Aguirre was glad to grant permission for her 14-year-old son to attend the Game Plan program that was presented at Midwestern Christian Academy in Chicago last year. An instructor from a local nonprofit encouraged the kids to wait until marriage to have sex. He also talked about how to set boundaries with the opposite sex and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Ms. Aguirre says she likes that the school is teaching her son to put his energy into something other than the opposite sex. "It's a very big start in the right direction."

But in Georgia, a group of parents successfully opposed an abstinence program at their school and created a resource center on the Web for other parents. In New Mexico, a group of parents, advocates such as Planned Parenthood, and public-health experts have formed the New Mexico Coalition to Support Sexuality Education to counter the abstinence movement and research what is effective in sex education. In Montgomery County, Md., a group of parents are working to rally support for comprehensive sex ed through, a Web site they formed after the terms of a lawsuit settlement forced their school board to abandon a curriculum that would have expanded its sex-ed program.

Hmm, that one group sounds familiar ... where do I know that name from?

They got the chronology a little wrong, but the idea is correct: we formed to "rally support for comprehensive sex ed," that's correct. The lawsuit came after the web site.
Some associations that deal with teens -- such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Medicine and the National Parent Teacher Association -- support comprehensive sex education. Ideally, this would include age-appropriate lessons that would cover a broad array of topics by the time students graduated from high school, including decision-making, abstinence, contraception and STDs.

"Kids are not getting enough information in the schools," says Mark A. Goldstein, chief of the division of adolescent medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. "The adolescents who do not receive sexual education may not understand contraceptive choices, may come in with sexually transmitted infections or an unwanted pregnancy or may be doing high-risk behaviors without knowing the consequences."

Administration officials say there is broad support for the abstinence-based approach. "In my view, prevention strategies should be about getting someone not to do that behavior," says Wade Horn, assistant secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "It's a message that parents and teens want."

But other groups are pushing for sex education that goes beyond abstinence teachings. In Cleveland, about 25 community groups recently created the Collaborative for Comprehensive School-Age Health to formulate a plan of action. In New York, more than 40 organizations have created Get the Facts NY, an alliance to support the Healthy Teens Act. Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit that supports comprehensive sex ed, just launched two new national campaigns to encourage young people to fight censorship in sex ed.

Well, there's more, but there you have it. It comes down to the same old doctors-versus-witch-doctors thing. Some people want education to be void of information, one hundred percent indoctrination. The whole curriculum is just different ways of telling students not to have sex. You don't need to know how it works, just don't do it. You don't need to know what diseases you might catch, just don't do it. You don't need to know how a condom works, or what contraceptives exist and how they work, just don't do it.

Because there's nothing as effective as telling a teenager not to do something.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Maryland Anti-Gay-Marriage Law Stopped

Montgomery County State Senator Bill Frosh was able to lead a move to indefinitely table a bill that would have made same-sex marriages illegal. I'll let the Baltimore Sun tell you:
An attempt to revive a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage failed in the Maryland Senate today, apparently leaving no further options this year for opponents of gay marriage.

With a proposal to amend the state constitution languishing in committee and only two weeks left in the General Assembly session, Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, resorted to a rarely used parliamentary move to try to bring the amendment out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He submitted a petition asking the Senate to bypass the committee and put the amendment on the agenda for debate.

But Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, immediately responded with another unusual move, making a motion to table the Stoltzfus petition indefinitely.

The Frosh motion was approved on a 26-21 vote, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, ruled that the amendment cannot be brought up again this session. Seven Democrats joined all 14 Republicans in an unsuccessful attempt to revive the amendment.

The House of Delegates had voted 78-61 earlier in the session to defeat a motion to override the House Judiciary Committee, which killed the same-sex marriage ban in February.

Gay marriage became an issue this year after Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled that the state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman was unconstitutional. That set off an immediate campaign to amend the constitution to override Murdock's decision.

But the state has appealed the ruling, and Democratic leaders predicted Murdock will be overruled by the Court of Appeals. They argued against amending the constitution while the case is on appeal.

There was only brief discussion in the Senate today before senators disposed of the issue. Attempt to revive gay marriage ban fails in Senate

So this is all interesting, isn't it? Even though some Republicans want you to believe that the people of Maryland are opposed to gay marriage, I think when you get down to it the people here, and especially the people of Montgomery County, are pretty fair-minded. What kind of marriage law we end up with seems to be anybody's guess, but it doesn't sound like our state Senate wants to go down this particular path.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Somebody Explain This To Me

I don't get this crazy world sometimes. The United Church of Christ is a Christian church. All right, they love people, they reach out to all kinds of people, they ... what can you say? They're just a church. They follow the teachings of Jesus as they are told in the gospels.

And you sometimes see ads for different churches on TV. I know I've seen a lot of ads for the Latter Day Saints -- well, in a free country you can buy time on the networks and advertise whatever you want, right?

No, you can't. When the UCC wanted to show a nice advertisement that stressed their inclusiveness, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and the WB networks all rejected it. Wouldn't show it. If your computer has sound and you have the Flash player, you can see the ad HERE. Now you tell me, what is supposed to be offensive about this?

The UCC's message is: "You're welcome here." They show a single mother, a gay couple, a generically "foreign" looking guy, and some others flying up from what you would call "ejector-pews" that shoot them into the sky. And this church's message is that they're not like that. The ad has some text that says, "God doesn't reject people: neither do we."

Of course they are contrasting themselves to some other churches, well, that's fair, isn't it? They make a point of their inclusiveness, and some others obviously are both straight and narrow.

Can somebody explain to me the logic of this? Why would the networks refuse to run these ads? Does this make sense to anybody?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Oddly Enough, Optimism

I'm optimisitic. I'm tending to think that we're waking up from a nightmare, not diving deeper into one. There's still lots to worry about, but I put my trust in the good sense of the people of my country.

A survey published this past week supports this conception. The Pew Research Center asked people across America about gay rights and other things. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
Opposition to same-sex marriage dropped sharply across the country during the past two years, though just over half of Americans still oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center released Wednesday.

The poll also showed increased support for allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, and substantial backing for the rights of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

The survey was released one day after a poll of California residents indicated increasing support for gay rights in the state, including for same-sex marriages. The nonpartisan Field Poll found that support for same-sex marriage in the state had risen from 38 percent in 1997 to 43 percent today. Poll finds U.S. warming to gay marriage: Opposition off 12% since '04 -- support for adoption, military role is up nationally

You know that there are organizations who work with and for the gay community, monitoring news sources and helping journalists reduce the bias in their stories. Some people will tell you this is part of the "gay agenda," the gay people's plan to take over the world, but ... you've gotta start with some certain assumptions to reach that conclusion. It doesn't seem hard to see it as some people working to see that they and their peers are treated with respect, and I don't see any reason to blame them for that.

At any rate, something is happening. Straight people are realizing that The Gay isn't going to go away, and that gay people are, it turns out, just people, when you get down to it. This seems to continue a benevolent trend that has led to the inclusion in our society of various racial and ethnic groups, the disabled, people with diseases that may have rendered them pariahs in other places and times, people of varying religions, equal rights for women ... in the communities of America, the circle of inclusion is constantly widening, no matter how loudly the nuts holler about it.

Americans, as a people, tend to listen to your case and give you the benefit of the doubt. But they're busy, and if it doesn't affect them directly they're likely not to pay attention, and to respond to whatever images appear on the news. As the circle expands, you see more and more people who are not bizarre and strange, who are pretty much like yourself, and then more people like them in your community can show their faces, and you see they're not bizarre and strange, or dangerous, and so it goes.

