Wednesday, February 28, 2007

One More Thought

I was talking to somebody at lunchtime, and thought of one more thing.

There is only one way I can imagine anybody questioning the idea that sexual orientation is innate. If you hit puberty (or so) and realized you were attracted to your own sex, whether you were homosexual or bisexual, and you lived in a world where gay people were discriminated against and teased and hated, you just might decide to keep your true feelings to yourself. You could act straight, dating girls (if you're a guy), talking macho, joining in the badmouth and manly rowdiness. There's no disputing that people can do that -- I'll bet a lot of gay people will tell you they went through a phase like that, at least.

Talking to my friend about this, I realized that such a person just might not know that other people were different from them. If you chose to act straight, and never let anyone know, you would very likely think that everyone around you was doing the same thing. You would honestly believe that sexual orientation was a choice, since it was for you, and the apparently genuine heterosexuality of people around you would just be interpreted as excellent acting.

Otherwise, why would anybody question whether orientation is innate? It doesn't make sense on so many levels...


The word "innate" appears in the CRC/PFOX/FLN's appeal to the state, by my count, thirty-two times. They just hate it that the new sex-ed curriculum is going to say that sexual orientation is innate.

The CRC's complaint says this:
The definition for “innate” would come from Webster’s Dictionary and, although that definition was not provided at the time the BOE voted to approve the Additional Lessons, information now obtained from MCPS defines innate in its usual meaning: “Innate determined by factors present in an individual from birth.” (See Appellants’ Exhibit B). Despite the fact there is no sound scientific basis for such an assertion.

First of all, let me go ahead and put the full Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary definition on the table:
1: existing in, belonging to, or determined by factors present in an individual from birth. 2: belonging to the essential nature of something. 3: originating in or derived from the mind or the constitution of the intellect rather than from experience.

Number three looks like it must refer to Kantian a priori knowledge, which is, let's say, a special usage of the word. So, unless someone wants to critique The Critique, let's say that "innate" in the curriculum means one or both of the first two things in Webster's.

The word "innate" appears in the tenth grade curriculum, and was added to the eighth at the last minute. The tenth-grade Holt resource says:
Sexual orientation and gender identity are deeply personal, innate, and complex parts of one's personality that define how people see themselves as individuals and in romantic relationships. Children are not born knowing their sexual orientation or gender identity. The come to learn about themselves as they grow up.

This exchange occurred in the January 9th school board meeting, when the board voted on adoption of the new material. Betsy Brown, director of curriculum and instruction, presented a wording change for the 8th grade. The exchange appears at about 1:30 in the January 9th webcast:
Betsy Brown: Before turning this over to Doctor Moon I would like to offer to you, in the interest of continuous improvement, an addition to the 8th grade lesson. The purpose of the addition is to make the lessons consistent across the grades, I'll wait until you have it in front of you and I'll tell you, and the audience, what the proposal is for your consideration today. [pause]

In the 2nd session of the 8th grade lesson on family life and human sexuality or, excuse me, respecting differences for human sexuality, in that second session, there is a section called the Instructional Delivery Plan, and on page three of that Instructional Delivery Plan, in the section numbered three, and referred to as "Learn," we are proposing that the last sentence of that section will read, "Say to the students (and this will be in bold, as a direction to the teachers), say to the students, 'Sexual orientation is innate and a complex part of one's personality.'"

Steve Abrams: What is the basis for this change?

Betsy Brown: The basis for this change is that this is a part of the grade ten text, and it makes ...

Steve Abrams: It's simply to make it consistent, it's not adding any language that doesn't already appear in the curriculum for tenth grade, we're adding it to the 8th grade so there's consistency.

Betsy Brown: Yes.

And that was that.

The CRC has launched several several target-missing attacks on this concept of innateness. First, they will say sometimes that sexual orientation can't be innate because there are no gay babies. This is a silly, simplistic twist on the word, based on the fact that the root of "innate" is a word that means "birth," similar to "neonatal," "native," and other English words. But it doesn't mean just factors that exist at birth -- it also means factors determined at birth.

More commonly, as in the appeal to the state, the CRC and their colleagues argue from an assumption that "innate" means "genetic." For instance, they write:
Since identical twins have identical genes, if homosexuality were a biological condition, then if one identical twin were homosexual, his brother would also be homosexual 100 percent of the time, not 52 percent or 10 percent as the twin studies showed. In short, there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is genetic.

This argument fails for many reasons.

First of all, it misinterprets the meaning of correlation in twin studies. Perfect correlation is never found in science, and criticism of the correlation statistic on this ground is baseless.

Second, the argument misunderstands gene expression. No gene acts directly, without stimulus; all genes require interaction with some environmental factor, whether it is a hormone or protein in the uterus, or physical or social factors after birth. This does imply that a person with a propensity for a behavioral trait may not ever express this trait. If someone thinks that homosexuality is so undesirable, then they may want to search for factors that would discourage the expression of this innate trait. But at this time there is no research on the topic, only speculation. (In the race between social acceptance and scientific discovery, my money's on acceptance. The science of the human genome is very new.)

Third, the argument assumes that all homosexuality results from the same gene. It is very unlikely that such a complex trait would have a single cause.

Finally, the link between genes and behaviors we consider innate is not always clear. Handedness, for instance, is clearly innate, but twenty percent of identical twin pairs differ in handedness. The evidence is that there is a genetic component, but its expression is not straightforward.

What would it mean to say that sexual orientation is not innate? Would it mean that it is a trait that is learned? One that is determined by society? A choice?

None of these explanations are plausible. All social pressure, implicit and explicit, pushes a person toward heterosexuality. Because the great majority of modeled behaviors are heterosexual, most learning will favor that orientation. And gay people will tell you -- nobody would choose a lifetime of teasing and discrimination.

The argument about innateness is only difficult for one reason, it seems to me, which is the obviousness of it. Everybody knows that sexual orientation is innate, and because it is such an obvious fact, very few arguments have been developed to explain it.

XGW Gets on the Phone, Clears Something Up

As far as I'm concerned, this is one way blogs can really make a difference -- by gathering information and putting it out there when the mainstream media won't.

Recently the American Psychological Association announced that it would consider developing a new statement regarding conversion therapy or "reparative therapy," techniques which are intended to make gay people straight. I can't find the APA's original statement on this matter, but Focus on the Family played it as a story of outside groups (read: "the gay agenda") pressuring the APA to be politically correct. Their unbiased, family-friendly headline: Gay Pressure Threatens Counseling. They interviewed Dr. Clinton W. Anderson, director of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual concerns office at the APA, who told them that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute (NGLTF) and PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbian and Gays) "came to us and said from their perspective issues related to reparative therapy are still very important issues that affect the well-being of lesbian, gay and bisexual people,"

Warren Throckmorton, as well, blogged it as American Psychological Association Responds to "External Organizations", sort of telling you where he stands on this.

I checked once, and though he is a psychologist he is not a member of the APA. For the record, I have been a dues-paying member for fifteen years.

Well, this story had a funny smell to it right from the start, especially since the rightwing web sites had it before there was apparently any APA press release or anything in the news. So the story started out with a lot of right English on it.

Somebody pasted the Family Blah Blah version into our comments a while back, but the whole story just seemed a little short on facts, so I waited a while.

The guys over at ExGay Watch, though, were not so patient. They got on the phone and called people. They talked to the APA's Clinton Anderson, NGLTF's Jason Cianciotto, and PFLAG's Ron Schlittler. Asked them what happened.

What a strange idea, huh? As if you can't trust Google.

XGW's explanation:
What I learned was that in an informal meeting Schlittler (PFLAG) expressed concerns to Anderson (APA) over: (in Schlittler’s words)
“aggressive promotion of “reparative therapy” by right wing groups.”

Given that the APA’s position statement on reparative therapy is 8-years old Anderson issued a formal memo in September of 2005 to NGLTF and PFLAG seeking formal opinions from both organizations. To be clear, NGLTF never even gave their opinion to the APA until asked for it. I hardly consider that “pressure.”

Focus did not report the primary reason for the formation of the investigative task-force, which is because: (in Cianciotto’s words)
[since 1997 a] “growing body of new research has been published on conversion therapy and a number of other medical and mental health professional associations have released new statements and policies on the issue.”

All three sources I spoke with, the APA, NGLTF, and PFLAG indicated this was the primary reason for the formation of a task-force. Focus neglected to report this.

So the APA asked for their opinions. You might not like it that the psychologists ask these groups what they think is going on, but ... they have that right, and if I were them I'd want to know. There's a lot of stuff going on that you and I don't hear about, and it makes perfectly good sense to go ask the guys in the front lines what's going on.

Ron's with a Family group, I mean a real family group, one that promotes love between family members, not a Family Blah Blah group that just uses the word to prove they're better than you. Clinton's with a psychological organization, in fact, the biggest one. It is not surprising that they would be talking about this. It's Ron's job to bring it up, and it's Anderson's job to know what the GLBT issues are.

