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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Robert,

I don't know if this is the kind of resource you are thinkng about, but there is a new (meeting about a year now) group sponsored by the Rockville Unitarian Universalist Church. The organizers are friends of TTF. The Rainbow Youth Alliance is for GLBTQ teens and allies, regardless of denomination. You can contact them through their page on the church website:

February 27, 2007 6:26 PM  

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