That doesn't mean you get elected by being nice, and so we have a public discussion that differs from the private one. You have people from the Family Blah Blah groups going around giving speeches about how gay people are germ-ridden, child-molesting, poop-eating sodomites, and you have a certain attendance at those speeches. But when the people who attend those speeches go back out into the real world, they deal with actual people, not the malignant stereotype but a real person. As we've seen in our county, you get a small number of people who will cling to the ugliness, but most people give you the benefit of the doubt.

This Pew survey, which you can read about HERE, has other interesting findings that all go together. They analyze the changes over time and show that attitudes toward gays, in general, are shifting in the benevolent direction, including attitudes about gays in the military and gay adoption.

You know that South Dakota just passed the most draconian abortion law. First of all, let me say, Great Swarmy predicts that governor and legislature will be thrown out of there as soon as the people can get an election scheduled. Pew writes:
On another social issue, the survey also finds that by a 58%-to-34% margin most Americans would oppose a national version of South Dakota's new law banning abortion in all cases unless the mother's life is endangered. However, supporters of such a law place a much higher priority on the issue, and are more politically active than opponents.

Just like here -- most people in Montgomery County were quite satisfied with the sex-ed curriculum, but a tiny minority of squeaky wheels thought it was real important, or as Pew would put it, "place a much higher priority on the issue."

The gap in intensity of feelings about the abortion issue is greatest among younger Americans. Young people who take a generally pro-life position are the most likely to say it is a critical issue for the country, and are twice as likely as young people who favor abortion access to have taken action over the past year to advocate their position.

Some people reduce the abortion issue to a dichotomy between those who take pleasure in murdering babies, and those who love children, including unborn ones. It is easy to understand why those people would feel more strongly about the issue than people who consider abortion an unfortunate but sometimes necessary procedure which presents a stressful and difficult decision to families and especially women.

Again, it seems to me that there is a public discussion, about the morality of abortion, which immediately becomes irrelevant when it's your own daughter who needs one. The Family Blah Blah groups want to paint the picture a certain color, but real people, with lives, know how difficult the decision really is, and oppose the ugly stereotype, even now, after five years of fundamentalist federal rule.

For Montgomery County, these trends reflect the disintegration of the now-incapacitated Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. In 2004 they thought they had a mandate, they thought America was finally going to tip over and adopt their kind of self-righteous bigotry, and it hasn't happened. The American people don't want to go there, and in fact they're moving the other way.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Apocalypse and Reason

I happened to see on CSPAN the other day, where President Bush was asked to confirm his belief in the impending return of Christ. From the CNN transcript:
QUESTION: Thank you for coming to Cleveland, Mr. President, and to the City Club.

My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips in his latest book, "American Theocracy," discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the Apocalypse.

QUESTION: Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the Apocalypse?

And if not, why not?

BUSH: Hmmm.


The answer is I haven't really thought of it that way.


Now, it seems to me that there are two answers to this question. Either you think the chaos in the Middle East is a sign of the Apocalypse, or you don't. If someone asked me that question, it would be easy to answer. If someone asked Pat Robertson that question, I assume it would be just as easy for him. How can somebody not know what they think about this?

The audience laughed nervously, it was the sound of embarrassment. Everybody knows that Bush claims that God speaks to him, claims to be born-again, and it would be rude, really, to question or challenge that. It's not right or wrong to be a born-again Christian, it's a choice you make. You don't argue with somebody about it, or criticize them for it in public. A simple "yes" would have cleared up a lot, and I doubt it would have actually counted against him in terms of votes or political support.

The strange thing is that he wouldn't answer the question.

The book that the audience member mentioned is not in the stores yet, as far as I know, but reviews are coming out, and it sounds like a fascinating thesis. Sidney Blumenthal writes about it in Salon. I'll give you a paragraph about the author first:
...[I]t is almost certain that his Cleveland Q&A was the first time Bush had heard of Phillips' new book. Phillips was the visionary strategist for the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon in 1968, foreseeing in its lineaments the making of political realignment. His 1969 book, "The Emerging Republican Majority," spelled out the shift of national power from the Northeast to the South and Southwest, which he was early to call the "Sun Belt." He grasped that the Southern Democrats in reaction to the civil rights revolution would become Southern Republicans. He also had a sensitive understanding of the resentments of urban ethnic Catholics against blacks on issues like crime, school integration and jobs. But he never imagined that evangelical religion would compound and transcend these animosities to transmute the coalition he helped fashion into something radically new that now horrifies him.

In "American Theocracy" Phillips describes Bush as the founder of "the first American religious party," in a country that has "never had a national religious party of any kind." The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 gave Bush the pretext for "seizing the fundamentalist moment." Rather than forging a new realignment, Bush won narrow victories by manipulation of a "critical religious geography" and hyping of issues such as gay marriage. This was a politics beyond mere resentment. Phillips writes, "New forces were being interwoven. These included the institutional rise of the religious right, the intensifying biblical focus on the Middle East, and the deepening of insistence on church-government collaboration within the GOP electorate." The rise of the religious right, according to Phillips, portends a potential "American disenlightenment," already apparent in Bush's hostility to science.

Ooh, I've got to say, I like that. "American disenlightenment." It has a nice sound to it, doesn't it? Partly because, to get any meaning from the term, you'd have to understand (ironically) what "enlightenment" was in the first place.
Even Bush's failures have become pretexts for advancing his transformation of the American government. On March 7, for example, he issued Executive Order 13397, establishing a Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Homeland Security. He has already created such centers in other federal departments. Exploiting his own disastrous emergency management in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Bush is funneling funds to churches on the Gulf Coast as though they can compensate for governmental breakdown. Last year, the White House deputy director for faith-based initiatives, David Kuo, resigned with a statement that "Republicans were indifferent to the poor" and that the White House had "minimal commitment" to "compassionate conservatism."

As Bush's melding of church and state accelerates, the faith-based turns into the reality-based. The theocratic impulse has always been about earthly power and has provoked intense and unexpected opposition. Within hours of its publication, "American Theocracy" skyrocketed to the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon. At the movie theaters, "V for Vendetta" -- a dystopian thriller in which an imaginary Britain is a metaphor for Bush's America, ruled by a totalitarian, faith-based regime, where gays are rounded up and the hero is a Guy Fawkes-like terrorist who blows up the Parliament -- is a surprise No. 1 box office hit. Bush has succeeded in getting American audiences to cheer for terrorism. In Bush we trust

These are indeed strange times for American history, and I think we need to be careful. It's like there's a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, and the forces of Evil have given themselves the name "Good."

Recently, I ended a post about the Kansas state school board's craziness with this comment:
Will the voters keep this school board? Is this kind of thing gaining or losing ground? Midterm elections later this year will give us some insights. I am very eager to see if we can get our country back on its feet.

As I wrote those words, I worried that they would seem histrionic, but I am seeing now that many, many Americans are worrying about this same thing, and at the same time many are introspecting, analyzing their own anger and fear.

There's a blog in Kansas that's kind of like ours, only focused on the subject of evolution instead of sex-ed. Red State Rabble keeps track of the dynamics of the debate on that subject, focusing on the unique things that are happening in Kansas, but keeping up on related developments all around the country. He has a recent post there that explores this topic in just the way I am thinking of it.

It's a longish, thoughtful piece, and I encourage you to read it. Near the end, he ponders this question:
Opinion on the book [American Theocracy] ranges from the pessimistic view expressed by Michelle Goldberg, who writes that the book provides "a historical framework to think about the looming, ambient sense of crisis and breakdown that seems to pervade everything these days. Things in America certainly seem very bad to me, but it can be hard to grapple with the extent of our peril without falling into the secular version of Left Behind apocalypticism."

