Friday, March 02, 2007

Note to Journalists

It seems that in the past two years we have seen nearly a hundred percent turnover in newspaper reporters covering the MCPS sex-ed controversy. There are new, mostly young, reporters at nearly all of the papers these days. So I thought it might be useful to put out a message to them.

These are some crazy times we live in. America is polarized like never before. Where there used to be a spectrum of conservatives and liberals, with some small number of people at the extremes, the political climate today has people on the far ends yelling at each other across a chasm.

I'm not pointing at any of you locally, but we must understand that the media have had an important role in creating this situation.

A kind of sensible-sounding philosophy of "fair and balanced" reporting evolved into a view of journalism as a kind of uncritical stenography -- taking quotes, writing them down, and reproducing them in the morning paper, basically taking dictation from the newsmakers. The sad effect of this was that the public had no way to distinguish the truth of a story.

We the people can't go to every event and observe it, we rely on you to tell us what has happened. And because you attend these events, you are in a position to evaluate them. At least, when a statement is made by a public figure, you are in the position to report the statement and the facts that it refers to; if these coincide, good, everybody's happy. If it turns out that the statement does not coincide with the truth, then it is not "partisan" to report the two side by side, and let the reader compare and choose how to interpret the statement.

You know where we stand on the sex-ed controversy. We're not asking you to take our side. Oh, we'll say something if you overemphasize the whiners, but that's just because we're in this fight to win it. We don't have to be nice, and in fact -- we don't have to be impartial, as you do.

OK, let me get to the point.

At this moment, the CRC and its little group of allies are churning out the noise. They have filed an appeal with the state, they're bombarding the email lists, they've brought in the American Family Association to get a lot of phone calls made, and now they're sending letters to the families of students at the pilot-test schools, trying to get them to keep their kids out of the testing. Oh, and of course, they are going to sue when the state refuses the stay they requested.

Here's what I ask you to do, journalists. Follow the links at the top of this page to our Resources page. At the top left, you will see the words New Curricula. Click there. A window will open up, containing all the lessons and supporting documents for the new sex education curriculum that is being pilot-tested, probably later this month.

Read it.

(If you'd rather read the whole thing in one big, 9-or-10 megabyte pdf file, you can access the same material at the CRC's web site, too.)

(Actually, I just looked over there -- I'd heard they had it, but I don't see it. It's probably there somewhere, in case you don't trust our copy.)

Then when you're talking to the CRC, and they're saying "the new curriculum tells students that homosexuality is healthy and normal," ask them to show you where it says that.

When they say, "The new curriculum encourages children to declare their sexual orientation at an early age," ask them where it says that.

When they say, "The new curriculum only allows one view of homosexuality, that it is perfectly moral," ask them where it says that.

When they say, "Students will not be allowed to express their views," ask them where it says that.

When they say, "The new curriculum discriminates against people who believe homosexuality is a sin," ask them where it says that.

When they say, "The new curriculum teaches students that anyone who disagrees with the school district is homophobic," ask them where it says that.

In other words, I'm just asking you to be responsible, as reporters, and familiarize yourselves with the actual curriculum. It is irresponsible to print a sentence like, "XXX from the CRC says 'The new curriculum insists that homosexuality is natural and normal,'" without noting that there is no such passage in the curriculum itself. The person's statement might be your news story, but it is responsible journalism to report the facts alongside the quote.

Remember -- your readers, the public, don't have enough hours in the day to look at every document related to every story in the newspaper. You're doing them a service if you report the facts they need to know, in order to understand the statements that are being made.

I'm just asking the journalists of the Washington, DC, area to inform themselves, as the schools approach their pilot tests and this controversy heats up again, and I'm asking you to be responsible in reporting the facts -- what happened, as well as what somebody said happened.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would add one thing to Jim's piece. It is important to know precisely what the mainstream medical and mental health professional associations actually say about sexual orientation. Here are the key statements from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association. For more information, I provide the links to the full documents:

1. The American Medical Association (AMA):
"[O]pposes the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation." (AMA Policy Number H-160.991 Health Care Needs of the Homosexual Population, available at

2. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
a. Notes approvingly that the American Psychiatric Association reclassified homosexuality in 1973 to state that "homosexuality [is] a sexual orientation or expression and not a mental disorder" (Guidance for the Clinician on Sexual Orientation and Adolescents, published in PEDIATRICS, Vol. 113, No. 6 (June 2004) at 1828), available at
b. Encourages its members to "[b]e supportive of parents of adolescents who have disclosed that they are not heterosexual," noting that "[m]ost states have chapters of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to which interested families may be referred," and urging clinicians to "[r]emind parents and adolescents that gay and lesbian individuals can be successful parents themselves." Id. at 1830-31.
c. Says that most experts have concluded that "one's sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual." Moreover, according to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation is not a "conscious choice that can voluntarily be changed." Id. at 1828.

