Saturday, February 10, 2007

Learning About Germs By Spreading Real Germs

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about a ... demonstration ... in a Montgomery County sex-ed class that backfired. An outside speaker in the classroom had students pass around a piece of gum in class and take turns chewing it. This was supposed to teach them something about how dirty sex is.

This morning, the story is front-page in the Washington Post:
It was a novel class exercise: Ask a room full of Montgomery County high school students to take turns chewing the same piece of gum.

To demonstrate how sexually transmitted diseases are spread, a visiting speaker invited students to share gum in health classes at four county high schools in December and last month. School officials said a total of about 100 students participated in the lessons, although some declined to chew the gum.

Education and health officials say the gum exercise was unsanitary and should not have happened. The speaker and the clinic, a pregnancy counseling center with a religious orientation, are no longer welcome in Montgomery schools, school officials said.

"It was fine for me, because my best friend and me did it first," said Julia Bellefleur, 15, a Damascus High School sophomore who participated in the exercise. "But it was kind of gross for everyone else. I was just glad I did it first."

At Damascus, about 15 students shared a stick of gum, students said. Students Get Lesson to Chew On: Gum Sharing Disgusts Montgomery Parents, Officials

We have a running joke in my family that has many forms. The most basic version is to mention to tell someone that there is an edible statue of some food, made entirely of food. It's a kind of difficult joke, but my daughter especially gets it in any form. The joke is about things that are supposed to be symbols for other things, but turn out to be things themselves. It's best if they turn out to be the same thing they are supposed to stand for. Like, imagine pretending to insult people. You would say rude things to them, but you'd only be pretending. And guess what -- you'll still get slapped. Because pretending to be rude is exactly the same as actually being rude. There are a gazillion variations on this stupid joke.

We have several like that. I'm just telling you, you wouldn't want to be a member of my family.

So here we have the clever people from this "pregnancy counseling center with a religious orientation" (and why is The Post being so coy about that part of it?) conducting an exercise in class, on the danger of spreading germs, where they are




Let's say it ain't the smartest thing I ever heard of.
Administrators and school board members learned of the demonstration early last month, after a parent complained to the principal of Poolesville High School, and swiftly revoked the group's permission to speak in schools. One or more speakers from Rockville Pregnancy Center had visited Damascus, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill high schools and possibly others. Clinic speakers had been approved to visit schools since 1998; students said the speaker told them she had taught the same lessons many times.

School officials said no complaints had previously reached a principal or school board members.

"This basically is an unacceptable and unsanitary practice. It should never occur," said Judith Covich, director of school health services at the county health department. "The risk is about the same as sharing a glass, sharing the same straw." The practice carried a low risk of spreading the cold or flu, she said.

Uh, actually, the risk is the same as having sex serially with everyone in your class. The demonstration is identical with the phenomenon it is supposed to demonstrate.

Get it?

(It is pretty funny that the school district is playing down the health risks. Imagine if they issued a statement saying that "the practice [of having sex with everyone in your high school class] carried a low risk of spreading" [STDs].) (Because, is the risk really that different? Isn't that the whole point of this exercise?)
Officials of the Rockville nonprofit group could not be reached yesterday for comment. On its Web site,, Rockville Pregnancy Center describes itself as a nonprofit, licensed medical clinic and pregnancy counseling organization. One part of the site quotes extensively from the Bible and offers a test "to see if you're going to Heaven."

School officials sent letters last month to all students exposed to the lesson and encouraged parents to call the health department with any concerns.

Sylvia Bellefleur, mother of Julia, said her main reaction upon reading the letter was disbelief that her daughter and her classmates went along.

"I was surprised that she would do it," the elder Bellefleur said. "Nobody could pay me enough to do it."

Yeah, it's amazing sometimes to discover how dumb our kids really are.

That's why we have sex-ed in the first place, sorry to say.

Seems like, for some reason, when we tell kids not to do something, they do it anyway.