At the other end of the spectrum, Kevin Drum says that he can't make up his mind "whether Kevin Phillips was a visionary with an important wakeup call or a once-brilliant analyst who had let Bush hatred turn him into an obsessive crank."

Red State Rabble must admit that these are the very questions that have preoccupied us over the past year as we followed the controversy over science education. At various times, and in various moods, we've succumbed to each of these views in turn.

It is difficult to disentangle motives, that's the problem with our perspective. We don't have a book or authority telling us what we believe, we have to make it up as we go along. Are we fighting this fight for the right reasons? I'll tell you, the other side doesn't ask itself that.

He started this post with some quotes from Fritz Stern, a scholar and refugee from Nazi Germany, and he ends by going back to that:
Can a minority that believes that Armageddon is just around the corner really take over the largest, most powerful democracy in the world? If the religious right is a danger, what must be done to prevent them from seizing the reins of government. If moderates unite and take action, can we prevent the worst from happening, or is it already too late?

We can't help but think the decisions the American people make in the coming months will be crucial. Our nation has worked diligently to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue nations. Will we now, out of lethargy, turn the world's largest nuclear arsenal over to people who believe that the sight mushroom clouds blooming in the atmosphere above the world's cities is a welcome harbinger of the coming rapture?

Many in Fritz Stern's generation spent their lives pondering how the Nazi horror could have been allowed to happen. Will ours end up doing the same?

I think a lot of us are asking ourselves these same questions now. It's that lethargy thing you gotta watch out for.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Viroqua Diversity Day Cancelled

Viroqua is along the highway between Coon Valley and Sidie Hollow, Wisconsin. The high school's got about 370 kids in it.

For the past few years they've tried to have a "Diversity Day," you know, to learn about other kinds of people. As a teacher explained:
“Our students are not going to be living their lives out in Viroqua,” said Attleson. “They’ll be out and about in the world — in jobs, in the military, in the university —and they’re going to come into contact with people of different backgrounds. And we feel it would be real helpful for them in a nice safe place, like a high school, to have contact and be able to dispel some of the stereotypes.”

True, that.

Two years ago the school board cancelled Diversity Day when 400 people signed petitions to keep the gay, lesbian, and transgender people out of it. I don't really remember it making the news, but that's what happened, they weren't all that interested in "that kind" of diversity up there that year.

This year, the out-of-town legal buzzards came in, and Diversity Day is cancelled again.

As the La Crosse Tribune puts it:
While pressure in 2004 came largely from within the community, this time, much of the challenge was from outside, said Gregg Attleson, a Spanish teacher at Viroqua who was on the Diversity Day planning committee.

The Tribune obtained a copy of a March 8 fax to David Johnston, Viroqua district administrator, from the Liberty Counsel, a national public interest law firm with offices in Florida and Virginia.

The fax stated that Don Greven, pastor of Bad Axe Lutheran Church, and Charles Lind, grandfather of a Viroqua High senior, had raised concerns about no Christian or formerly gay viewpoints being among the Diversity Day speakers. Legal issues lead to cancellation of Diversity Day at Viroqua High

Yes, Liberty Counsel. The same guys that filed the lawsuit here in Montgomery County. Same guys, up to the SOS.

Sounds like the Viroqua Area School District put up even less of a fight than the Montgomery County Public Schools did when these slick lawyers came to town. Gave up immediately. At least MCPS made them go to court before they gave away the farm.

So Diversity Day is canceled at Viroqua High School again.

The rightwing web sites are going crazy with this. "They'd rather cancel the event than allow ex-gays and Christians at it," is of course the way the spin goes. They love this stuff. This proves how put-upon they are.

You ever been to Viroqua, Wisconsin?

I notice the story doesn't say that any "ex-gays" wanted to be part of Diversity Day. They just weren't on the schedule, so the minister over at Bad Axe Lutheran complained to the Falwell legal team.

According to the paper, they had planned to feature "Hmong, Jewish, Muslim, American Indian, African American, Latino, Buddhist, gay, physically disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged people."

The gay speakers had said they would be uncomfortable if "ex-gays" were represented. Because, well, that's what the whole "ex-gay" thing is, anyway -- if they weren't trying pressure gay people to get back into the closet they wouldn't call themselves "ex-gay," they'd call themselves "straight." Don't kid yourself, the entire concept of "ex-gay" exists as part of a mission to shame gay people into being something they're not. Somebody switches from AC to DC, fine, not a problem, but if you're for real you don't hang up a sign when you do it.

A teacher explained:
“Non-positive groups were not what we were going for,” said Ellen Byers, an English teacher on the committee.

She said it was important to have homosexuals represented because a lot of misunderstanding exists about the issue and because Viroqua has gay students.

She said the day was not supposed to be about “proselytizing,” or alienating anyone.

That last line is key, and it will be lost in the noise. It was not supposed to be about proselytizing or alienating anyone.
  • Do you think the Hmong wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the Jewish person wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the Muslim wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the American Indian wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the African American wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the Latino wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the Buddhist wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the gay person wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the physically disadvantaged person wants you to become one of them?
  • Do you think the economically disadvantaged person wants you to become one of them?

That does seem to draw a line between those invited and those not, doesn't it?

Do you think the Christian wants you to become one of them?
Do you think the "ex-gay" wants you to become one of them?

Nobody minds if you've given your life to Christ, or if you want to say you're not gay any more. What people don't like is being told there's something wrong with them, and they need to be like you. That's not diversity, that's just rudeness.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

MCPS Stands Up For Itself

There's been a eddy swirling under the surface around the development of the HIV/AIDS part of the Montgomery County Public Schools' health curriculum.

The Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Health and Human Development was charged with evaluating new sections of the sex-ed curriculum having to do with sexual variation, and sections of the health curriculum dealing with HIV/AIDS. Well, there are a lot of pediatricians, a lot of MDs, on that committee, so it made sense.

Last week Michelle Turner, President of the anti-MCPS Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, gave a presentation at the Board of Education's public comments about the legality of having the citizens committee handle the HIV/AIDS section. (In her comments, "COMAR" refers to Maryland State law.)

Amid the whining about how mistreated the CRC is, she said:
COMAR indicates that the Citizens Advisory Committee [CAC] can be used for the purpose of reviewing materials but only if the committee has a representative from the local health department. The present Citizens Advisory Committee does not meet this requirement. The present committee cannot consider curriculum material that deals with HIV/AIDS education even though Dr. Lacy indicated that this committee will be doing just that.

She then quoted the relevant section of COMAR, which said, in part:
(1) The local school system shall maintain a curriculum in HIV/AIDS prevention education in consultation with the local health department and may use resources available from the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the State Department of Education.

(2) The local school system shall use an existing committee or appoint a committee comprised of educators, representatives of the community including parents/guardians of students enrolled in a public school program, and the local health department, which shall examine all instructional materials proposed for use in HIV/AIDS prevention education curriculum. Recommendations from this committee shall be submitted to the local superintendent of schools and the local board of education for final action. All aspects of the curriculum shall be reviewed by the committee at least annually to assure that it is accurate and current.

There's more, this is the relevant part.

I'm no lawyer, but this seems pretty clear. Number Two says the local district "shall use an existing committee OR appoint a committee comprised of blah blah blah."

I did hear rumors after her talk that some MCPS staff were concerned about this. It really would be a stupid way to screw up, after all the district has gone through.