The real reason they're looking at this statement is that there's a lot of new research and , because of intense political interest in the topic, there is a social need for a clear statement. The APA can and should clear up some of the confusion -- and if you read our comments section, you see there really is a lot of confusion -- about this kind of therapy and whether it works or not.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ill Logic

We saw something revealing last week, when the Citizen for a Responsible Curriculum's Ruth Jacobs gave a talk to the Magruder PTA titled, "Excluding Information from the Lessons: Does It Put Your Child at Risk?" The whole talk was a series of complaints about things that "should" be in the curriculum, and aren't.

This is a straightforward logical exercise: any particular thing has some qualities, and not others. In fact, there is always an imbalance in the world -- the qualities that a thing does not have always outnumber the things it does have. This includes positive as well as negative qualities. I think we can assume that the number of qualities that any specific thing does not have is approximately equal to infinity, while the qualities it does have are relatively small in number, depending on the complexity of the object.

What this means is that everything can be criticized for qualities it lacks. The intelligent, handsome man is not tidy or thrifty, or, if he is, he's probably not fun-loving and carefree; the fast, beautiful, expensive sports car doesn't hold enough people and can't pull a trailer; the good student lacks popularity, and the popular student lacks good grades. It's a simple logical inevitability: everything lacks an infinite number of good qualities.

In the case of the CRC's criticism of the sex-ed curriculum, it's even worse, because the curriculum does possess many of the qualities Dr. Jacobs was complaining about -- it just doesn't have them in the particular classes she's talking about. She says the new curriculum doesn't discuss risky sexual behaviors, for instance, but the curriculum does discuss that, it just does it in the appropriate section, and -- it's true -- not in the new sections, which are on a different topic from that. The CRC says the new curriculum doesn't mention marriage, or families, but of course there are whole sections already on those topics -- it doesn't fit in a section on condom use, or one on sexual orientation. The CRC says the new curriculum fails to promote abstinence, but there are sections on abstinence, of course -- it just doesn't make sense to put it in these new sections.

What if we used that technique to support the curriculum? We could turn it around, and argue just as badly about the negative qualities that the curriculum lacks. The new curriculum, for instance, does not teach boys how to trick girls into having sex with them; it does not teach girls to wear thick layers of make-up "to attract a mate;" it does not suggest that children should try a range of sexual behaviors just to see if they like them or not.

We could go even further. The new curriculum does not teach students how to ditch school, start forest fires, or murder someone. It does not teach them to eat junk food, drink and drive, or make prank phone calls. It's a great curriculum!

Criticizing on the basis of absent characteristics is simply bad logic. It makes for a lot more constructive discussion if we talk about the qualities that this curriculum does possess; maybe we could think of ways to make it better, rather than just running it down and trying to get the whole thing thrown out.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Doctors Regret Backing CRC

The CRC's appeal to the state school board has twelve references to a petition signed by some doctors -- the full phrase "petition signed by 273 area medical doctors" appears nine times in the main appeal document. The petition itself (we assume, it's referred to, we haven't seen the attachments) was submitted with other documents. The petition is used throughout the appeal document to bolster a number of weak points.

These signatures were gathered by Ruth Jacobs at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

As we reported HERE, one doctor wrote Montgomery County Public Schools to ask that her name be removed from the petition. She stated that it had been misrepresented when it was shown at the hospital, and said that the recommendation to include a statement attributed to the Surgeon General "is not supported by scientific evidence and does not belong in the curriculum."

Clearly, all is not what it seems.

A few days ago we received a comment on an older post from someone who wrote anonymously. They weren't happy, it seems, to see their name on the Internet, and to learn that they had been enlisted to support the radical agenda:
I am one of the physicians who signed the petition. When I signed I was not informed that this was a political issue, rather a medical one. My medical opinion is that anal intercourse, no matter the sexual orientation, incurs greater risk of HIV transmission than vaginal intercourse. That is why I signed the petition...

My personal opinion about most lifestyle choices and sexual orientation is totally non-judgemental. To infer that by signing the petition I or any other of my colleagues have an "anti-gay" opinion or political agenda is simply wrong.

It was not my intention, however, to get caught up in a political debate and be listed on a website and to be ridiculed as anti-gay and uninformed. I am certainly not anti-gay, nor am I pro-gay. My motivation was a true concern for the safety and well being of the children in Montgomery County Public Schools no matter what their sexual orientation may be.

It is sad that so important an issue as sexual education and sexually transmitted disease prevention has been hijacked by those with political agendas.

It seems they wanted to support the CRC without being ridiculed -- is that too much to ask? Well, yes.

Like it or not, this doctor's signature is now an important part of the anti-gay efforts of a radical group trying to undermine the local public school system. Maybe they don't want to be "ridiculed as anti-gay and uninformed," but their signature is now and forever part of the anti-gay propaganda bundle. Plus, you notice, it doesn't appear that they were very well informed when they signed this.

So, is it worse to be ridiculed for supporting the anti-gay extremists, or to let the extremists use your name to support their efforts, without ridicule?

We have fought very hard for a good, solid sex-education curriculum here in our county. The new curriculum would not be improved by adding irrelevant material where it doesn't fit. The STD lessons are a major part of the health curriculum, and in those lessons students learn about the risks of various kinds of behaviors -- nobody is suggesting that that information should not be included.

Statements about the risks of anal sex don't belong in a class about how to use a condom. You use it for certain activities, you buy a certain kind, you open it a certain way, you roll it on correctly, you do this if it breaks, you take it off like this, you dispose of it correctly. Where is it appropriate to tell them what a retired Surgeon General wrote in a magazine article more than fifteen years ago about how dangerous anal sex is? How would that make it better?

And it certainly doesn't belong in a class about sexual orientation, about who you're attracted to emotionally, socially, sexually, and about respect, empathy, and tolerance for differences. Those classes are not about sexual behaviors -- it isn't the place for a discussion of the risks of specific behaviors. Those are addressed, just not here.

The subject is appropriate in the STD section. The Surgeon General quote is ridiculous, it doesn't belong in the curriculum at all, but the topic of the risks of anal sex should come in the classes about HIV. If it's not covered there sufficiently, then the CRC should try to get a member on the citizens advisory committee for that part of the curriculum when it next comes under review. Teach about the risks in the risk unit: we support that.

I'm sorry, but I am not very sympathetic to this doctor's complaint. Shady Grove Adventist Hospital medical staff have lent the weight of their professional reputations to a bunch of bigots. Don't like it? You shouldn't have done it.

Yesterday I had a talk with another one of the doctors who signed the petition. He said he and his partners had called Dr. Jacobs and asked her to remove their names from it. It would be interesting to see if they were redacted in the exhibits given to the state, as well as the name of the one who wrote the school district. Because -- it doesn't seem quite right to submit somebody's name in a legal proceeding, saying they support your position, when they don't and have asked you not to.

I asked this doctor why he signed the petition. He was extremely apologetic. "It was irresponsible on my part," he told me. "I didn't really have time to see what it was about. I wasn't aware of her organization and what its focus was. Really, I'm behind the school system on this."

He told me he was doing his rounds at the hospital several months ago, when Dr. Jacobs asked him to sign the petition. "She has it with her all the time," he said. "I just didn't have the time to read it all. This really wasn't an appropriate venue for this sort of thing. I think it's disappointing that she used that venue."

The doctor I talked to wanted me to know that most of the physicians who signed it are "reasonable people. I would assume that a lot of people would like to have their names taken off the list. They're in the business of helping people -- this is not reflective of the medical community at all."

After talking with someone in the community who showed him his name on our web site, he checked out the CRC's materials. As he says of his colleagues, "There's no way they'd have these viewpoints."

Unfortunately, these are the busiest people in the world, they're saving lives every day. They don't have time to go looking for a way to un-sign a petition they barely remember signing in the first place. They're working with patients, and it was a dirty deal to mix them up in this.

On the other hand: it's happened already. Their names are being used in official legal proceedings to stop the implementation of a sex-ed curriculum that, if they knew what was in it, they'd support. The curriculum was developed by a team of pediatricians, and the information contained in it is consistent with mainstream medical and scientific knowledge.

Go back to the LIST OF NAMES we posted here. This isn't all of them, just the ones the CRC made public. See if your doctor is on that list, or your neighbor. Ask them why they are supporting the CRC. Ask them if they want to retract their names. They can contact us at .

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Crime -- Or Not?

See if you can figure this one out. Two Florida teens, Amber, 16, and Jeremy, 17, took digital pictures of themselves doing something sexual, we don't know what. From Amber's house, they emailed the pictures to Jeremy.

I hate to tell you, but this sort of thing happens every day.

But it's the next part that makes your head spin. Well, first of all, somehow somebody found the pictures. The teens are underage, so this amounted to "child pornography." So they were charged with a felony -- as adults.

I don't know, here's the news story:
Combine unsupervised teenagers, digital cameras and e-mail, and, given sufficient time, you'll end up with risque photographs on a computer somewhere.

There's a problem with that: Technically, those images constitute child pornography. That's what 16-year-old Amber and 17-year-old Jeremy, her boyfriend, both residents of the Tallahassee, Fla., area, learned firsthand. (Court documents include only their initials, A.H. and J.G.W., so we're using these pseudonyms to make this story a little easier to read.)

