Wednesday, February 28, 2007


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.


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