This week, a memo was issued by Dr. Frieda K. Lacey, the Deputy Superintendent, to Superintendent Jerry Weast. She explained that she had consulted with the MCPS attorney, Judith Bresler, and they had a response. The memo is too much to reproduce here in its entirety, but there is a Q-and-A section that sums it up.
Q: Does COMAR require consultation with the local health department in the development of HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum?
A: Yes. We have a long-standing collaborative relationship with professional staff of the Montgomery Ccounty Health Department. The department's personnel include individuals with expertise in school health, wellness, communicable disease control and prevention, including HIV/AIDS, and other specialties. They have consulted with school system staff in a number of areas. In fact, the department reviewed materials prepared for teacher training on HIV/AIDS prevention last fall. In addition, a health department representative is a member of the curriculum advisory committee for health education. We will continue to consult with the department as we develop updates and revisions to the health education curriculum.

Q: Does COMAR require the designation of a public committee to examine all instructional materials proposed for HIV/AIDS education to conduct an annual review of the HIV/AIDS curiculum?
A: Yes. The regulation provides a choice using "an existing committee" or appointing "a committee comprised of ...[individuals from certain groups, including the local health dept]." For years, the existing committee for MCPS has been the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, which is appointed under other similar COMAR provisions requiring community involvement. Expectations are that the designation will continue with the current committee, and this was discussed with the committee's chair, Dr. Carol Plotsky, when she met last fall with then Board President Patricia B. O'Neill, Board Staff Director George Margolies, and the superintendent's liaison to the committee, Mr. Brian J. Porter, chief of staff. The continued designation facilitates the process for two reasons. First, the advisory committee already will be reviewing curriculum and instructional materials on disease prevention and control, which includes HIV/AIDS. In fact, the committee will be reviewing the newly developed curriculum framework, which includes HIV/AIDS components, at its next meeting. Second, the membership of the current committee includes several physicians and public health professionals, including those with expertise in HIV/AIDS.

Q: Is it required that a health department representative be on the committee?
A: No. The COMAR requirement offers a choice. If a new committee were appointed, it would need to include a health dept rep. However this is not specified for an existing committee. In the past, the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development has included health department staff as members. While the placement of a health department representative on the existing committee would be welcome, it is not necessary, given the requirement to maintain an HIV/AIDS curriculum in consultation with the health dept. The existing committee already includes members with public health expertise.

One thing to mention is that the legal settlement agreement between MCPS and the suers states that the citizens committee can have a maximum of 15 members, which it has now. So to place public health person on the committee, a current member would have to leave.

So that's where this sits at the moment.

The world is in the throes of an AIDS epidemic. Every year there are changes -- statistical changes to the target population, medical changes in terms of treatments and considerations, it's a new disease, without a cure, and there is a lot to learn about managing it. So the school district will have regular reviews of their curriculum: a good idea.

You might wonder why the CRC would want to challenge the school district on this. I can think of two theories.

First, they might be worried about the quality of the HIV/AIDS curriculum. Perhaps they are so concerned about AIDS victims that they want to make sure the school district gets the very best advice, and that MCPS doesn't slack off and fall short of the strict letter of the law.

A second theory is that the CRC wants to continue to drag the whole process down, that they don't want to talk about AIDS in class because it will mean possible discussion of condoms, and possible mention of anal sex, and it just might mean treating gay AIDS patients as human beings, rather than sinners who are being punished for their evil ways, as some people's "family values" hold.

In either case, it appears they will have a fight on their hands. I don't see the school district backing down on this.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dr. Lacey Wins Award

We sometimes forget to mention that we have one of the best school districts in the country here.

The new sex-education curriculum is being developed under the leadership of Deputy Superintendent of Schools Frieda K. Lacey. So we were especially pleased to see this press release on the MCPS web site:
Dr. Frieda K. Lacey, deputy superintendent of schools for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), has received the Nancy S. Grasmick Excellence for Minority Achievement Award for her contributions in promoting student excellence and equity in educational opportunity for all students.

The annual awards program, sponsored by the statewide Achievement Initiative for Maryland’s Minority Students (AIMMS) Council, was established in 1999. It honors individuals and groups from education, community, and business organizations.

Dr. Lacey has dedicated her entire career to educating children, from serving as a special education teacher to her current role as deputy superintendent of schools. She has worked with MCPS since 1971.

Dr. Lacey has dedicated her entire career to educating children, from serving as a special education teacher to her current role as deputy superintendent of schools. She has worked with MCPS since 1971.

She has demonstrated support of diverse student groups by motivating the school system to examine the performance of students by subgroup, not just as a whole; ensuring that academic interventions for minority students get the support needed; including strategies in the MCPS strategic plan that address disproportionate identification of minority students for special education; and creating a multi-stakeholder task force to review MCPS policies and practices that may contribute to disproportionate identification of students with disabilities based on race and ethnicity.

MCPS has narrowed the achievement gap and has dramatically increased the percentage of African American and Hispanic students participating in Honors and Advanced Placement courses. Dr. Lacey’s work to increase academic success among minority students includes deploying research-based methods of academic instruction, collaborating with higher education institutions, and directing the development of a strategic measurement and management system.

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick appointed the AIMMS Council and Steering Committee in 1999. The awards will be presented at the annual ceremony and dinner on April 28.

You can read about the Grasmick Award HERE. sends congratulations to Dr. Lacey.

Voices In The Dark

Kansas, being Kansas, has got another controversy on its hands. This time the conservative state school board members who redefined science so that it no longer required "natural explanations," who wanted intelligent design taught in biology classes, have decided to undermine sex education by requiring students to "opt in" rather than "opt out" of classes. That means your kid is by default not going to have sex-ed, unless you sign the permission slip.
School districts in Kansas must get parents' written permission before teaching their children sex education, the state Board of Education decided Wednesday.

The board adopted the policy in a 6-4 vote. Up to now, most Kansas districts had an "opt-out" policy, they enrolled children in sex ed unless a parent objected in writing.

Only a few other states have such "opt-in" requirements on sex education, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a group that promotes sex education. Among them: Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

Board members who voted for the new policy said some parents told them they did not know their children were taking sex education until the classes had started.

"It's about empowering parents. That's the bottom line," said board chairman Steve Abrams. Kansas: Parents Must OK Sex Ed

This is a funny way to try to drag down health education, and one that I'm guessing won't work.

Montgomery County has an opt-in policy already. I know, I just signed the form last week and my kid lost it, so I signed it again this morning.

Though statistics don't seem to have been kept, the estimates from school district staff have been that something like ninety-nine percent of parents did sign those forms, and more amazingly, ninety-nine percent of kids managed to get all the way to school with them and turn them into their teachers.

But this is cool, it looks like some local Kansas school boards are just going to ignore this new rule. From the Lawrence Journal-World:
Lawrence schools Supt. Randy Weseman on Friday criticized the Kansas State Board of Education for being out of touch and unresponsive to local school districts.

“The arguments they’re making are just voices in the dark,” Weseman said. “They’re just not issues.”

Weseman said the Lawrence district likely wouldn’t change its practices in response to the board’s recent vote requiring parental permission before students take sex education courses.

“I think what they did was a solution in search of a problem,” Weseman said. “I just don’t see (the Lawrence board) moving in this direction right now, and I know my board pretty well.”

The state board’s conservative majority on Wednesday approved a requirement that students receive parental permission before taking sex education, a process called opt-in. In Lawrence, as in many districts, parents can have their children opt out of classes. Lawrence sex-ed policy likely to stay as opt-out

Pretty good article, you ought to click on that link. This conservative school board is just tearing it up over there, making decisions right and left, dragging the state of Kansas into the Third World.

Kicking and screaming, in some cases.
Health teachers at two Lawrence junior high schools said the issue of teaching human sexuality had not been a major concern for parents.