3. The American Psychological Association:
a. States that sexual orientation is not a "conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed," and that gay men and lesbians can "live successful, happy lives." Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality (2007), available at
b.States "that "homosexuality is not an illness, it does not require treatment and is not changeable." Id.
c. States that both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association urge "all mental health professionals to dispel the stigma of mental illness that some people still associate with homosexual orientation;" and that "[s]tudies comparing groups of children raised by homosexual and heterosexual parents find no developmental differences between the two groups of children . . . . [and] that a parent’s sexual orientation does not dictate his or her children’s" sexual orientation. Id.

March 02, 2007 2:49 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thank you, David, I was actually planning on putting those statements up on the blog pretty soon, maybe today. But I got distracted ... there is some fascinating stuff going on. I think I will move this up top, maybe over the weekend.


March 02, 2007 2:53 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Good and fair advice Jim...if only reporters would take that advice...sigh. Perhaps you ought to have a more prominent link, tag, whatever that clearly and unmistakenly directs the media to a FAQ style page. If there is a single thing that will assist them in doing a better job it is being able to get their hands on the correct information so they do not fall prey to misinformation (from whatever source).

For example (and yes, I know this is a letter to the editor), this letter that appeared in Friday's Denver Post,

Legislation to reform Colorado sex education

Re: "Bill puts science in school sex ed," Feb. 23 news story.

As a teen mom, this article really hit home for me. Colorado's sex education is a joke. In my "health" class, they spent only a few days talking about sex. The information they gave us about STDs, condoms and contraception was incorrect. Abstinence-only education has been proven to be unsuccessful, and many federally funded programs have been shown to be full of incorrect information and religious doctrine. Teen pregnancy rates have dropped because of contraception. I can tell you that if I had received proper sex education, I would have had sex much later than I did. Parents aren't doing their job by educating their kids, and it's about time the schools did something about it. My son is my life, but being a teen mother is one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through. I applaud those behind this bill. It's about time.

Andrika Nelson, Centennial

What is incorrect about this letter? The boldface sentence points it out; The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and other reputable, professional and nonpartisan groups have all confirmed that it is contraception AND abstinence education that is responsible for the reduction in teen pregnancies.

The more closely I read my local paper, The Fort Collins Coloradoan (owned by McPaper) the more depressed I get.

March 03, 2007 9:44 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Cite? You bet...and it took me less than 60 seconds to find it,

p.3, under "What Works" , item #1,

1 Curriculum-based sex education that discusses abstinence and contraceptive
use. These programs are generally offered as part of regular
school classes or as part of after-school programs either on school grounds or in community centers.

March 03, 2007 9:50 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Board of Directors

(Updated January 2007)

Thomas H. Kean
Chairman, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and former Governor of New Jersey


Isabel V. Sawhill, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, The Brookings Institution

Robert Wm. Blum, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., William H. Gates Sr., Professor and Chair, Department of Population and Family Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins University

Susanne Daniels, President, Entertainment, Lifetime Entertainment Services

Daisy Expósito-Ulla, Chair and CEO, d'expósito & partners

William Galston, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

David R. Gergen, Editor-at-Large, U.S. News & World Report

Alexine Clement Jackson, Community Volunteer

Sheila C. Johnson, Hon., Ph.D., CEO, Salamander Farm

Judith E. Jones, Clinical Professor, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

Brent C. Miller, Ph.D., Vice President for Research, Utah State University

Jody Greenstone Miller, Venture Partner, MAVERON, LLC

Reverend Father Michael D. Place, STD, Vice President, Ministry Development, Ressurection Healthcare

Bruce Rosenblum, President, Warner Bros. Television Group

Stephen W. Sanger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, General Mills, Inc.