On March 25, 2004, Amber and Jeremy took digital photos of themselves naked and engaged in unspecified "sexual behavior." The two sent the photos from a computer at Amber's house to Jeremy's personal e-mail address. Neither teen showed the photographs to anyone else.

Court records don't say exactly what happened next--perhaps the parents wanted to end the relationship and raised the alarm--but somehow Florida police learned about the photos. Police blotter: Teens prosecuted for racy photos

Man, you mean they think the parents gave the pictures to the police? Yikes. Why would you do that?

I'll never understand people, I guess.
Amber and Jeremy were arrested. Each was charged with producing, directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child. Based on the contents of his e-mail account, Jeremy was charged with an extra count of possession of child pornography.

Some more background: Under a 1995 ruling in a case called B.B. v. State, the Florida Supreme Court said that a 16-year-old could not be found delinquent for having sex with another 16-year-old.

"The crux of the state's interest in an adult-minor situation is the prevention of exploitation of the minor by the adult," the majority said at the time. The court ruled that a Florida statute punishing sex between teens was "unconstitutional as applied to this 16-year-old as a basis for a delinquency proceeding."

The same applies to Amber and Jeremy. Even though he is a year older than her, he is still a minor in Florida.

In other words, under Florida law, Amber and Jeremy would be legally permitted to engage in carnal relations, but they're criminals if they document it.

I know I'm not supposed to say this out loud, but there's something wrong with the child-pornography laws. I have no sympathy at all for people who prey on children, but unfortunately that's not the only thing that's criminalized. Say you take a picture of some adult model, naked, and you Photoshop a kid's head on it. Guess what -- you're in possession of child pornography. You see what I mean? If it's supposed to protect children, it's not doing that. If it's just supposed to make it easier to arrest creeps, then ... I'd want to consider whether we really want to go down that road.

In discussing this case, some people have raised the question, what if you sent some pictures of your naked toddler to Grandma? Could you be prosecuted for some hideous felony?

Skipping down...
[Judge James] Wolf speculated that Amber and Jeremy could have ended up selling the photos to child pornographers ("one motive for revealing the photos is profit") or showing the images to their friends. He claimed that Amber had neither the "foresight or maturity" to make a reasonable estimation of the risks on her own. And he said that transferring the images from a digital camera to a PC created innumerable problems: "The two computers (can) be hacked."

I don't know, what do you think? Do you think a crime was committed here? How long do you think these kids should go to prison for? Life -- or less?

The Holt Resource

The CRC has repeatedly complained about one resource used in the tenth grade. It's one page from a supplement to a mainstream health text; it was first recommended to MCPS by the team from the American Academy of Pediatrics who proposed the initial curriculum.

For instance, HERE the CRC says:
The Tenth grade resource was not developed by a medical expert, but a pro gay advocacy organization.
  • The Holt excerpt is authored by July Chiasson. Ms. Chiasson’s experience is 20 years of special education. She is employed by Project 10, a gay advocacy group, and authored these sections while she was working on her PhD determining efficacy of LBGT diversity training.

Back in November, the CRC's Steina Walter addressed the school board, saying:
I was startled to find that the new 10th Grade curriculum "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality" was taken from a "home grown" curriculum created solely for the Los Angeles school District and had only one author Judy Chiasson. Ms Chiasson "appears to have been selected as the author on the basis of her employment of a LGBT advocacy group Project 10. Ms. Chiasson although pursuing a PhD about the "efficacy of LGBT Diversity training had no advanced degree.

...The Board of Education and MCPS must reject this biased single author text written by Ms. Chiasson "because of legal liability" and "because of potential harm".

(I don't understand some of those quotation marks ... but that's how it is...)

I guess the harshest attack was by the CRC's citizens committee rep, Ruth Jacobs, speaking to the school board on November 6th:
On Saturday I was able to finally look at the Holt book and the acknowledgement section for the chapter from which the Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality Lesson 10th grade lesson was derived. In preparing a textbook chapter on sexual orientation and transgender, one would expect educators, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, school counselors, teachers and other experts in the field would be involved. One would imagine that the material would be tested and vetted and all precautions would be used to make sure that the material was accurate, and age-appropriate.

In an alarming reversal of what parents and many others confidently expected, the textbook chapter about Orientation and Transgender used by MCPS was authored by only one individual, Judy Chiasson Specialist Project 10" Educational Equity Compliance Los Angeles Unified School District. Ms. Chiassen single handedly wrote chapter 6 "The Diversity of Human Relationships" of Holt Sexuality and Society which is being recommended by MCPS for the 10th Grade.

One would also expect that the professional involved in writing a textbook would have advanced degrees. A Google search of Ms Chiasson's qualifications that at the time she wrote the chapter suggests that her sole qualifications were those of a mother with 2 children, teacher of special education for 20 years, employment by a LGTB advocacy Group "Project 10", and working part time at a doctoral candidate "on the efficacy of LGBT diversity training" at a tiny college.

While I respect the good intentions of Ms. Chiasson, it is critical to have educators, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians. school counselors, teachers and other experts in the field all involved in writing and vetting the chapter. Why would MCPS find acceptable a textbook only designed for a single school District?

They have used this argument repeatedly, in statements to the school board, in the citizens advisory committee meetings -- we saw Ruth Jacobs talk a lot about this at the PTA meeting at Magruder last week.

We don't have access to the documents supporting the recent failed appeal to the state, so we don't know if complaints about this resource were included. But since it features so prominently in their attacks on the curricula, we expect to find them there, as well.

So I talked with Dr. Chiasson on the phone. I wondered, who is this person, and what's going on here? She also sent me an email, CC'ing her publisher, explaining some details.

Like, for instance, she wrote:
This text book was a collaborative endeavor of experts in the field, including two other PhDs, all under the supervision of a well-respected publisher. Holt Publishers is an extremely reputable firm that scrupulously checks every word in every book they publish.

Dr. Chiasson's doctorate is in the field of Urban Education from Claremont Graduate University. Though Dr. Jacobs likes to refer to this as a "tiny college" in a dismissive tone, if she knew what she was talking about she would know that the Wall Street Journal has called the Claremont consortium "the intellectual capital of the western world." Claremont Graduate University admits only graduate students, no undergrads, and so it does not have the tens of thousands of students that you would find at an ordinary teaching university. It is the first university in the country to do that; it focuses only on higher education, not undergraduate training.

There's nothing second-rate about it.

What about this "gay advocacy group," Project 10? It should have been easy enough for the CRC to find out what this is, looking HERE:
The first and only one of its kind, Project 10 is a Los Angeles Unified School District program that offers technical and educational support to schools and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. In accordance with the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, Project 10’s mission is to ensure safe, supportive and welcoming campuses free from discrimination and harassment for sexual minority youth.

Project 10 is not a "gay advocacy group," it is a program within the Los Angeles Unified School District's Office of the General Counsel. Their function is to see that federal, state, and local laws regarding discrmination against minorities are followed. They monitor textbooks and other materials, for instance, to identify bias and make sure campuses are safe for all students.

Calling an office within the school district a "gay advocacy group" is a stretch, don't you think?

The CRC likes to say that the Holt resource was developed for the Los Angeles school district -- "home grown," Ms. Walter called it. I don't know if that is supposed to indicate something about the influence of Hollywood liberals or what. But here's how it works. Long ago on this blog we talked about how Texas dominates the textbook industry. It's such a big customer that when Texas wants something -- in that case they wanted statements about abstinence and evolution and religion to be edited into their books -- the textbook publishers go ahead and do it. And then the rest of the country ends up getting that in their textbooks.

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the second-largest textbook purchaser in the country. It works the same way; the publishers know where the business is, and they target the textbook toward that. LAUSD has some very strict policies regarding discrimination, and their textbook have to adhere to them. So Project 10 was included in the development process.

The resource under question, by the way, is page 99 of Chapter 6, "Diversity of Relationships," from the Sexuality and Society supplement to Lifetime Health. Dr. Chiasson told me that schools all over the country are clamoring for this text, it has been a very popular resource. You can see the one page we use HERE, if you scroll down to page 7.

Dr. Chiasson said that Ruth Jacobs had spoken with her. As she said, "Dr. Jacobs is very interested in anal sex." But, as she also said, the text is not about sexual behavior. The MCPS curriculum is about sexual variation, especially sexual orientation -- it isn't about sexual behaviors, and isn't intended to be. Those will be discussed somewhere else.

The idea that anybody would criticize a textbook by singling out the one author who is mentioned in an acknowledgement, and then complaining that her degree isn't the right kind, or that she went to a "tiny college," and that the text was "home grown" for the LA schools, is just ... dumb, OK? You would do that if you couldn't find anything real to complain about.

Hey, Lighten Up: A Sunday Morning Self-Indulgence

It's my favorite time, Sunday morning when the family's sleeping in. I've got the house to myself, a hot pot of fresh coffee, WPFW on the radio. This post will not contain any new information, I'm just talking off the top of my head for a minute, OK? Just thinking out loud.