“The parents are very supportive, and they tell me how glad they are we are talking about this subject,” said Vickie McCauley, a West Junior High School teacher who has taught health for 21 years in Lawrence. McCauley said about 10 students had opted out of her sex education lessons in those 21 years.

Max Cordova, health and physical education teacher at Southwest Junior High School, said talking about the subject in school could ease fears about discussing it at home.

“They’re intimidated by mom and dad, and mom and dad may be intimidated, too,” he said. “It kind of eases up the relationship with mom and dad. It’s all about communicating.”

I know I was talking to one of my kids the other day about some things that will be in the health curriculum, oh wait, it won't be in the health curriculum. Well, it was something that was going to be in the curriculum, having to do with a friend of theirs who came out recently and told the world he's gay. So I started in a little bit about sexual attraction and sexual orientation and .. well, let's just say, they ... did ... not ... want ... to ... hear this from Dad. Naturally, as chief blogger for Teach the Facts I am a recognized expert on all of this stuff, but my own kid would rather hear it at school.

This Lawrence news story actually has another scary section to it, near the bottom:
The issue of alleged pornography may be next for the state board.

A dispute in the Blue Valley school district over assigned texts spurred [state board member Steve] Abrams and others to allege that some schools assign pornographic literature.

Conservative board member Bacon said he’d read some of the texts on the Blue Valley reading list. The list includes “Beloved” by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and “Black Boy” by Richard Wright.

“I’m thinking, ‘Who in their right mind would want to force this on a child?’” Bacon said. “To me, it screams sexual harassment. ... I think it’s important that we at least try to see if we can get some more information.”

I don't know where this goes from here. I think the Bush bubble has burst, the dream of a theocratic America is losing momentum as one bright idea after another turns into disaster and failure. But in some places, it looks like, the dream lives on. Apparently in Kansas, they've got a little group on the school board -- look, it only takes a few people -- that's going to undercut education in every way they can think of. Will the voters keep this school board? Is this kind of thing gaining or losing ground? Midterm elections later this year will give us some insights. I am very eager to see if we can get our country back on its feet.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ah, Freedom

As America continues to spread freedom in the Middle East, a couple of stories in this week's news seem to go together. The first one is a little hard to verify, and has to do with a fatwa issued by an Iraqi religious leader. Now that Iraq has successfully converted to democracy, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has ordered that gay people be punished as harshly as possible. The Advocate has it:
In the midst of sectarian violence that threatens to drag Iraq into civil war, the country's influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a violent death order against gays and lesbians on his Web site, according to London-based LGBT human rights groups OutRage.

Written in Arabic, the fatwa comes from a press conference with the powerful religious cleric, where he was asked about the judgment on sodomy and lesbianism. “Forbidden,” Sistani answered, according to OutRage, “Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.” Iraqi cleric wants gays killed in "most severe way"

OK, who's really surprised by this? Religious extremists are what they are, it doesn't seem to really matter what the religion is. We've got 'em, they've got 'em, and the scary thing is to think about what would happen if our radical Christians and their radical Muslims ever figured out a way to join together.

But I'm not thinking that's likely.

I'm quoting unusual sources today, but ... here's a story from Voice of America, about how wonderfully democracy is improving the lives of people in Afghanistan:
An Afghan man who recently admitted he converted to Christianity faces the death penalty under the country's strict Islamic legal system. The trial is a critical test of Afghanistan's new constitution and democratic government.

The case is attracting widespread attention in Afghanistan, where local media are closely monitoring the landmark proceedings.

Abdul Rahman, 40, was arrested last month, accused of converting to Christianity.

Under Afghanistan's new constitution, minority religious rights are protected but Muslims are still subject to strict Islamic laws.

And so, officially, Muslim-born Rahman is charged with rejecting Islam and not for practicing Christianity.

Appearing in court earlier this week Rahman insisted he should not be considered an infidel, but admitted he is a Christian.

He says he still believes in the almighty Allah, but cannot say for sure who God really is. "I am," he says, "a Christian and I believe in Jesus Christ."

Rahman reportedly converted more than 16 years ago after spending time working in Germany.

Officials say his family, who remain observant Muslims, turned him over to the authorities. Afghan Man Faces Execution After Converting to Christianity

Well, I guess the good news is that they're not likely to join up together any time soon.

Friday, March 17, 2006

On Speaking Without Knowing

The First Amendment Center recently relased some guidelines for the development of a public school curriculum on sexual orientation. That's handy, because we're developing a curriculum like that right now.

After the release of the guidelines, one of the authors of the document, Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, made some statements to Regina Griggs, the Executive Director of PFOX, which PFOX reported as being supportive of their mission. Some of the comments have been dealt with here already in previous posts.

One other thing he said to her was really pretty serious, it seemed to me:
"...incidents such as the one last year in Montgomery County, Maryland, might have been avoided had guidelines like these been in place."

To tell you the truth, this got on my nerves. The problem last year was not that the process was flawed. In fact, the process did all it could to involve diverse viewpoints and it was as fair as it could possibly have been. The problem was that the losers couldn't accept that they'd been outvoted. It had nothing to do with the process, or with First Amendment principles.

So why was this guy saying these things? This morning I emailed him and asked him what MCPS should have done differently, exactly. He wrote back:
We recommend a process of developing civic ground rules and ways to include all stakeholders. From what I gathered, that may have been missing. But you know better than I... After reading the guidelines, you may feel that you did all of that -- and still had the conflict. If so, I stand corrected. I based my "might have been avoided" comment on news reports and conversations with a few people who were familiar with the conflict (but were not key players). So... perhaps all of the civic ground rules were in place, all of the voices were included, etc. and a lawsuit still resulted. That does happen...

Well, yes, that's good. He does admit that he doesn't know what happened here.

I wrote him again and explained that, since PFOX was using his statement to advance their agenda, "your comment has the potential to become pivotal in this event, but, as you yourself note, you don't really know what actually happened here." I asked him if he would like to issue a retraction or explanation.

In response, he explained how he had come to make that statement, and then added:
But as you say, I wasn't there. So, if it would be helpful, you can quote me as saying that I don't know if the process used in Montgomery County was consistent with the guidelines we recommend. My comment was in response to news reports, the lawsuit, and statements by several people who followed the controversy but were not directly involved. So my comment was intended to suggest that any community that uses the ground rules and the process we describe is more likely to find common ground and avoid lawsuits.

OK, that sounds right.

Charles Haynes did not know if the process used in Montgomery County was consistent with the guidelines they recommend, or not.

That means he doesn't know if anything would have been different if MCPS had had the First Amendment Center's consensus guidelines.

That really means he is admitting that he didn't know what he was talking about when he said that the "incident" might have been avoided if guidelines like these had been in place.

I appreciate that he owns up to it. We all say things sometimes without full knowledge of what we're talking about.

It appears that PFOX may want to exploit Dr. Haynes' statements in order to promote their view that sexual orientation is a choice. Let me list off a few summary points here:
  • The consensus guidelines say nothing at all about "ex-gays"
  • Dr. Haynes' comment that "ex-gays should be included" has been explained, by him, to mean that "ex-gays" should be included in the process of developing the curriculum; he has expressed no opinion about whether the subject should be part of the curriculum or not
  • While Dr. Haynes said that "incidents such as the one last year in Montgomery County, Maryland, might have been avoided had guidelines like these been in place," now he admits he did not know what had actually happened in Montgomery County, or whether the process used here actually did conform to the guidelines

I do thank Dr. Haynes for communicating these details to us.