But you wonder how they got them to chew the gum.
In a Jan. 12 memo to school board members, Deputy Superintendent Frieda K. Lacey said she would order "an immediate review of all outside speakers" for lessons on human sexuality and disease prevention, two of the most contentious topics taught in the county schools. She termed the gum exercise "repulsive" and said the employees who approved the group to speak in schools this academic year are "no longer employed" by the school system. "Every effort will be taken to prevent this from happening again," Lacey wrote.

Students said the speaker put them at ease about the "gum game," as it is now known among school administrators: It seemed relevant enough to the lessons, and the presenter said many students had done it. Classroom teachers were present during most or all of the lessons. Brian Edwards, schools spokesman, said he could not say whether those teachers were disciplined; such procedures are confidential.

We first heard about this from a good teacher, a no-nonsense health teacher. How in the world does something like this happen?

It isn't just a screw-up, something where we can say, oh, look at the evangelical fake-pregnancy-counseling center doing stupid stuff in the classroom. It's more than that.

Yeah, the Christian pregnancy center is a fake, it's a front for an anti-abortion group, they don't really give "advice," it's not a place you'd seriously go if you were pregnant and needed to know what to do. But that's not the point.

First, a lesson from this is that kids'll do anything. Every one of them in all of those classes knew this was a gross thing to do, that they could catch something chewing that gum. But it sounds like a bunch of them did it anyway.

... would you jump off a cliff if somebody ...

Well, yes, dad, I would, it turns out.

But there's another level of lesson here. Not only are kids reckless, but grown-ups are, too. We see that there are grown-ups who will endanger children in order to promote their own grown-up ideological views. These folks from the Rockville Pregnancy Center had been doing this for years, spreading germs through high-school classrooms. Of course they knew what could happen, but it didn't matter to them. Because they are fighting nobly to oppose the baby-killers. A few kids get sick, big deal, if maybe somewhere one of God's babies is saved.

And there's another level of lesson. The teachers. How could you stand there and watch this happen? In "health" class, no less. The only thing I can figure is that it happened year after year, and nobody complained, so they just threw their good sense out the window. You wonder how people can allow this sort of thing to happen? Look around you. That's all I'm saying: look around you. When do you make a stand to stop something you know is bad?

Yet another level. The school district says they never heard about this until now. Um, is that weird? These people are coming in from the religious anti-abortion clinic, talking to classes, year after year after year, and the school district doesn't know what they're saying? Yeah, we do trust these people to keep our children safe when they're at school.

The last level of lesson. Parents. How many of our kids came home and said, Dad, Mom, you wouldn't believe the gross thing we had to do in school today? This goes two ways: 1.they said something and we ignored it, or 2.they didn't say anything.

Which one is worse?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

(1) Yes, it was a daft idea from a public health perspective. (2) The Post was less coy about the group's religious connection than the group is itself. Visit the "Pregnancy Center's" web page--they aren't at all explicit and direct about their actual mission, which is a faith-based mission, with little scientific concern, to try and take abortion off the list of options for pregnant women. (3) No, chewing a stick of gum does not carry the same health risk as unprotected sex when it comes to spreading disease, which your post implies. (Read up on how kissing someone with HIV is far less likely to lead to transmission of the disease than unprotected sex, as one example. The contact point and possible transmission vectors matter.)

February 10, 2007 1:41 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Yes, Anon, and that goes both ways. You are not as likely to catch the flu, for instance, through sexual intercourse. As far as I know.

The whole point of the exercise is that both sharing gum and having sex are ways that germs get spread. I don't think the analogy requires them to be the same germs in both cases.


February 10, 2007 2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would have been a better lesson about the prevention of the transmission of STDs had it included the option for each student to put the gum inside a condom before putting it in their mouth.

A few years back, instead of asking MCPS students to chew gum, the Rockville Crisis Pregnancy Center asked health classes of MCPS students to share a single lollipop. The obvious unintended lesson our students might have learned from that stunt boggles the mind.