Roland C. Warren, President, National Fatherhood Initiative

Vincent Weber, Partner, Clark & Weinstock, former U.S. Congressman

Stephen A. Weiswasser, Partner, Covington & Burling

Gail R. Wilensky, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Project HOPE

Kimberlydawn Wisdom, M.D., Surgeon General, State of Michigan

Judy Woodruff, Journalist and Special Correspondent, PBS News Hour

Trustees Emeriti

Charlotte Beers, former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Carol Mendez Cassell, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Allied Health Center, School of Medicine, Prevention Research Center, University of New Mexico

Linda Chavez, President, Center for Equal Opportunity

Annette P. Cumming, Executive Director and Vice President, The Cumming Foundation

Frankie Sue Del Papa, former Attorney General, State of Nevada

Whoopi Goldberg, Actress

Stephen Goldsmith, Daniel Paul Professor of Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government, and former Mayor of Indianapolis

Katharine Graham (1917-2001), Washington Post Company

David A. Hamburg, M.D., President Emeritus, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Visiting Scholar, Weill Medical College, Cornell University

Irving B. Harris, Chairman, The Harris Foundation

Barbara Huberman, Director of Training, Advocates for Youth

Leslie Kantor, Kantor Consulting

Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, former U.S. Senator

Douglas Kirby, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, ETR Associates

C. Everett Koop, M.D., former U.S. Surgeon General

John D. Macomber, Principal, JDM Investment Group

Sister Mary Rose McGeady, former President and CEO, Covenant House

Judy McGrath, President, MTV

Kristin Moore, President, Ph. D., Child Trends, Inc.

John E. Pepper, Vice President for Finance and Administration, Yale University

Hugh Price, former President, National Urban League, Inc.

Warren B. Rudman, Senior Counsel, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and former U.S. Senator

Victoria P. Sant, President, The Summit Foundation

Kurt L. Schmoke, Dean, Howard University School of Law, and former Mayor of Baltimore

Isabel Stewart, former Executive Director, Girls Inc.

Andrew Young, Chairman, GoodWorks International and former Ambassador to the U.N.

Director and Treasurer
Sarah S. Brown

March 04, 2007 12:55 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Dana writes,

The right wing only wants talk about abstinence and to present lies about contraception.

The focus in abstinence-only advocacy and education is just that: abstinence, not "we would really like you to be abstinent, we think it is the best course, but just in case, here's a condom for you boys and birth control pills and condoms for you girls (remind the boy, "no glove no love")".

As an abstinence advocate and educator I have no problem with any group inviting me in to talk about abstinence, and if they so choose also about contraception. However, I will not do that part...rather I would make sure that an individual that is a public health professional present the contraceptive material. There are a couple of reasons for doing it this way. First, since I do not believe it is the best course of action, I would not be able to advocate as strongly on behalf of contraceptive material. Second, I would not want the message I am attempting to convey to be compromised. That is why I think it is a critical mistake to have the same teacher presenting abstinence and contraceptive material.

I think an agreement could be worked out by both sides to agree not to speak ill of the other, and in so doing commit to presenting the strengths of each view. The closest thing to anything negative I could say about condoms and birth control is this: that they are effective in reducing the risk to contracting STD's IF they are correctly and consistently used everytime.


Then I would explain that as a parent I am doing my job best when I work to eliminate, not merely reduce, the risks my children encounter. Abstinence education and training is about risk elimination, not reduction. In other areas where we seek to keep our children safe, such as illicit drug use, under age drinking and smoking, do schools seek to reduce the risk, or do they seek to eliminate the risk?

March 04, 2007 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orin said, "Abstinence education and training is about risk elimination, not reduction."

IMHO abstinence-only education is a sham. It hopes students will abstain and offers them no guidance other than "tough luck kid, you shoulda' listened to me" if they fail.

The 2007 requirements to qualify for federal abstinence funding (see below) once again include mandates that these programs (1) must promote abstinence until marriage and (2) must not promote contraception or condom use. I'm glad to hear that Orin thinks "an agreement could be worked out by both sides to...commit to presenting the strengths of each view" however, programs funded by the federal government through the Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services (which spent $113 million funding abstinence-only programs last year) do not allow another person to come in and talk about contraception or condoms even if that person is "a public health professional."

Data demonstrate that half of all American teens become sexually active before graduation from high school. Age of consent laws in US states range from 14 years to 18 years, which means in many states it is legal for teens still in high school to be sexually active. There are also "close in age exceptions" in many states, which effectively lower the age of consent. Anyone who teaches high school teens about sexuality should therefore realize that while some of their students will be virgins, others will already be sexually active.

Failure to promote contraceptives and condom use for students who already have (or will) become sexually active in high school as required by federal funding mandate, is unconscionable IMHO. Federal funding guidelines (particularly Item D) also make it clear LGBTs have no right to sexuality except when inside the closet, making these requirements even more atrocious IMHO.

2007 abstinence federal funding requirements:

IV.7 Legislative Priorities

Describe how the State’s proposed plan will address each of the following A-H elements:

(A)“has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;

(B) teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;

(C) teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;

(D) teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;

(E) teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;

(F) teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;

(G) teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and

(H) teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.”