Just Interesting Somehow

I just happened across this controversy, and it ... I don't know, it just seemed funny. Here's the tip of the iceberg, from Japan:
A pioneer in gender studies and author of numerous books on the subject, Prof. Chizuko Ueno was to give a lecture on human rights in the city of Kokubunji. Her talk was vetoed in the planning stage due to pressure from the Tokyo Metropolitan government apparently because of fears that in her lecture she might use the words "gender-free," which are synonymous in Japan with "gender equal." The Tokyo Metropolitan government is on record as being opposed to the use of the term. Ueno sees the suppression of "gender free" as part of a conservative backlash against "the collapse of gender boundaries" by politicians such as Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and LDP presidential hopeful Shinzo Abe. Ueno will speak at the FCCJ about her dispute with Ishihara and answer questions about the state of gender relations in Japan today.

Author of "Nationalism and Gender" (published by TransPacific Press 2004) Ueno is a prolific writer of both books and articles in Japanese. She has taught at Columbia University as well as universities in Canada, Germany and Mexico. Professional Luncheon: Political Backlash in Japan Against Gender Equality

Well, that is a ... very brief ... account. A fuller telling of the story is hidden behind a registration procedure that I didn't want to go through, but I did find a blogger who reproduced an article from the Japan Times Online. Here's some of it:
Last year's cancellation of lectures on human rights in Kokubunji, Tokyo, has pitted key feminist scholar Chizuko Ueno and free-speech advocates against conservatives in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government opposed to the use of "gender-free" -- a term whose definition varies but somehow conjures up negative images.

Experts say the cancellation reflects a backlash by conservative Japanese against the changing roles of men and women.

The Kokubunji Municipal Government planned last summer to hold 10 lectures on human rights -- a project sponsored by the metropolitan government -- and chose Ueno, a professor of women's studies at the University of Tokyo, to teach the course.

Metropolitan officials then pressured the western Tokyo suburb to ensure lecturers did not mention "gender-free" issues, according to both Tokyo and Kokubunji. The course was axed in August.

"I myself do not use the term gender-free, simply because it has not been adopted by most gender studies scholars in the international academic community," Ueno told reporters Monday.

She said she has no objection to other people using whatever terms they deem appropriate for promoting gender equality, but she strongly objects to official agencies banning the use of any words in public, unless they are discriminatory or hate-generating expressions.

Since the mid-1990s in Japan, "gender-free," which has been interchangeable with "gender equality," carries the concept of being free from sexual differences in a social and cultural context.

But some quarters regard gender-free as a denial of the differences between males and females, and of traditional family values, and as a way to promote what they consider radical sex education.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party [this is the name of the conservative party in Japan? JimK] said it has received 3,500 reports of alleged "gender-free" activities that were deemed problematic.

According to the LDP's Web site, schools have had fifth-graders of both sexes share the same sleeping quarters on trips and conducted sex education classes using dolls with sex organs, drawing complaints for being too radical. The Tokyo government also claimed teachers had male and female students undergo medical checkups together.

The metropolitan board of education announced in August 2004 that Tokyo would not use the term "gender-free" in its activities, claiming the concept is sometimes misused to ignore the fact that men and women are different.

The metropolitan government thus told Kokubunji that it would not sponsor the course if the city was not sure if Ueno would avoid the term, said Shinichi Egami of Tokyo's Office of Education.

But Tetsuo Saito, director of the Kokubunji-run Honda Community Center who was in charge of planning the lectures, said he told metropolitan officials he believed Ueno would not take up "gender-free" because the theme was human rights.

Saito said he voluntarily dropped the course because Tokyo officials remained unconvinced that the concept would not be broached.

Can you imagine living in society where the city cancels a speech because the speaker just might use a term that conservatives don't approve of? Even when the speaker doesn't like the term and doesn't plan to use it, and the term doesn't mean what they say it means anyway?

Can you imagine that?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Consensus Guidelines Do Nothing for PFOX

As I noted in the previous post, PFOX sent out a press release (read it HERE), implying that the First Amendment Center's new consensus guidelines for teaching about sexual orientation (they're HERE) included something about "ex-gays." They quoted a scholar from the Center:
According to Charles Haynes, a primary drafter of the guidelines and Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center, the ex-gay viewpoint in public schools is protected by the First Amendment and should be heard.

Haynes explained that incidents such as the one last year in Montgomery County, Maryland, might have been avoided had guidelines like these been in place. In that case, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) successfully sued the Montgomery County School Board for failing to include the ex-gay viewpoint.

I emailed Dr. Haynes to find out what he had said.

At first he was, I thought, too vague:
I said that our guide encourages school officials to include all stakeholders in the dialogue about how to address these issues. I said nothing (and the guidelines say nothing) about what the outcome of that dialogue should be... What schools include in their curriculum will depend on the outcome of the process -- and the vote of the school board. Our guide is a suggested process for reaching those decisions, not a prescription about what to include or not include in the curriculum. In that sense, then, the ex-gay viewpoint should be at the table along with other perspectives when these decisions are made.

I pointed out to him that The headline for this PFOX press release was "SEXUAL ORIENTATION CONSENSUS GUIDELINES INCLUDE EX-GAYS," which, since the guidelines themselves did not mention the topic, apparently referred to your comments, and asked him to clarify.

His reply:
Let me try to be clear: "Including" in my comments has to do with including people in the dialogue... including various perspectives in the process of deciding what the district will do. I said nothing, the guidelines say nothing, about what the final curriculum should be... Those groups supporting the process in the guide disagree about what a good curriculum might look like... Our task was to agree on a process for dialogue. If the PFOX headline means: the process recommended in the guidelines calls for including all sides, then that is correct. In my comments, I said that the guidelines call for including all sides in the process. I did not comment on whether on not school should teach about ex-gays or anything else.


The First Amendment Center encourages use of First Amendment principles in the decision-making process. That would mean, I said, that the ex-gay group should be at the table. As to what the curriculum should or should not include, that is a matter for local communities to decide.

OK -- is that clear? "Including" ex-gays means you include them in the process. It does not mean including them in the curriculum.

Well, that ain't a whole lot, is it? PFOX was at the table. PFOX had a representative on the citizens committee that studied the previous curriculum for nearly two years. They were outvoted.

They have a representative on the current committee. They're included.

Regarding our situation here in Montgomery County, Dr. Haynes wrote:
It is possible that every effort was made to include all voices in the process... and that some people simply refused to accept the outcome. Even using the best First Amendment framework, the process can fail.

Yes, the process can fail. People can refuse to accept the process. They can undermine the process. They can cost the taxpayers money.

I'd like to put this one to bed. The First Amendment Center's consensus guidelines for teaching about sexual orientation in the public schools are well-enough considered and fair. The basic premise is that all sides should be included in the process of curriculum development, and all sides should act like grown-ups and show a little civility to one another. If that happens, then the process can be a constructive one where the result will reflect the will of the community.

The previous MCPS citizens advisory committee did include very diverse viewpoints, including a good number of representatives of conservative groups. It was, it seems to me, orderly, civil, and allowed minority viewpoints to be expressed, discussed, and voted on. And, in every vote, somebody wins, and somebody loses. And the current committee of course includes CRC and PFOX, and shows every sign of being a well-organized and fair group.

It appears that PFOX wants to pretend that this document somehow supports their mission. It does support their presence in the discussion. But they were in the discussion already, so it doesn't add anything. At most, this just gives Montgomery County an attaboy for doing the right thing.

To be clear: the First Amendment Center's consensus guidelines do not say anything at all about "ex-gays," and the author of the document makes it clear that he has not given an opinion on the subject.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Nice of PFOX to put us on their mailing list. We here at just received an email from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (which really should be PFOX-GAG, shouldn't it?), touting the new consensus guidelines that were released this week by the First Amendment Center. That document is the result of a collaboration among Christian groups, gay advocacy organizations, educators, and others, trying to sort out how public schools should approach teaching about sexual orientation.