I'm really glad MCPS has banned these nuts from our public schools.

February 11, 2007 11:28 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

So Johnny(I LOVE YOU,BOE) Garza and Ben(the man needs serious help) Patton on the board of this nutjob group have stupid/filthy things like this going on - and they want to be in control of what our kids learn? Maybe Ruth Javcobs should be lecturing her dear compatriots instead of the Board of Ed.

February 11, 2007 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The gum chewing exercise is a good way to help kids understand the dangers of indiscriminate promiscuity. It probably was unwise though. The schools would have been better to warn the group not to do it again. I'm sure if GLSEN or the Gay-Straight Alliance did something like this, they'd get a good talking to- and nothing more. MCPS, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, will take any opportunity to silence religious conservatives.

One interesting aspect that the Post story brought up but that TTF conveniently neglected when it discussed this a few weeks back is that participation was completely voluntary and many students declined such.

Meanwhile, I guess to avoid hypocrisy, TTF will not support a ban on students kissing one another in the halls. And no fooling around, the offense should be punished by mandatory expulsion.

February 12, 2007 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'll check with the CDC, Jim, to see if influenza can be spread through sexual intercourse"

Maybe you should check the Kama Sutra for positions that don't require one to enter their partners' breath space.

February 12, 2007 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"participation was completely voluntary and many students declined such."

In the suers' appeal to the State Board of Education, CRC President Garza takes a different view of requests by a teacher being "completely voluntary." Garza claims there is potential "molestation" of students due to the "weight held by teachers in a classroom."

"...The force of this pressure and molestation must be viewed as exceedingly great considering the weight held by teachers in a classroom, the student's strong interest in staying on good terms with the teacher..."

So which is it? Is classroom participation "completely voluntary" or are students "molested" by the "weight held by teachers in a classroom?"

February 12, 2007 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The gum-chewing exercise was completely voluntary. The Rockville Pregnancy Center didn't grade anybody is make assignments.

February 12, 2007 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


When a zealot from the RCPC stands in front of the class, students respond "completely voluntar[il]"y. When a MCPS health educator stands in front of the class, students are "molested."

Except it was the RCPC zealot who "molested" MCPS students by knowingly allowing "volunteers" to expose themselves to the common cold, the flu, the stomach flu, mono and a host of other illnesses communicable by saliva.

February 12, 2007 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"When a MCPS health educator stands in front of the class, students are "molested.""

Not properly regurgitating the viewpoint of the health teacher will be penalized. The rep from the pregnancy center has no such authority- and doesn't seek it.

February 12, 2007 3:37 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Sorry, anon, wrong again- as usual. What has a disgusting thing like this got to do with silencing religious conservatives? RPC came up with this stupid activity- religion has nothing to do with it- the people involved were just dumb.

February 12, 2007 8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it any more disgusting than kissing or sharing drinks?

According to the Post this morning, RPC has been conducting this exercise in public schools for the last nine years. Any statistics showing an increase in colds or flus during that time among high school students?

February 13, 2007 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"a disgusting thing like this"

Interesting how strongly TTF feels about sharing gum and yet they are so uncomfortable telling students the same thing about the dissemination of bodily fluids.

Very interesting.

February 13, 2007 11:30 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, what is that supposed to mean? I think it is perfectly appropriate for MCPS to be teaching students about the risks of exchanging bodily fluids. I'm glad they do it, and have no doubt they will continue to do it.

Is there some place you have heard us say we think they should stop?


February 13, 2007 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And while you're at it Anon, show us an example of TTF suggesting to MCPS students that they expose themselves to others' germs by sharing chewing gum.

TTF never has and never would risk the health of MCPS students, but as you proudly point out, these religious nuts from the RPC, including two officers of the CRC have been doing exactly that for 9 years. That you defend this classroom exercise demonstrates your lack of concern for the health of MCPS students.