I was surprised this morning to look out and see the neighborhood covered with snow. It's still coming down steadily, looks like it has been for a few hours already. This wasn't predicted, was it? We were almost clear yesterday, and now it looks like two or three inches on the ground.

Last night my kid went to a party. He's sixteen, and he was kind of excited about this one, because he was going to get to see some friends he hasn't seen in a while, over in Derwood. It was a girl's birthday, and her parents were throwing a nice party for her.

My wife dropped him off, guided with the usual Google map, at about seven. He was dressed especially sharp, and -- oh hey, did I mention? Remember when I told you he got jumped and had his tooth knocked out? It was back in July, he was walking across the schoolyard and some older guys beat him up in the middle of the night, right across from our house. It was a hard lesson for him: there are some places you don't go by yourself when it's late. Anyway, this week he finally got his new implanted tooth. It's a long (expensive) process, but man, he is glad to have the whole smile again. This party was like the debut of that new tooth.

I called his cell a little before eleven, and he didn't answer. Normal, there's probably noise. A few minutes later, he called me back. The party was starting to break up, but there was another party, and maybe he'd want to go to that. Well, I don't like that much, but I'm glad he's having fun. I told him to call me back as soon as he knew what the plan was.

Ten minutes later he called, he's ready to come home. (This is pretty typical, I'd say more than half of "planned" events fail to materialize, for either of my kids.)

My turn: I took the Google map and headed to Derwood. He called me twice on my way out there, to ask me where I was. I'm almost to Shady Grove. I'm almost to the house, hold on, I need two hands to drive. He was waiting outside, and it was getting cold.

He'd had a great time. The parents had hired a DJ, and everybody danced all night. Did you know they still do that? He was beat, dead tired.

He said the cops came. They'd heard there was a "house party," he said, one of the neighbors must've called. So the cops came and made all the kids stand in one part of the house while they searched the whole place. They were there a long time. He said, in so many words, that the police were not nice.

Then everybody left.

Personally, I don't think the parents should have let the police into their house. They didn't have a warrant, there was no evidence that any crime had been committed, some teenagers were dancing to a DJ. Maybe it was loud: Yes, officer, we'll ask them to turn it down. And maybe you can go back and suggest to Mrs. Jones that she turn down her hearing aid. Oh, and while you're there, officer, could you ask her if she was ever young once, herself?

But people are reluctant to say no to an officer. Sets a bad example for the kids, for one thing. And most of us understand that they have an unappreciated job to do, it's hard enough already, and besides, if you didn't let them in it might imply that you were doing something wrong. (Think about that logic for a minute.)

Anyway, my opinion: the cops don't need to be looking around people's houses when there's no crime.

I'm not saying my kid's an angel, he knows where to find trouble. Well, he's better these days, but there have been times, y'know, when you just grit your teeth and deal with it -- if you've got kids, I don't care how wonderful they are, you know what I mean. Here you had the most benign situation imaginable, a bunch of teenagers supervised by parents, dancing at a birthday party. If kids were staggering around the neighborhood drunk, or burning rubber or peeing on the neighbor's flowers, or something, that would be different, but it wasn't that at all. Someone had heard the music, saw some cars pulling up and letting kids out, and they figured something criminal was going on.

As far as I'm concerned, as soon as the police saw parents at the door, they should have tipped their hats, gotten back into their cars (there were four or five police cars out there), and gone back to chasing criminals.

I was talking to a guy the other day at work about when we were kids, and you'd just ... go out. I mean little kids, nine ten eleven. You'd just go out and play, and at some time the neighborhood moms would stand on the doorsteps and holler. J-i-i-i-m-m-m-m-m-y-y-y! T-o-o-o-m-m-m-m-m-m-y-y-y! Then the game -- football, five hundred, army, tag, whatever -- would break up for dinner. Nobody was standing there watching us every second, nobody organized our games. We played, we organized ourselves, we monitored ourselves, and we had fun.

That doesn't happen any more. Kids don't go out and play. It would scare their parents to death. And as teenagers, OK, again, we weren't angels, but driving up and down Central didn't really hurt anybody. The cops'd stop you if you were obvious about turning around at the library, but otherwise, the grown-ups figured it was better that we were cruising Central than parking up on 56th Street somewhere. Somehow most of us survived it, we learned a little bit about life and then we went home.

Now, people make the ugliest assumptions about kids. We hear about dope-dope-dope, sex-sex-sex, and the kids hear that all day, too. People, dope and sex aren't new. And it turns out that there are lots of things teenagers do besides that. Like, the most important social event: chillin'. A bunch of guys can sit in front of a game console and do absolutely nothing but push buttons for, like, all day. They will report afterwards that they had fun.

It seems like people think it's their civic duty to make ugly assumptions now. They assume that the world is an evil place, and that if kids are out of our sight they're doing something bad. And if you don't see that, there's something wrong with you.

Call me weird, but I refuse to go along with it. Maybe this makes me a "liberal," I don't know about that, but I think kids need to learn about life by experiencing it firsthand. I think people are pretty good, pretty interesting, I don't see a world where everybody just wants to hurt everybody else all the time. I see a world where people are interconnected, where people care about each other, where people depend on each other to do the right thing, and where people fulfill that expectation. It appears to me that people can handle freedom, and that people would rather get along than fight.

It doesn't mean you don't have to be careful, it just means that most of the time people are pretty cool. The world doesn't have to be something you're afraid of.

I just get a little tired of the ugly assumptions sometimes.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

It's Tough When They Can't Stand Each Other

We noticed recently that Michelle Turner has started referring to herself as a "spokesperson" for the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, where she used to be "president." Now John Garza is referred to as "president."

Seems like a kind of weird thing to do, to change meaningless figurehead titles in the middle of the battle.

But an anonymous commenter here who seems to be a peripheral CRC supporter left this observation:
... the truth is most evangelicals would not want to be active in a group headed by a Mormon. The theological differences have too many practical implications.

We notice that the latest legal action was filed by two of the usual suspects -- CRC and PFOX -- plus an outside group called "Family Leader Network."

Family Leader Network is a spin-off of Meridian Magazine (motto: "The Place Where Latter-Day Saints Gather.") This Mormon magazine recently featured an article (HERE) linking Michelle Turner (who is Mormon) to RoseMarie Briggs, Family Leader Network executive director who lives in Potomac. There's a picture of them and another lady, sitting in what appears to be the MCPS boardroom peanut gallery.

The article notes:
Michelle Turner, RoseMarie Briggs and Martha Schaerr came to the highly publicized school board meeting as leaders.

You will remember that Martha Schaerr, also Mormon, is the PTA president who tried to pull a fast one at Magruder last week, inviting the CRC rep on the citizens committee, Ruth Jacobs -- who is also a Mormon, we have been told -- while telling the school community she had invited "members of the citizens advisory committee." As if they would be getting information about the curriculum.

I know, I know, we didn't think so at first, either.

So here's what it looks like is happening. The evangelicals in the CRC didn't accept the Mormons and wouldn't work under the leadership of Michelle Turner. So they gave John Garza the title of president and then let this Mormon group, the Family Leader Network, join in with them as a third party in appealing to the state board.

Meanwhile, they've got their Catholic doing all the heavy lifting, maintaining the mailing lists, sending out the press releases. Let's see if the Catholic League doesn't sign on to the next lawsuit.

A Quotable Judge Up in Lexington, Mass.

Somebody just sent us a link to this Boston Globe news story. This is extremely relevant to our situation here in Montgomery County, where the suers are getting restless again.
A federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit by two Lexington couples who claimed the local public school district violated their constitutional rights by teaching their young children about different types of families, including those headed by same-sex couples.

Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf of the US District Court said that under the Constitution, public schools are "entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy. Diversity is a hallmark of our nation."

In a 38-page decision, Wolf said the two couples -- David and Tonia Parker, and Robert and Robin Wirthlin -- have the option of sending their children to private schools or home-schooling them. He also said the couples can ask the school district to excuse their children when classroom discussions touch on issues of homosexuality.

But they have no right to prescribe what the school district teaches, he said, citing precedent-setting federal court rulings.

"As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal, 'I pay the school master, but 'tis the school boys that educate my son,'" Wolf wrote. Judge dismisses Lexington suit over school lesson involving same-sex couples

This is exactly what the next judge should say, when CRC and PFOX file their next lawsuit. This guy hit the nail right on the head.

The story:
The couples filed their suit in 2006 after Jacob Parker, then in kindergarten, brought home a book depicting different families, including a same-sex couple. Joey Wirthlin, then in first grade, was read a book featuring a prince who married another prince.

Moments after he heard about today's ruling, David Parker said, "We will continue to move forward, as we always have, with patience and tolerance in these matters." He declined to elaborate.

Patience, maybe.

PFOX Spreading the Love

PFOX loves everybody. They love gay people so much they even added them to their name: Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays

...and Gays.

(But wouldn't that be PFOX-GAG?)

But it makes you wonder about the email they sent to some Montgomery County educational groups yesterday. The title:
Neutral Unisex Bathroom Created for Cross-dressing Student

When I saw that, I thought, hoo boy, some school is trying to set up a special bathroom for a transgender student. I can see the nuts going to town over that one.