Of course this is an important issue for us right now, as the Montgomery County Public Schools are about to evaluate and test a new curriculum on the subject of sexual orientation. And as PFOX has a member on the citizens advisory committee that will evaluate the curriculum, I think they expect that "ex-gays" should be mentioned in the classes.

The PFOX email is a press release with the headline:

New public school guidelines endorsed by gay group GLSEN and Christian organization CEAI

So, wow, this is pretty big news. If these experts all got together and discussed this, and hashed over drafts of this document, and if they felt that "ex-gays" needed to be in a public school curriculum, well, that would really be a pretty big boost for their side. Because, to tell you the truth, right now I don't think anybody believes it should be taught.


Then I was thinking, y'know, just today I printed this document out and read it, and I didn't remember seeing "ex-gays" anywhere in it. So just now I went to the web site again, downloaded the document, and searched for the word "ex-gay." I searched for "exgay", "ex gay", everything I could think of, and there's just nothing there. I even scanned it with my eyeballs, the old-fashioned way, to see if the words would jump out at me. Nada.

So I read this PFOX email a little closer. It starts out:
WASHINGTON, DC – The First Amendment Center has released the first consensus guidelines to help public schools develop sexual orientation policies. The new guidelines advise school officials to include the viewpoints of all participants in order to develop policies that promote fairness for all. According to Charles Haynes, a primary drafter of the guidelines and Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center, the ex-gay viewpoint in public schools is protected by the First Amendment and should be heard.

Haynes explained that incidents such as the one last year in Montgomery County, Maryland, might have been avoided had guidelines like these been in place. In that case, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) successfully sued the Montgomery County School Board for failing to include the ex-gay viewpoint. Haynes said, “Americans are deeply divided over homosexuality in our society. But if public school officials and community leaders use the ground rules of the First Amendment, they can reach agreement on how public schools can guard the rights of all students in a safe learning environment.”

I'm still waiting for the part where they say the "consensus guidelines include ex-gays."
One of the endorsers to the guidelines also agrees that school officials should consider the ex-gay viewpoint. “The strength in the framework of the guidelines is that all sides should be heard and this does include the ex-gay perspective, ” said Finn Laursen, director of Christian Educators Association International (CEAI).

“As PFOX continues to work for inclusion and respect of the ex-gay viewpoint in public schools nationwide, we are assured by the consensus guidelines that the ex-gay viewpoint is protected by the First Amendment,” said Regina Griggs, PFOX Director. “In too many schools, the ex-gay viewpoint is censored or marginalized. Now school districts are held to a standard of respect. According to the new guidelines, actions by educators to exclude some views merely because they disagree with them constitute viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”

There're a couple more paragraphs. Nothing about the consensus guidelines including ex-gays.

People, the consensus guidelines do not include ex-gays.

I want to be nice, I don't want to call anybody a liar or anything. But ... who wrote that headline?

So what does the document actually say? Rather than summarize the five-page document, I'll quote the First Amendment Center's own press release:
The first consensus guidelines created to help to educators, students and parents develop local policies and practices to address issues involving sexual orientation in public schools were announced today by the First Amendment Center.

"Americans are deeply divided over homosexuality in our society," said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. "But if school officials and community members use the ground rules of the First Amendment, they can reach agreement on how public schools can guard the rights of all students in a safe learning environment."

The nonpartisan guidelines call on school officials to be "fair, honest brokers of a dialogue that involves all stakeholders and seeks the common good." The recommended strategies include:

-- Create a "common ground" task force, with representatives with a wide range of community views, to advise school officials on issues such as safety in school, student expression and curricula;

-- Agree on protecting everyone's First Amendment rights and reach a shared understanding of current law;

-- Avoid "us v. them" political arguments, and permit all sides in the debate to be heard;

-- Provide educational opportunities for administrators, teachers, parents and students about basic First Amendment principles of rights, responsibilities and respect.

Primary drafters of the guidelines were Haynes and Wayne Jacobsen of BridgeBuilders, an organization that helps schools and communities find common ground on religious issues. Representatives from the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) also served on the drafting committee and endorsed the process recommended in the guide. Two national educational leadership groups, the American Association of School Administrators and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) have also endorsed the guidelines.

CEAI is a professional association of Christian educators serving in public and private schools. GLSEN is a national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. First Consensus Guidelines Developed For Public Schools Regarding Sexual Orientation

These all sound like good suggestions.

PFOX got a couple of members of the committee who wrote this document to express support for them and their mission -- in an interview. Of course they didn't put anything about "ex-gays" in the guidelines themselves -- it would have been ridiculous to try, and nobody would have agreed to it. Nobody in their right mind would really suggest that teaching about "ex-gays" was an important part of a curriculum on sexual orientation in the public schools.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

New MCPS Committee Studies the Movie Ban

At the start of the school year my daughter, a senior in high school, told me that her English teacher had said they couldn't watch movies of Othello or Romeo and Juliet in class, because of something having to do with the sex-education curriculum. I emailed the teacher and asked about this, and she told me that certain versions (I forget now which ones, it doesn't matter) could not be shown because they were R-rated, and that it was her understanding that this had something to do with the controversy over the sex-education curriculum.

This morning's Post had a little tidbit:
Since last fall, high school teachers in Montgomery County effectively have been banned from showing R-rated movies such as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List" in classes. Middle school teachers no longer can show movies rated PG-13.

But after complaints from teachers, students and parents, Maryland's largest school system has formed a group to revisit the decision.

The 33-member group is considering whether teachers should be allowed to show the movies as long as parents have signed consent forms or whether clips of R-rated movies should be allowed -- provisions similar to those in place in Fairfax County public schools. WEEK IN REVIEW: March 5-11

Well, that doesn't tell us very much, does it?

NBC4's web site has a more thorough story.
Responding to complaints from teachers, students and parents, Montgomery County school officials are reconsidering a regulation that effectively bans high school teachers from showing R-rated movies in classes.

The school system in January formed a 33-member working group to revisit the decision to use Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings as a guide for what is appropriate to show students. The regulation is even more strict in middle school, where teachers are no longer permitted to show movies rated PG-13.

Betsy Brown, director of the department of curriculum and instruction, said the group is looking at a number of possible changes to the policy. Among them: allowing teachers to show the movies if parents have signed consent forms, or allowing clips of R-rated movies to be shown.

An R rating by the MPAA requires those younger than 17 to have a parent or guardian accompany them to the movie. Educators say some R-rated films -- viewed in a classroom with proper supervision -- can be important teaching tools. Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning historical dramas "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan," for example, are both rated R.

The National Council of Teachers of English, which endorses the use of film in English classrooms, said that individual movies should be evaluated on their educational value.

"MPAA ratings are not ratings of education value," said Millie Davis, a spokeswoman for the council. "They don't claim they are, and so for a school district to use them as if they are, is using them in a way that they're not intended to be used."
The regulation has forced many teachers to alter lesson plans. Hilary Gates, who also teaches at Walter Johnson, said the ban means she can't show clips from "Apocalypse Now" to complement a unit on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." Another high school teacher ended up substituting Disney's "Hercules" for Ridley Scott's "Gladiator."

"There is no gray area," Gates said. "What's really frustrating is that first of all, legally, there are plenty of classes that have all 17-year-old or older students."

The ban, which was approved by senior staff members at the school system's central office in the fall, was not prompted by any parent complaints, Brown said. Rather, officials were looking to offer teachers more uniform guidelines for how they use movies in the classroom.

