Friday, March 03, 2006

The New Curriculum Incubates

A timeline is starting to shape up for developing the new MCPS sex education curriculum. First of all, the Deputy Superintendent is proposing that the district develop a new condom video and pilot test it in the fall of 2006. This will include a lesson plan. As it was presented in the citizens advisory committee meeting, it sounds like the physicians who are advising the school district are determined to stick to the highest standards of medical advice; they are considering sexually transmitted diseases as a serious public health menace, and mean to give Montgomery County students the best, safest information possible.

I just wonder what the CRC will do, if a panel of medical experts comes out with a video and instructional materials that are even more explicit and to the point than the previous one. I mean, you gotta wonder. That video with the cucumber was pretty tame, especially compared to the one the school district already uses. The CRC freaked out because it mentioned "anal sex," but at the same time they claim to be concerned about gay people getting AIDS. What, you're not going to tell them how the virus spreads? You're going to make them guess?

Well, who knows, maybe this video'll be a drooling old guy in a white lab coat pointing to a pixelated drug-store shelf and saying, "Remember, kids, sex is bad for you, but if you ever find yourself overcome with disgusting lust, remember to ask the nice pharmacist at the corner drug store for one of these." (The camera pans to a disheveled Boris-Karloff-look-alike pharmacist, laughing wildly and pointing...)

Somehow I don't think this is going to be "Rubber Madness."

Then, the district is planning to pilot-test the new "sexual variations" parts of the curriculum in the spring of 2007, for implementation the following fall. The state of Maryland requires teaching about sexual variation, but leaves it up to the local districts to define what that means; MCPS has decided to define sexual variation as "sexual orientation."

It is my hope that this definition does not lead to omission of other important aspects of sexual identity. The CRC and seem to agree, at least their spokes-shrink Warren Throckmorton agrees, that the new curriculum should have more nuance, not less. Defining sexual variation solely in terms of orientation might leave out a lot of important information about gender identity, distinctions between sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation, the gender roles that a society assigns, and other things. We don't know what the curriculum will look like, but I'm hoping these things are mentioned, at least.

There is one little clue in the memo to Dr. Weast from MCPS Deputy Superintendent Frieda Lacey. She writes: After reviewing the MCPS materials on sexual orientation, the medical experts found them to be insufficient to meet the needs of MCPS students in both Grade 8 and Grade 10...

That must mean last year's proposed curriculum, since there's nothing about sexual orientation in the current one. We complained here last year, sometimes in a state of amused bewilderment, that the curriculum that was proposed was ... so conservative. It hardly said anything, but the nuts when crazy anyway. Is Dr. Lacey saying that it was too conservative? That previous curriculum was a balancing act, and, we thought, a successful one, given the process. It was largely the outcome of nearly two years of negotiating within a large and diverse citizens advisory committee, and good stuff had to be left out for fear of offending someone.

This curriculum won't be that. The district is going to produce a curriculum, and there will be some feedback from the committee, and that's that. This gives the school district the freedom, in a sense, to develop the classes fully and thoroughly, including all the information that needs to be there, and I doubt they'll even consider some of the silly stuff that some people wanted to include.

Well, I'm purely speculating. We don't know what it's going to look like. But it's fun to imagine.

The citizens committee is supposed to evaluate the "framework" for the sexual orientation sections, and report to the Board in April. This is a pretty tight schedule, especially since the framework -- a kind of list of items to be included in the curriculum -- hasn't been presented to the committee yet.

So, we're getting some signals about how the authors of the curriculum are thinking. There was a letter from some pediatricians who are working on it, and they sounded like they thought maybe other sections of the health curriculum should be updated with current medical knowledge as well. Good, cool, but first things first.


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