But, like most of this, it turned out there's no unisex bathroom. Oh, there is one -- in a story. A unisex bathroom was created for a student in a textbook vignette.

The email starts like this:
Montgomery County, Maryland – Three parent organizations are asking the Maryland State Board of Education to halt the new sex ed curriculum approved by the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Education (BOE). Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), and Family Leader Network have filed an appeal requesting Maryland to stay Montgomery County Public School's sex ed plans.

This is roughly an accurate statement. On February 7th, these groups asked the state to issue a stay. The state had five days to do it. They didn't.

I guess that last part got cut.
The newly approved curriculum, entitled "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality," promotes cross-dressers, homosexuals, transgenders, bisexuals, the intersexed, and other non-heterosexuals. It teaches children about "coming out" as gay, "gender identity" for men who think they're women and vice-versa, and "homophobia" as a label for anyone who disagrees.

Look, I know they're rolling their eyes and wearing indignant-looking facial expressions through all this, but, really -- we can't see that over the Internet.

The real question is: so what? Don't they love the cross-dressers, too? Isn't that part of their name -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays and Cross-Dressers and Stuff? (PFOX-GAG-CDS)

It turns out, in the world, that some people are not heterosexual. This is going to be taught in a class. Nothing is "promoted." "Homophobia" is clearly defined, and special wording is included so that bigots like PFOX and CRC are not judged for believing as they do.
In one lesson, a boy begins to wear dresses to school, calls himself "Portia," and wants to be known as a girl. The principal gives him a key to a private restroom and a new student ID identifying him as a girl. "Although transgenderism is considered a gender identity disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, the lesson plan fails to recommend counseling for students with gender confusion," said Regina Griggs, PFOX Executive Director. "Instead, it implies that schools should create new unisex bathrooms for cross-dressing students."

The lesson also refers to "Portia" as a 'she' when the law and biology classify 'her' as a "he." "This gender bending forces students to acknowledge 'Portia' as a female when he is not and creates gender confusion for children," said Griggs. "This flawed educational policy is not based on medical or scientific facts."

There it is. There's the unisex bathroom.

And tell me, why is Regina Griggs, PFOX Executive Director, so intent on labeling this Portia as mentally disordered? How does that advance the cause of "ex-gays?"

They incessantly whine about discrimination against "ex-gays," which may or may not exist, but they fly into spasms of outrage when a transgender student in a story gets a special bathroom.

I mean, come on, this is too easy.
Despite repeated appearances by former homosexuals and a former transgender before the BOE, the Board voted to exclude ex-gays from the lesson plans although gays, transgenders, and the intersexed are included and taught to students. "Why do the lesson plans censor ex-gays when every other sexual orientation is discussed and supported?" asked Griggs. "The BOE violates its own sexual orientation non-discrimination policy by choosing which sexual orientations it favors based on politics and not science. Its discriminatory actions contribute to the intolerance and open hostility faced by the ex-gay community."

I can just see the "ex-gay" community marching on Washington, all of them, spilling into the streets, clamoring for fair treatment. PFOX might be able to get a crowd numbering well into the double digits, if they were willing to pay travel expenses.

OK, I'll say it again: "ex-gay" is not a sexual orientation. If you've really stopped being gay, you're heterosexual. That's covered in the curriculum. Plenty.
PFOX was a member of the curriculum committee representing the ex-gay community, yet the BOE voted to teach students that it is normal to change your sex (transgender) but not normal to change your unwanted same-sex attractions (former homosexual). "The lesson plans instruct students that homosexual orientation is innate and inborn, despite testimony by former homosexuals before the BOE and all contrary scientific research," explained Griggs.

The word "normal" is not included anywhere in the curriculum.

Oh, and you'd think there was a constant stream of "ex-gays" testifying before the school board. Uh, no, not quite. They bused in a guy from a church in Pennsylvania or New Jersey or somewhere once. There was Reverend Grace, who lived as a lesbian back when she was doing a lot of coke; she's testified to the school board before. (I like Reverend Grace, and I'm glad she was able to pull herself out of a bad nose-dive.)

Is that it?

Ah, no, one more -- I guess Richard Cohen qualifies. Kicked out of the American Counseling Association for ethical violations, kicked out of PFOX for general creepiness. I think he claims he used to be gay and is now straight.

So if you add them up, that's three. All of them making their living off the cruel "ex-gay" hoax.
"The lesson plans are entitled 'Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality,' yet the ex-gay community receives no respect and is deliberately left out of the curriculum," Griggs said. "The actions of the Montgomery County Board of Education are discriminatory, endanger children, and are politically motivated."

Whatever. Somebody swat that fly, will you?

But they're right about this part:
"What happens in Montgomery County will happen to the rest of Maryland, so it is imperative to stop this 'sex ed' program now before it is fully implemented," said Griggs. Concerned Maryland residents can take action at [CRC web site].

The suers are trying to rally the troops these days. They're sending out waves of emails, they claim on the CRC web site that "efforts are underway to contact every church, and every school – public and private, in Montgomery County." There're only a few of them, but the Internet amplifies their noise.

I think by this time, people who have an interest in the situation see what's going on. But you know as well as I do that most people aren't going to bother to read the curriculum. They'll hear these nuts saying that it "promotes" this or that, or it "leaves out" this or that, and they'll figure there's something to it. So we have to keep vigilant, we have to speak up every time they pull something like this.

It's ridiculous, and sometimes it's demeaning to have to come down to their level, but it needs to be done.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Alternate Universe, Documented

You know about Wikipedia, a vastly successful and useful kind of on-line encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Studies have found its error rate to be slightly higher than Britannica's, but on the other hand it may take decades to make a change in Britannica, whereas Wikipedia can be fixed as soon as sombody sees an error.

A wiki, in case you haven't been in on this, is a kind of web site that the user can modify. At first they were mainly used as a kind of whiteboard for groups, where everybody could leave notes or update the plan or whatever, but with Wikipedia the form grew to maturity. It's a crazy idea, on the face of it, that just anybody can write the encyclopedia, but ... I've made changes to it, haven't you? Where you might expect it to degenerate into vandalism and grafitti, there are just enough rules, just enough checks on the behavior of users, to keep the thing in good shape. Oh, there are errors and abuses, but in general everyone relies on it as a pretty good source of information on a gazillion topics.

Problem: it's got too many facts. Too much reality, not enough faith.

So now there's Conservapedia. As they say:
Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian “C.E.” instead of “A.D.”, which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance. Read a list of many Examples of Bias in Wikipedia.

Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America. Conservapedia has easy-to-use indexes to facilitate review of topics. You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise answers free of “political correctness”.

Actually, Conservapedia is good if you want to avoid all kinds of correctness.

Like, this is from their authoritative discussion of the Theory of Evolution:
Supporters propound upon the Theory of Evolution as if it has scientific support. They switch tactics when pressed against the wall with solid scientific proofs against the Theory of Evolution by stating that evolution is “only” a theory. Using this flip-flop approach they try to have it both ways. They claim scientific support when none exists, and they claim it is only a theory when the theory straddles them with outlandish, impossible conclusion that violate scientific truths.

Nobody can tell how much of this is parody and how much is for real. The rightwing site Townhall recommends it, they seem to think it's for real. I think it is.

I'm having some trouble getting the site to come up this morning, mmm I suppose there are just so many people using it as a reference.

Some of the folks at Science Blogs are having fun with this. For a joke they edit the Conservapedia with actual scientific facts and then wait to see how long it takes for it to get changed back. Or even for the contributor to get banned from the site. It's usually just a matter of several minutes.

Just a fascinating idea. Create your own reality, and then annotate it in minute detail. Let's watch how this works over the next weeks and months.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sub May Spend Her Life in Prison

We haven't been following this story, but it really should be on our radar screen, if only because it shows how out of control things can get.

The story in today's Norwich (Connecticut) Bulletin sounds plain enough:
NORWICH -- Sentencing could be postponed for the former substitute teacher convicted of exposing her seventh-grade students to pornographic images on a middle school classroom computer. Norwich porn case may be delayed

Do you know this case?

Here's a wrap-up from last week.
NORWICH -- State Prosecutor David Smith said he wondered why Julie Amero didn't just pull the plug on her classroom computer.

The six-person jury Friday may have been wondering the same thing when they convicted Amero, 40, of Windham of four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child. It took them less than two hours to decide the verdict. She faces a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.

Oct. 19, 2004, while substituting for a seventh-grade language class at Kelly Middle School, Amero claimed she could not control the graphic images appearing in an endless cycle on her computer.

"The pop-ups never went away," Amero testified. "They were continuous."

The Web sites, which police proved were accessed while Amero was in the classroom, were seen by as many as 10 minor students. Several of the students testified during the three-day trial in Norwich Superior Court to seeing images of naked men and women.

Computer expert W. Herbert Horner, testifying in Amero's defense, said he found spyware on the computer and an innocent hair styling Web site "that led to this pornographic loop that was out of control."

