Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Calm After a (Brief) Storm

In the aftermath of the state's decision yesterday not to support CRC's request to interrupt the pilot testing of the new curriculum, The Post actually had two articles this morning: the story and the story behind the story. We gave you the main story already.

The other article appeared in the "Extra" section of the paper, and was mainly about how surprised the CRC was that pilot testing had already started. I'm sure they had big plans to disrupt it if they could, and instead they ended up with three sad-sacks standing in the freezing wind holding signs that didn't have anything to do with anything, and nobody paying any attention to them until the school staff shooed them away.

I'll tell you a secret: they were surprised by yesterday's decision by the state, too.

It's interesting, but I often learn about things from reporters. Something happens, and they call me to ask for my reaction. That's cool, it's a tradition that's as old as the hills, but you don't always notice that the information is going both ways, especially because everybody doesn't have a blog. This creates a bit of a dilemma sometimes. Like, a while back a reporter called me early in the afternoon and told me something that he was clearly the first to know, and he wanted my reaction to this new event. So I talked with him, he took some notes, we hung up.

Now, here I am, also in possession of this new knowledge -- since he had to tell me to get my reaction -- and knowing that my readers would like to hear it, and expect to hear it here first. Actually, quite a few news stories have appeared on this blog long before the commercial media picked them up.

But if I post this new information, not only will I scoop the guy who told me, but all the other reporters in town will see it, and the reporter who called me will lose his exclusive story.

So ... what do you do?

Or yesterday -- there was a very strange couple of minutes in my life. Out of the blue I got a call from a reporter who had just found out that the state had decided to grant the CRC's request for a stay, and he wanted to know what I thought about it.

Yes, he said "grant the stay."

I didn't really know what to say. I had expected a decision on Friday, not Wednesday, and it had never seriously crossed my mind that the state Superintendent of schools would agree to the bundle of lies, misdirections, and bigotry that the CRC had submitted to her. I kind of stammered, stalling, and asked the reporter how they knew this.

The reporter said that Michelle Turner, once-president-now-"spokesperson" for the CRC had told him. We discussed it for a minute, and the reporter said he would check again to make sure he had it right.

As soon as I hung up, my phone rang again. Another reporter. Wanted my reaction to the news that the request for a stay had been refused. Are you sure? Yes, she had talked with school officials and had it on good word that this was correct. And what was my reaction?

So I had to give her my reaction to a situation that could have been a victory or a defeat for our side, depending on which caller was correct. I felt kind of stupid, trying to talk about something and not knowing what it was I was talking about. I'm sure I sounded like a complete idiot.

While I was on the phone with her, my phone rang and went to voicemail. The message was the first guy: Michelle Turner had it wrong. She said "granted," she should have said "refused." Small difference, I guess.

I don't know, it's nothing, just a strange intense moment in an otherwise ordinary day. Well, I gave a talk at a conference in the morning on computer security, and my wife flew to Sioux City to see her parents in the evening, so it wasn't an entirely ordinary day. But this couple of minutes were unusually crazy.

The Post Extra article tells about how the CRC had planned a meeting for tonight, thinking that testing was going to begin next week. Not much point to that, now, is there?

(By the way, that wasn't the reporter I was just talking about, in case you wanted to try to guess. I haven't given you any clues.)

Also, the article -- headlined Field Tests of Sex-Education Curriculum Catch Foes Unawares -- said the CRC was in the process of mailing "informational letters" to parents at the test schools. We've seen some of those letters, and, well, I guess you'd call it "information" in the formal Shannon-Weaver sense, but most of us would call it ... oh, never mind.

The CRC's strategy now, their only hope, is to talk people into opting their kids out of the tests. Yesterday's Post said that four students at Argyle had forgotten to bring in their permission slips, this morning's Baltimore Sun said "Three students did not participate in the classes -- one opted out and two forgot permission slips," quoting MCPS' Brian Edwards. So, it's hard to tell, but it sounds like at most one family opted their kid out of the class. Pretty typical.

And remember, these families got letters last week from the CRC, trying to get them to protest by holding their kids out of the classes. Maybe one sucker, that's it. Or maybe that person had their own reasons for keeping a kid out of the class, and nothing to do with rightwing radicals telling lies.

What would it mean, if they were successful in reducing the numbers of students in the classes? The letters they send are full of misinformation. So -- what can you conclude if parents keep their children out of the classes, based on misrepresentations? Let's say a bunch of parents do it -- is that evidence that the curriculum has a problem? Does that mean an anti-gay alternative class needs to be developed? Or does it just mean that people tend to believe what they're told, and gave the benefit of the doubt to the group that sent them the scary letter?

I don't see how it could work. Say half the kids opted out. What would the school district do? Nothing different, as far as I can see. You might say they should prepare an alternative class, rather than send kids to the library with a notebook, but really -- the absences would be interpreted as a reaction to the letters. You can't expect that many kids to opt out every year, because there won't be lying letters every year. So it doesn't even mean that. It would just mean less data from the pilot test.

It's a sorry situation. I don't know if the meeting they were going to have tonight is cancelled, or if they will still get a room in Gaithersburg or Germantown or wherever it was to mope about this latest loss and figure out ways to blame everybody else. I don't know if they will still send out their letters, even though it's too late to undermine the testing.

Montgomery County parents, on their own, are fine with this curriculum. Yesterday's Post article quoted MCPS' Brian Edwards as saying that hardly any parents attended any of the schools' informational meetings.

The fact is, Montgomery County has one of the best school districts in the country, and parents trust them.


Blogger andrea said...

How did Ms. Turner make that mistake? I mean she is usually so right(so far right).

March 08, 2007 2:13 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Well, Theresa, partly the interpretation will depend on whether the school district decides to consider them to be "informed" parents, or "misinformed." We see that maybe one kid opted out without CRC's influence, out of -- 66 kids, I think? If more opt out after they receive your letters, that may show that the letters have an effect, but it would not show anything wrong with the curriculum itself, logically speaking. So I doubt that MCPS would decide to make adjustments based on that, unless you guys intend to blanket the school district with letters twice a year forever after.

You oughta do that, it would be funny.

Normal life sounds good, believe me. But I don't think MCPS is going to implement parallel curricula. Sitting with a notebook in the library isn't too bad.

Also, I should comment on your comment about "church goers who believe that sex before marriage should be discouraged." The parents of TTF feel just as strongly as the parents of CRC about that. A lot of us have teenagers, and we want them to practice abstinence. The difference is in how we think they will get that message. We, at least I, don't think you just tell a teenager to do something and they do it. Our, at least my, theory is that you give young people knowledge to make the right decisions, reasons to support their choices, and then when they're in the situation, they make the right choice.

The intended goal is the same, it's the method to attain it that's different.


March 09, 2007 3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and please stuff the "anything goes" remarks, andrea. it's factually incorrect and does nothing to advance the discussion.

March 12, 2007 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

correction--sorry andrea--i meant to direct that to theresa;)

March 12, 2007 4:48 PM  

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