February 13, 2007 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the exercise works, then gum-chewing is analgous to sexual promiscuity, and the risks are approximately the same. If it doesn't, then RPC/CRC are a bunch of morons.

February 13, 2007 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"TTF never has and never would risk the health of MCPS students, but as you proudly point out, these religious nuts from the RPC, including two officers of the CRC have been doing exactly that for 9 years."

TTF advocates teaching that over the long run will lead to increased promiscuity and hurt the health of students.

Again, any statistical evidence that this long conducted exercise by RPC has caused any decline in students' health?

Should kissing in the halls and sharing drinks also be forbidden in public schools?

February 13, 2007 6:16 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Anonymous said "TTF advocates teaching that over the long run will lead to increased promiscuity and hurt the health of students.".

Studies of abstinence only programs show otherwise. Such programs make it more likely that when students do engage in sex they will do so without protection. Comprehensive sex education is most effective at discouraging the spread of STDs.

Anonymous said "Should kissing in the halls and sharing drinks also be forbidden in public schools?".

Should these activities be encouraged during classroom instruction? No one has forbidden students from sharing gum if they wish to, it just shouldn't be part of class.

February 14, 2007 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Studies of abstinence only programs show otherwise. Such programs make it more likely that when students do engage in sex they will do so without protection. Comprehensive sex education is most effective at discouraging the spread of STDs."

Not all abstinence programs are identical but, regardless of whether whatever studies you discuss are correct, that is not the same as a study of the effects of valueless sex ed.

"Should these activities be encouraged during classroom instruction? No one has forbidden students from sharing gum if they wish to, it just shouldn't be part of class."

Well, that's not the TTF complaint. Their complaint is that it's dirty and disgusting and will spread germs.

February 15, 2007 12:01 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Anonymous, comprehensive sex education isn't valueless. It teaches the value of preventing disease and pregnancy.

The complaint of TTF is that instructors have no more business asking students to share gum in class than they have to ask students to kiss or share glasses in class.

February 15, 2007 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many parents do you think want their MCPS students asked by guest speakers to "voluntarily" share gum with classmates, including classmates who are sick enough to be on medication (!!!!!) like RPC does? How blinded by your faith are you? God gave you the ability to reason, you should try using it.

the TTF complaint. Their complaint is that it's dirty and disgusting and will spread germs.

It will spread germs, there's no doubt about it. It was a parent from Poolesville who complained about the risk the gum chewing stunt posed to her student, alterting MCPS that they should take a better look at what RPC was passing off as education. When they were finally able to gather all the facts about the curriculum item "Gum game. Discuss results," MCPS corrected itself and revoked RPC's approval. It's good to know our local leaders are able to correct a mistake when they find one.

"that is not the same as a study of the effects of valueless sex ed."

So name "a study of the effects of valueless sex ed" so we can discuss it. You can't. There's no such thing. Perhaps you meant to say "a study of the effects of comprehensive sex ed," which combines the abstinence message with information about various forms of contraception as well as STD and HIV/AIDS prevention. The majority of American parents want schools to teach this life saving information to their teens. There are plenty of studies showing comprehensive sex ed, which contain both messages, is more effective at keeping teens safe than abstinence-only sex ed alone.

If you think the 2007 MCPS revisions to the health education curriculum are "valueless," you should read them and find out how wrong your preconceived notions are.


February 16, 2007 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well first of all, I was given the same exercise when I was in high school. However the outside presenter did not instruct the exercise in such manner, instead she had the first person to open the gum and pass it to the next person. After the gum had been passed through everyone's hand, (about 100 of us) she then asked, "who wants to chew this piece of gum?" NO ONE AGREED to chew the gum and we all got the message that she was tring to send. So saying that to say this, the ones who were stupid enough to chew gum that everyone else has chewed are the same ones who obviously did not get the message. They will probably be the same ones who do not practice safe sex........

April 15, 2009 11:47 AM  

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