"If you try to get out of it, you're trapped," Horner said.Teacher guilty in Norwich porn case

If you're reading this, you're on the Internet, and if you're on the Internet, you've seen those pop-up windows that, when you close one, it opens another one. I once had to replace my hard drive, it got so bad -- sites for kids are especially likely to have this sort of thing, and a lot of it is porn.

This substitute teacher was in front of the class when this started happening. And now she may go to prison for forty years.

Here -- a Washington Post reporter talked to her, see if this sounds like any teachers you've seen:
I had a chance this week to speak with the accused, Windham, Conn., resident Julie Amero. Amero described herself as the kind of person who can hardly find the power button on a computer, saying she often relies on written instructions from her husband explaining how to access e-mail, sign into instant messaging accounts and other relatively simple tasks.

On the morning of Oct 19, 2004, Amero said she reported for duty at a seventh grade classroom at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Conn. After stepping out into the hall for a moment, Amero returned to find two students hovering over the computer at the teacher's desk. As supported by an analysis of her computer during the court proceedings, the site the children were looking at was a seemingly innocuous hairstyling site called "" Amero said that shortly thereafter, she noticed a series of new Web browser windows opening up displaying pornographic images, and that no matter how quickly she closed each one out, another would pop up in its place.

"I went back to computer and found a bunch of pop-ups," Amero said. "They wouldn't go away. I mean, some of the sites stayed on there no matter how many times I clicked the red X, and others would just pop back up."

Amero said she panicked and ran down the hall to the teacher's lounge to ask for help. "I dared not turn the the computer off. The teacher had asked me not to sign him out" of the computer, she recalled. Amero said none of the teachers in the lounge moved to help her, and that another teacher later told her to ignore the ads, that they were a common annoyance. Substitute Teacher Faces Jail Time Over Spyware

Now ... I just did an experiment.

I just went to and looked at it. I didn't get any pop-ups (yet), probably because I'm behind a firewall and I run a special popup-blocker.

This is sneaky, all right. Like, if you look at the page, you see a list down the left side that says "Woman's hair galleries," "Men's Hair Galleries," etc. Under "Man's Hair Galleries" their is a subheading ">> Short hair styles." If you click on the words "Short hair styles," you go to the next screen, which shows you ... short hair styles. But IF you click on the ">>" part, it sends you to this link: -- a Russian porn site. Links like this are hidden all over this web page. It's like a minefield.

This teacher was running Windows 98 with Internet Explorer 5, obsolete software seriously lacking in security features. The antivirus software subscription had expired. The computer was found to be infected with spyware and trojans. There was no firewall, no content protection, and no pop-up protection.

On the other hand some children were exposed to nudity, so this substitute teacher just might be spending the rest of her life in prison.

(If you'd like to donate to her defense, the family has set up a web site HERE.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Magruder Last Night

Last night, Magruder High School was planning to have a special PTA meeting about the new health curriculum. In their newsletter, the PTA president, Martha Schaerr, announced that:
Our February 20 PTSA meeting will be a forum on the Family Life Curriculum. I have invited our health teachers and members of the Citizens Advisory Committee to present their thoughts on the curriculum.

Somebody pointed this out to me a few weeks ago. I asked around, and none of the majority members of the citizens advisory committee (CAC) members had been invited. We asked around at Magruder and found out that the PTA had invited only Ruth Jacobs, the representative of the anti-MCPS group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, the group that sued last year and intends to sue this year over the curriculum.

Dr. Jacobs is entitled to her views about the courses, though ... oh, never mind. The fact is, she is all alone in her interpretation of what's in the curriculum and what it signifies. She loves to go into public comments at the school board meetings and tell them about rimming and fisting and people putting their heads into the toilet ("swirlies"), things like that. Gay people, according to her, have anal sex and eat poop, and that's why all of them die of AIDS. Even if they do use condoms.

She voted against almost everything in the curriculum, and proposed at least a hundred changes, most of which were ... not accepted. Misleading quotes from obsolete and irrelevant sources. Data from obscure, inconclusive studies. C'mon, we're talking to 8th and 10th grade kids here.

So the mainstream members of the committee (which I'm on, in case you forgot) were concerned that she was being invited by this PTA to represent the committee and answer questions.

Well, some phone calls were made, I won't go into it. Then the PTA invited one of the CAC's student members, Margaret Ellen Johnson, who is also a student at Magruder. That was good, Margaret Ellen is a cool kid. She was going to present the student's view of the curriculum.

Good, but not balanced.

More phone calls were made. Eventally, the chair of the CAC, Carol Plotsky, was invited to speak. I know she hates doing that sort of thing, and it was most gracious of her to agree to do it. Most of the members had already decided to go anyway.

So last night, I think I counted eight members of the 15-person committee in this high-school cafeteria. The PTA president said she was real nervous. She had prepared a form for parents to ask questions, and gave us some rules at the start; there would be the presentations, then only parents would be able to ask questions until nine o'clock ... She was really expecting a fight, it looked like.

Dr. Plotsky was introduced as "the chair of the committee." Dr. Plotsky recently retired as the chair of the Shady Grove Pediatrics Department, and also used to be assistant attorney general in Connecticut -- a doctor and a lawyer, both. As the PTA president neglected to mention.

Dr. Plotsky gave a good, coherent introduction to the process of the citizens committee and what it accomplished. She discussed the origins of the committee, from the 2005 lawsuit and the requirement that CRC and PFOX be represented on it, and noted how that requirement led inevitably to a division within the committee. I really appreciated Dr. Plotsky's even tone and informative presentation -- she has been just what the committee needed, a firm hand at the rudder.

Then Margaret Ellen talked. She was surprisingly cool for a teenager talking to a room full of grownups. She talked about how boring the video was, about how important it is for gay students to know what's going on with them, how important it is for their friends to understand. She talked about bullying and how mean eighth graders can be. And she listed some things she wished had been included in the curriculum: statements from the AMA and the APA that homosexuality is not a disease; statements that gay people can live full, happy lives and be good parents. Everybody on the committee is proud of Margaret Ellen, and she gave a great presentation.

Then, after a grand introduction describing her wondrous career, Dr. Jacobs took the podium. Her Powerpoint didn't work at first. When she got it going, we saw that the title of her talk was "Excluding Information from the Lessons: Does It Put Your Child at Risk?"

Her whole talk was about things that are not in the curriculum. Speaking about "excluding information."

Rather than bias the description by interpreting what she said, I'll just reproduce my notes from her talk:
anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex germs anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex AIDS anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex self-labeling anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex germs anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex germs anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex innate anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex "there's no gay gene" anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex gay people die anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex anal sex

There were some questions from the audience. Magruder, like everywhere, has a couple of vocal conservative parents who think kids ought to just be told not to have sex, and that should be that. There seemed to be a little core group of them, three or four people sitting together, but of course most of the people (there were probably thirty or forty people there) are reasonable, just parents who want to know what the big deal is about. Parents who want their kids to be safe and happy, and especially ones who don't want to see their kids get trapped in some stupid political tug-of-war.

Different members of the committee helped answer questions, which was a good thing. Of course, we've gone over this with a fine-toothed comb, there're a lot of details and a lot of back-and-forth here, and people were candid about what they thought could have been better and why certain decisions were made.

It wasn't real smart of this PTA president to try to do this. She says she's friends with Dr. Jacobs, and that's nice, but it was not going to serve the community at all to hear a talk about all the things that were not in the curriculum. It was a sneaky trick, and I hope the parents at Magruder realize what she tried to pull.

This is the kind of thing that keeps parents from participating in their school community.

There are serious issues here, a lot of people have done a lot of work to implement this curriculum, and to invite one strange cookie in to complain about what it doesn't include was not the brightest move in the world. Luckily it all worked out OK.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The New Curriculum Online

Hey, I don't think I ever mentioned this. If you are following the story about the Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum, and you want to know what it's actually about, you really should read it yourself, rather than trusting somebody to tell you what's in it. We have the whole curriculum posted HERE. We took the huge PDF file that the school district put out, and broke it into sections. The 10th grade condom lesson and each of the 8th and 10th grade sexual variations lessons are further subdivided into citizens advisory committee recommendations, MCPS staff responses to the recommendations, and final drafts. There is also a memo from the Superintendent there.

The recommendations are kind of interesting, because they give the results of voting on the different items. Like, "some people" like to say that everybody was against them, but you find a lot of close votes there, and even a couple of unanimous votes.

Breaking it up makes it easy to deal with, I think. I hope, anyway.

If you're looking for it sometime and you don't have this link, just go to the Resources page, and look on the lefthand side, at the top. Below that you can also find documents from the previously developed curriculum that was cancelled and the current curriculum, as well as some other documents of varying degrees of relevance.

Good: Kid Fights Back

We're going to have to watch his one. This kid in New Jersey was upset because the Christian teacher was essentially preaching to them in class. Nobody believed it could be as bad as he said it was, so he brought a tape recorder into class.
... Last fall, Matthew [LaClair], 16, taped the teacher, David Paszkiewicz, telling students in a history class that if they do not believe that Jesus died for their sins, they “belong in hell.”