Each element should be meaningfully represented in all Federally funded abstinence education grantee programs and curricula.

IV.8 Assurances

Proposed Program and Materials
Describe measures the State will use to assure that the proposed abstinence education program’s curricula, and any additional materials:

-Meaningfully represent each of the Section 510(b)(2) A-H elements; and

-Do not promote contraception and/or condom use.

March 04, 2007 11:16 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Aunt Bea writes,

IMHO abstinence-only education is a sham. It hopes students will abstain and offers them no guidance other than "tough luck kid, you shoulda' listened to me" if they fail.

Trust me, it does more than just hope. Abstinence-only ed offers an alternative to becoming sexually active - developing relationships and friendships, a difflicult task to accomplish when one is on the treadmill of protection and contraception to protect one from the physical consequences of the next "hookup".

As for the "tough luck kid, you shoulda' listened to me"...that could be said of the advice we give to our children about underage drinking, drug use, or driving recklessly as well when they suffer as a result of those choices. I don't think any wise adult would ever consider expressing such cruel sentiments to a child seeking to be comforted in such a situation (it is cruel to give a stone when what is sought is bread). Furthermore, they don't need to be told something again that they have already learned firsthand.

Most children that become sexually active know that it is not good for them in the long term, but nobody has told them in no uncertain terms what the boundaries are, why they exist and what may happen if they choose to violate them.

Children deserve better...

March 04, 2007 12:49 PM  
Blogger grantdale said...

Orin -- just curious, since you said you teach the stuff.

(and first off: we've no problem what-so-ever with telling "kids" that not having sex is a perfectly sensible decision to make, and sensible for all sorts of reasons without mentioning the sin word. So avoid all future references to that doubt, if you had it. But, also, we are dead against abstinence ONLY programs for even more reasons.)

1) What do you tell gay youths?

2) Are they even mentioned in your programme?

3) how is your programme addressing the studies showing that youths that take such programmes/make abstinence pledges etc actually end up with the higher rates of STDS -- due, it appears, to basic ignorance?

4) any comment on, say, the Netherlands (or Sweden or Denmark, or basically almost anywhere else, frankly), which has a very opposite sex ed. appproach to what you teach but also has dramatically lower rates of STDs, teen pregnancy and abortion than the USA? Given they get better outcomes, why don't you teach their approach instead?

5) is the outcome the most important result, or passing on some moral or religious values?

March 04, 2007 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Trust me"

Surprisingly perhaps I prefer to trust but verify. :-)

"it does more than just hope."

You might believe that abstinence-only education "does more than just hope" for students and maybe it does help as about half of all teens remain successful abstainers through high school graduation. But abstinence-only education doesn't do anything for the other half of our students who become sexually active because it fails to teach sexually active teens medically sound ways to reduce the risks of unplanned pregnancy, STDs, and HIV/AIDS to themselves and their partners.

Like Grantdale, I'm curious to hear what *hope* the abstinence-only curriculum you're learning provides LGBT students. Are they supposed to abstain forever or pretend to be straight?

"Abstinence-only ed offers an alternative to becoming sexually active - developing relationships and friendships"

You say that as if you doubt comprehensive programs provide alternatives to becoming sexually active. I can't speak for all health curricula, but the comprehensive sex education curriculum right here in Montgomery County, Maryland teaches a lot about developing healthy relationships and urges teens to remain abstinent. The MCPS health curriculum warns teens about peer pressure, consequences of sexual activity, myths and misconceptions about sexuality, and various impacts of teenage parenting. It also teaches about contraception, STDs, and HIV/AIDS.

Abstinence-only sex ed programs by definition offer only abstinence until marriage. Sexually active teens in these programs receive no medically sound information about how to protect their own and their partners' health other than abstinence, which is unconscionable IMHO.

Children deserve better...

I'd amend that statement this way: ALL public school students - including those who are LGBT and sexually active - deserve better than abstinence-only education provides.

March 06, 2007 7:49 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

I was visiting my daughter this weekend during her spring break. Children surprise you. I thought the smelly guy who exposed himself on the bus was just a mentally ill street person. My daughter informed me he was a crack addict- and told me several things that he did/had that are signs of crack addicts- esp those who are not high at the time. She learned this at school - high school(not by seeing crack addicts and figuring out). Now according to CRC, my daughter having learned about this will now lean towards becoming a crack addict. If only the only message had been don't use drugs.

March 06, 2007 8:50 PM  

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