But some parents said an outright ban did not take into account the reasoned opinions of teachers and students.

"You have to give (students) the tools to make their own judgments, and you have to trust your personnel to make their own judgments," said Eleanor King, the mother of a student at Richard Montgomery High School. "You don't just make a blanket policy that's one-size-fits-all, because it doesn't work." Montgomery Co. Revisits Ban On R-Rated Movies In Classrooms

Nothing here says this decision had anything to do with the sex-ed situation, where a group of extremists sued the school district last year. But who would say this was not one effect of the chill that legal threats put in the air?

Well, at least the district is considering doing the right thing, even if it does have the possibility of stirring up a little controversy. If everybody had to like everything, there wouldn't be anything.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Grassroots Dictatorship

Our little controversy here in Montgomery County is about a couple of health classes in the public schools. That, in itself, isn't much to get excited about. But the war for the soul of America is going to have to be fought one insignificant battle at a time, and this is where we put our foot down.

These are historical times like I've never seen in a bunch of years of living. Just looking at the news today, you see America has made some bad decisions.

Yesterday they busted Claude Allen, the guy who until last month was Bush's top domestic policy advisor, ripping off the Target in Gaithersburg. This guy was picking up merchandise, then bringing it to the service desk for refunds, using fake receipts. Stop. Let that soak in. Last month, top guy in government; this month, arrested for stealing stuff at Target. It looks like he's been doing it at least since October. Imagine leaving your office at the White House, "Bye George, by Dick, see ya tomorrow," and then driving out to the suburbs and stealing things.

Allen left the White House last month. Why? Here's what the Christian site Agape Press said:
The Capitol Hill rumor mill says Allen, a strong pro-family Christian advocate, resigned because his advice was being ignored by the Bush administration. Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council says it often happens that "Christians in the highest levels of government ... are not taken seriously or they are pressured out or put outside the loop." He says believers can sometimes be thwarted by those in the administration who do not share their values or principles. That leads to frustration, Schenck contends, and causes some people of faith working in government to feel that "they're no longer making a contribution; they need to leave. So this could be one of those situations where we have another Christian as a casualty of the culture wars in our country." This is what many Washington insiders believe happened with Claude Allen."

You see, the problem was he was "too Christian" for the Bush administration.

Also in the news today, the Secretary of the Interior, whose connections to Jack Abramoff and bribery involving the Indian casinos have been recent news, has suddenly announced she's stepping down. Turns out $25,000 would buy a meeting with her, and suddenly she needs to spend more time with her family, too.

And that's just this morning's paper. In other news, America tortures innocent people, detains people around the world in despicable secret prisons without charging them with any crime, conducts surveillance on its own citizens without warrants or any legislative or judicial oversight, the leaders of the majority party in both houses of Congress, plus various high-level Republicans in Congress and the White House, are either indicted for corruption or under investigation. Defense contracts are offered for sale by congressmen. We attack foreign countries at random without provocation and without a plan for winning, desert our poor and shovel treasure into the hands of rich, and are completely unprepared for any catastrophe, whether it is a natural disaster or terrorist attack, because unqualified cronies are appointed to powerful positions.

To hear our leaders talk, you'd think abortion was our country's biggest problem, with the possibility that teenagers would use condoms running a close second. Oh, and there's no global warming.

This was an administration that sold itself on its religion. It was the "family values" voter who elected these guys, remember? On "moral" principles. The President said that God spoke to him, and many good-hearted but naive people were impressed with his piety. The goons surrounding him learned to talk that way, too, and they joined up with influential religious extremists to promote the idea that they were the "culture of life," the good guys in the struggle to make life good in America.

Another breaking news story: the head of Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, one guy who really learned to play this tune, was a top guy in the Abramoff bribery enterprise, taking Indian casino millions and getting favors from the federal government. And whose name is in the emails, who was trying to trim back support for one Indian casino so that the one paying the bribes would prosper? Why, it's none other than Focus on the Family's anti-gay crusader James Dobson.

We have corruption at the top levels of our government, to a degree unknown to American history. And you might ask, how did this happen? How did it happen that the very people who promised the country they were principled and moral, the very ones who claimed the highest standards of virtue, turned out to be the dirtiest, lyingest bunch of rats America could have possibly chosen to run things?

I'm afraid that's just how it works. Everybody thinks they're on the side of goodness, everybody wants to believe they do the right thing. Honor among thieves, remember? So it's the easiest thing in the world to exploit, all people are vulnerable because all people want to be good. And it is so easy, just incredibly easy, to flap your jaw and have some pious sounding junk come out of your mouth. And people, being the trusting souls they are, will believe you.

Normally I don't write about these things, a lot of this happens at a level above our little controversy here. Well, shoplifting at the local Target, maybe not so high-level, but a lot of it we don't really have much to say about. These sorts of thing are just going to happen as long as these guys are in charge, and we only have a million voters in our county, we can't vote them out of office on our own, and it's only related to our controversy as iceberg is related to tip.

A news story from yesterday has motivated this post. It is just so unusual, it has been rattling through my head all day and all night, and I wanted to say something about it.

Sandra Day O'Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, the first woman on the court. She was known through the years as moderate, fair, nonpartisan, her vote on a case was often hard to predict, and her decisions made the difference a number of times. She retired last year.

This week she gave a talk at Georgetown University. The speech was not recorded, but NPR's Nina Totenberg attended and reported on it. From Raw Story's transcript:
Nina Totenberg: In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O’Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O’Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it “really, really angry.” But, she continued, if we don’t make them mad some of the time we probably aren’t doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness, she said, is premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts. The nation’s founders wrote repeatedly, she said, that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government those rights and privileges would amount to nothing. But, said O’Connor, as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence, people do.

... Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

This is extraordinary. Who could imagine, in the land of the free, that someone of O'Connor's status and intellect, a person who is known across the land for her integrity and ability to make sharp distinctions, would be warning us about the dangers of dictatorship?

All Americans need to contemplate this question. Could America become a dictatorship? Should it? Is that what you want?

It doesn't happen by the actions of one guy, or even one guy and a handful of aides. To take over a country of three hundred million people, you need the complicity of a hundred million of them or so. That's you and me.

Look here in our state of Maryland. Recently a judge ruled that the state marriage law was unconstitutional, and that gays could legally marry. OK, controversial decision, any idiot can see that. And a hard decision, too. So what is the radical right's first thought? Delegate Don Dwyer, a CRC spokesman and player in our local scuffle over sex-ed, demands that they recall the judge.

He doesn't want to use the Constitutional legal system we have spent a couple hundred years developing, he wants to throw it out.

When the Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt a new sex-ed curriculum, what did the radical right do? They immediately organized to throw out the whole board, with their website and all the rhetoric and personal attacks that went with that.

This isn't how a democracy works. This is grassroots dictatorship.

There are of course many opinions and points of view about how something like sex-ed should be handled, and we can talk about it. Maybe nobody gets everything they wanted, but in the end we can work out something. It won't work if one side demands that the other side be removed from the discussion. Not if one side insists that it is a hundred percent right, with the approval and support of God Himself, and that the other side represents sin and moral degradation. That can't work, you can't make any decision like that.

These are amazing times in our country: America seems in danger of losing its soul. Some people are convinced that their way is better than the rule of law, that their deities speaking to them supercede the secular Constitution that has empowered this diverse country for these centuries, and they work very hard to see that their will is imposed on the rest of us.

Some people might be comfortable bathing in the warm womb of dictatorship -- America certainly wouldn't be the first country to go that route. Some people are just as happy having their choices handed to them, being told what to think, submitting constantly to authority.

I grew up thinking we were a different kind of country from that.