On the recordings, which Matthew made surreptitiously starting in September, Mr. Paszkiewicz is heard telling the class that there were dinosaurs aboard Noah’s ark and that there is no scientific basis for evolution or the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

Since Matthew turned over the tapes to school officials, his family and supporters said, he has been the target of harassment and a death threat from fellow students and “retaliation” by school officials who have treated him, not the teacher, as the problem. The retaliation, they say, includes the district’s policy banning students from recording what is said in class without a teacher’s permission and officials’ refusal to punish students who have harassed Matthew. Student, 16, Finds Allies in His Fight Over Religion

Yes, you understood that correctly. The result was a new rule that students are not allowed to tape-record their teachers.

Some people might think this is OK. Others might think it is better to maintain a separation of church and state, such that public schools avoid promoting a particular religion in the classroom. That would be me.
The LaClairs filed a torts claim notice on Feb. 13 against the school board, Mr. Paszkiewicz and other school officials. Such a claim is required before a lawsuit can be filed in New Jersey. “The school created a climate in which the students in the school community held resentment for Matthew,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the A.C.L.U. in New Jersey. She said Kearny High School had “violated the spirit and the letter of freedom of religion and the First Amendment.”

Ms. Jacobs added that the A.C.L.U. would support the LaClairs if they sue the school board and might join the action.

Richard Mancino, a partner with Willkie Farr & Gallagher, which is representing the family, said he did not understand why school officials would not “stand up for this student, who had the guts to raise this constitutional issue.” Instead, Mr. Mancino said, they appear “to have adopted a shoot-the-messenger policy.”

I know, I know. <waves_hand_in_air> Is it because everybody is a bunch of gutless conformists who are afraid to think for themselves?

It's hard to stand up for what's right, as this kid is finding out.

Oh, I love this part:
Angelo J. Genova, a lawyer in Livingston, N.J., who is representing the school board, said Kearny school officials had addressed Matthew’s complaints and had reaffirmed their commitment to the separation of church and state in the classroom.

Bernadette McDonald, president of the school board, said in a statement: “We took his concerns very seriously. The result was that we have received no further complaints about such religious proselytization in our schools.”

Because, y'know, the problem was the complaining. And now it's OK, because people have stopped.
For his part, Matthew said he recognized that “there are going to be a lot of consequences” at school from the Monday news conference. He said he had already felt hostility from students after the school switched his history class from Mr. Paszkiewicz to another teacher.

The district would not disclose what action it had taken against Mr. Paszkiewicz, who is teaching the same course to a different group of students. He has taught in the district for 14 years.

Granted, it is difficult to establish a secular education in a world where many people participate in a religion. The problem is that there are a lot of different religions, and some people don't belong to one at all. So the schools, and government institutions in general, are obligated to stay neutral on the issue. It makes sense, unless you start thinking that your specific religion is the only true one, and that everybody else should accept that. And, sadly, some people do think that.

Luckily, there is a whole world of secular topics that do not require a religious explanation. Reading, writing, math, health, science ... you can learn these things without taking a position on which god, if any, is the true God, and what practices should be implemented to honor Him or Her.

Here in Montgomery County, the critics of the new sex-ed curricula can water it down as much as they want, they can claim to have secular objections, but you can't get around the religious underpinnings of their complaints. The fact is, the new curriculum is nice and objective, by secular standards; it was developed by a team of pediatricians, and it is entirely consistent with the current state of mainstream medical and scientific belief. The CRC's appeal to the state was full of religious complaints. Sorry, that's not how it's going to work. They may have gotten away with it for a while in Kearny, New Jersey, but it ain't gonna fly here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What We're Up Against

Digger, in the comments, pointed out a letter to the editor yesterday (Saturday) in the Washington Post, by the former -- as of last week, I guess -- president of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. You remember that the CRC has people on the board of directors and advisory board of the Rockville Pregnancy Center, which was recently kicked out of Montgomery County schools after it came to light that they have been having MCPS students chew a piece of gum and pass it around in class. I think the story first broke HERE.

Ms. Turner has a letter to the editor, as spokesperson for the CRC. Here's the whole thing:
We at Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum agree with Deputy Superintendent Frieda Lacey that gum-sharing exercises in Montgomery County public schools are "repulsive."

We also are concerned that students learn about sexually transmitted diseases. So how does Ms. Lacey feel about a curriculum that refuses to find anal sex "repulsive" or dangerous, but instead recommends that kids visit organizations that promote such sexual contact, and worse?

Last week our organization asked the State Board of Education to halt testing of the revised sex-ed curriculum. One reason for doing so was the failure of the new curriculum to address objectively the government-confirmed health risks of anal sex and other practices that spread sexually transmitted diseases.

So what's "repulsive" and requiring "immediate review" is all in the eye of the beholder, right? Unless you are a teenager who has just found out he or she is HIV-positive.

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum

The first sentence is ... not news. The CRC opposes children sharing their gum. We applaud them for adhering to that bold position.

But man, look at that second paragraph. Read this again:
So how does Ms. Lacey [actually, Dr. Lacey] feel about a curriculum that refuses to find anal sex "repulsive" or dangerous, but instead recommends that kids visit organizations that promote such sexual contact, and worse?

How can they say these things? You just wonder, as a normal person, how does somebody say something like this?

First of all, she asserts that the curriculum refuses to find anal sex "repulsive" or dangerous. Yes, it refuses to judge anal sex; it also refuses to condemn pickpockets and terrorism and illicit drug use, it says nothing about scrawling graffiti on street signs or the use of bad language by modern-day youth, there's nothing about a single one of the Ten Commandments or whether people should support our troops, and not a word warning people not to cross the street in the middle of the block.

Listen, the curriculum doesn't say anything at all about anal sex, except that you should use a condom if you do that -- which is good, mainstream medical advice. As Ms. Turner no doubt knows, the STD rate for teens who practice "abstinence" is about the same as for kids who do not. The reason? They practice anal sex without protection, thinking it keeps them technically virgins. I think it's a good idea to mention this to them, as they seem not to think of it on their own.

Part of the new curriculum is about condoms, and part is about sexual orientation. There is nothing about anal sex anywhere in it, and there shouldn't be. The CRC is so interested in anal sex that they think it is a terrible shortfalling of the curriculum, but really, nobody else is in any big hurry to teach kids about anal sex.

And then, this: ... but instead recommends that kids visit organizations that promote such sexual contact, and worse?

I suppose it is best that the CRC go ahead and publish this sort of thing in the newspaper, where people can see them for what they are. These kinds of statements are an embarrassment to our county and the intelligent and fair people who live in it.

Let me state clearly: there is no recommendation anywhere in the sex-ed curricula that recommends to anyone that they should visit any organization that promotes anal sex. That idea is entirely bizarre. But the CRC has succeeded, with the complicity of the Washington Post, in planting the seed of an idea in people's mind that the Montgomery County sex education classes somehow send children out to learn how to perform anal intercourse.

I'm pretty sure I know where this came from, some books that were handed out at a conference one time, which elicited an apology from the sponsoring organization and a clear statement that the material violated their principles. Somebody screwed up once, the year before last. We've been over it here many times, as the anti-gay betterthanyous jumped all over the incident to "prove" that gay people are evil.

To take that event, which has nothing to do with the new curriculum, and use it to typify the result of months of hard work by many people ... just amazing.

Then she says Last week our organization asked the State Board of Education to halt testing of the revised sex-ed curriculum. One reason for doing so was the failure of the new curriculum to address objectively the government-confirmed health risks of anal sex and other practices that spread sexually transmitted diseases.

She could have mentioned that the state had five days to order the stay, and they didn't.

This anal-sex business was one of the things in there. They sued for a bunch of reasons, ranging from their desire to include more anal sex in the curriculum to the fact that people in Montgomery County don't agree with them or appreciate them.

The last paragraph: "repulsive?" Why would the curriculum describe something as "repulsive" that it doesn't even teach about? "Immediate review?" What would that have to do with the HIV epidemic? There must be some covert politically correct code talk in there that I am unable to detect, about immediately reviewing something having to do with HIV. Same with the teenager who has HIV -- where did that come from? This is simply incoherent.

When I see this kind of thing, it motivates me in two directions. First, it makes me mad to think that people who "think" like this have any say at all in anything that happens in my county. If the people of Montgomery County disagree on an issue and want to debate it, fine, I'm good with that, but to do it with outright lies and distortion like this, where the only thing that matters is winning even if you have to poison the public well to do it -- I'm against that, and this just makes me fight back harder.

On the other hand, with real estate values what they are, maybe I could sell the house, pack up the family, and move into an adobe shack somewhere in the foothills of New Mexico, where we could listen to the coyotes singing and look up every night at a million stars. Maybe have a little garden and a couple of chickens, go into town on the weekend and two-step to the local country-western band -- hey, maybe they'd need a guitar player, and I could pick up a couple of bucks playing.

Sigh ... Not yet, I got things to get done still. But ... man, that sounds good sometimes.

It isn't right that any intelligent person would be drawn into this kind of idiotic discussion.

But you have to.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Incurious" is Nowhere to be Seen

Carpetbagger Report points out a kind of fun result in an ongoing Pew survey (pdf). Since early February 2004, Pew has been asking people for a single word that best describes President Bush. In Feb-04, the top words were:
Liar (woops -- people knew in 2004?)

You get the vibes, right?

And of course, you know where this is going.

By July 2005, "incompetent" had risen to second place, and some other modern favorites were rising in the charts:

Yeah, a mixed result there, no doubt.

In February 2007, that is, last month, these were the top ten:

When you've got an incompetent, arrogant, honest, good idiot leader with integrity, who's strong and stupid ... you got Trouble with a capital T.

Just interesting how things pop out of the data. I'm glad they ask this question (even though my favorite didn't make the list).

Something Entirely Different

When I was in China, a friend of mine, a Polish guy from North Carolina who lives in Australia and writes books about computer science and brain-teasers and managing your finances, showed me a kind of puzzle that he said most people can't get.

It's the weekend, let's take a break.

Look at this little puzzle. See how you do.

Here is a series of objects. The question is -- what comes next? What is the next object in the series?

OK, do you know?

See the answer HERE

Friday, February 16, 2007

Families, Hate, and Other Things

Please indulge me as I try to tie a couple of thoughts together.

Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin attended the Love Won Out conference in Phoenix last week, and is reporting on it in a series of fascinating, very emotional blog posts.

He describes the audience at the conference as consisting generally of three groups: church leaders and Bible study groups who are there as part of their Christian education; gays who want to become straight; and relatives of gay people. This last group, he says, is by far the largest.

He makes a big point that the people at the conference are not hateful, in fact quite the opposite.
Instead, let me draw your attention to a gentleman I talked to in one quiet little corner of the church courtyard. He was there with his wife and we were talking when he began to tell me about his son. For a long time, this gentleman had been wondering why his very good-looking and popular son hadn’t gotten married yet, when about eight years ago his son came home for a special visit in order to explain why that wasn’t going to happen. This father was very forthcoming in telling me that he took the news very badly, and he said a lot of things that he shouldn’t have said. And when he talked to his son more in the months that followed, he repeated some of those awful things which brought their relationship to a terrible break.

Since then, he’s talked to his son on the phone many times, but too often it often hasn’t gone very well. There are too many times when the conversations between them break down as old patterns repeat themselves. There’s just too much pain and anger on both sides, although he’s careful not to blame his son. He wishes he knew how to talk to him, and as he said this he began to cry very softly. His wife, who had been standing silently next to him the whole time, gently reached for his hand and she began to cry as well. But she remained silent. She never shared her side of the story and I didn’t ask.

I just stood there and watched this man’s heart break before my very eyes. His lower lip quivered ever so slightly as he continued speaking — the hopes that he had for his son, the many things he admired about him, his pride in his son’s successful career, and yet, his utter puzzlement that his son could possibly be gay. Eight years later and he still can’t quite bring himself to fully believe it. All he wants is for his boy to come home.

See? Interesting.

I want to say a word about hate and ignorance. Hate does not always wear an angry face. When you believe that someone is evil in their heart and soul, when you believe that the love that one person feels for another is an ugly thing, I'm sorry, but that feeling is called hate. It's heartbreaking on both sides when it happens in the context of a family, when you raise a child up from infancy and then find that they disgust you.

I optimistically think that this kind of unintentional hate is usually caused by ignorance. Nobody wants to hate their own children, they want to understand and love them. That's one reason the new health classes should be important. People might learn that you don't have to hate someone because of who they love, and someday there might be fewer confused parents like these.

There are two groups that attempt to work with family members: PFLAG and PFOX (I prefer not to put them in the same sentence, but I do want to discuss them in relation to one another).

PFLAG stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It offers support groups for families, and puts together brochures and conferences, things like that. PFLAG understands that families may react angrily to their child's or sibling's coming-out, or may become depressed or just confused, and they work with them to deal with that. In the long run, PFLAG is about acceptance and loving your family member as they are, whether you understand how they feel or approve of it.

PFOX -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays -- also offers support groups and informational services, but their message is the opposite, in a way, from PFLAG's. Where PFLAG encourages acceptance, PFOX offers denial. Their message is that your gay family member can change, that they might stop being gay. You love them, yes, but you hold out hope that they will become something different someday.

PFOX likes to say that people who criticize them are "discriminating against ex-gays" or that they are acting like "ex-gays don't exist;" this is simply a smokescreen. There are perfectly good reasons to oppose PFOX. The fact is, and everybody knows it's true, sexual orientation isn't something that changes. If it ever does, the phenomenon is incredibly rare. The product they manufacture and sell is really nothing more or less than false hope, nurtured by ignorance.

Listening to the man described in Box Turtle Bulletin, one is struck by the fact that he just didn't know how to take it when he discovered his son was gay. He doesn't go into any detail, but it is clear that the father didn't know anything about it. And you have to think, how much better would it have been, if he had received a little bit of education about sexual orientation, if he had knowledge beyond what you pick up on the playground and at work, from peers who don't know any more about it than you do?

Spitzer's (Weak) Explanation

We have been talking here about the strange situation where researcher Robert Spitzer has a video on the PFOX web site in which he advocates their position and says that gay advocates are not being truthful about the immutability of sexual orientation. The Flash video comes up whenever you load their home page.

Spitzer's research has been used by rightwing groups to promote the idea that gay people can and should become straight, and he has said he does not approve of that use of his findings. So a few of us were surprised that he turned up as the spokesman for PFOX.

Truth Wins Out released a video yesterday where Spitzer seems to explain the situation and expresses his opinion about it. At least, because of the timing of the release of this video, we assume that the interview he refers to is the one that ended up on PFOX's site. Nothing in the TWO story says that it's the same one.

In the video, Spitzer says he was interviewed by James Dobson and gave permission for Dobson to use it however he wanted, and now he's "uncomfortable" it's being used to promote Focus on the Family's anti-gay viewpoints.

Here's what he says on the video:
Spitzer: When I did the study, that was several years ago, six years ago. At that time there was not as much controversy about gay marriage and whatnot as there is now. I think I would be more reluctant now to start such a study, knowing the way in which it would be used. Since I'm totally uncomfortable with the aims of Focus on the Family.

It's understandable that Focus on the Family would be delighted with the results of my study because the study did indicate that there was evidence that some gays can change not only their sexual identity but their sexual orientation, fantasy, arousal. So of course they were delighted with that study. What they failed to mention, and it's not I guess a big surprise, is that in the discussion I noted that it was so hard for me to find two hundred subjects to participate in the study that I have to conclude that although change is possible and does occur, it's probably quite rare. And of course they don't want to mention that.

Narrator: We asked Dr. Spitzer how he feels about how Focus on the Family used his work to support a program that essentially seeks to deny civil rights to gays.

Spitzer: It makes me feel quite uncomfortable, and I'm kind of caught in that I think the study needed to be done, but I'm not happy that the people who are making use of the study are people whose program I'm totally am at odds with and feel therefore uncomfortable with their use of the study.

Dobson interviewed me at one point and he used that interview as part of their distribution process, and what I've found out about that I was quite unhappy with it because I didn't realize that I'd given permission for it to be distributed in that way. I wasn't happy with his reporting it because he failed to mention the point that I mentioned, which is that I thought change was rare. But there was nothing I could do, I had signed a permission and so they were free to distribute it.

As far as the gay person who is thinking about change, the gay person wants to know not only can some people change but how likely is it if I go into some kind of therapy or program. So my study I think does indicate that some gays can change but it also suggests that it's probably pretty rare. So the gay who is thinking about entering some kind of program to change should know that the likelihood of success is probably quite small. And of course Focus on the Family doesn't want to say that.

OK, so let me get this straight. This guy goes and does an interview with James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, a notorious anti-gay religious right organization. He tells Dobson, on camera, that:
... the gay activists have taken the viewpoint that from a political/strategic point of view they do better if they can convince society at large that once you're homosexual you can never change. Now, I can appreciate that that helps them politically, and I'm sympathetic towards their political goals, but I think it's just not true.

Then he signs a permission form that lets Dobson do whatever he wants with the video recording. And now he's on PFOX's web site, helping sell the message that gay people can and should become straight.

Look, it's pretty clear to me that no amount of editing could put those words into Spitzer's mouth, saying that the gay activists are making claims that are "just not true" in their attempt to "convince society at large that once you're a homosexual you can never change." He said that, on-camera, to James Dobson, and gave him permission to use it however he wanted.

I don't see him doing anything to stop being the PFOX spokesperson, other than complaining on Wayne Besen's video about how it doesn't make him comfortable or happy.

Maybe I'm too cynical here. Maybe he really is "uncomfortable," as he says, and unhappy, but just not unhappy enough to do anything to stop being the PFOX spokesresearcher. What am I missing?

[Update: Warren Throckmorton has commented here that he doesn't think this video is referring to the PFOX promotion. Maybe the TWO video is not an explanation of that, but a more general comment by Spitzer about his view of Focus on the Family. In that case, we are still left wondering why he is speaking for PFOX.]