Monday, April 02, 2007

The Bullet Points

The Post editorial this morning made a kind of comment that I usually object to, but I think they had it mostly right.
The conservative citizens group believes that an alternate view of homosexuality as immoral should be presented while more liberal members of the community think the curriculum should offer more to students who might be confused about their sexual identity.

I was recently offended by an interviewer who assumed -- absolutely assumed, and could not get past this -- that this is a contest between more conservative and more liberal members of our community, and all we need to do is reach a compromise.

Because, no, it's not that. That dialogue is occurring, but the CRC is not part of it.

Some people raise their children very cautiously, and are very careful not to expose them to bad influences, to ideas that will send them off in a dangerous direction or bring the risk of some sort of threat. Well, look, we all do that, to some extent. Other parents might prefer the approach that it is best for their children to be exposed to things so they can discuss them, and come to some understanding of the varieties of things in the world, so that the kids will be able to reason and deal with those things when they come up in their own lives. And yes, we all do a little bit of that, too.

My wife and I used to have a thing called, "Don't look, mom!" A kid would be in a tree, say, hanging by one ankle, swinging back and forth and singing. She would immediately picture broken bones and days in the hospital. Well, she's a nurse, she's seen a lot of kids come into the hospital. I would picture a kid learning how to hang by their ankles. Between us, there were some things (motorcycles) that our kids weren't going to have, and some things (fun in trees) that they would get to try. You're always working that out. That is the dialogue between conservative and liberal parents, and it's fine, there is a midpoint that's mostly acceptable to both, and it will vary with the community.

But in our sex-ed development process, it's like there are people negotiating what will and will not be acceptable, and then a group that's going around essentially trying to cut down all trees so that no kids can climb, ever. The CRC is hardly described as a "conservative citizens group," but it's OK in this Post editorial, because they spell it out. The label "conservative" has become status quo for that kind of sphincter-clamping, pseudomoral social attitude, and the fact is, the CRC does want the schools to teach that homosexuality is immoral.

On the other hand, the Post says, "more liberal members of the community" want the curriculum to go further. And again, I think this is an acceptable way to put it. In the dichotomy I set up a second ago, the word "liberal" tends to be used to describe people who are accepting to a wider range of experiences and behaviors. And there are a lot of "liberal" parents -- myself included -- who really do think that the school district should include statements by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, stating that homosexuality is not a disease or a choice, and explaining that gay citizens can lead perfectly fulfilling lives, without pretending to be straight. The statements were approved and recommended by the citizens advisory committee, but the school district backed away from them.

In the citizens advisory committee, that set of statements was introduced in a pdf document we called "the compendium," and the extracted relevant statements were submitted as a page or two of bullet points.

It is great for a community to go back and forth about something like that. The school board is elected to evaluate the balance and determine if our community's standards accept or reject a certain item, and in this case they have the difficult task of evaluating the appropriateness of materials in the presence of high-volume background noise by the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, who threaten to sue, stomp their feet, and every other thing if they don't get their way.

The school district has shown amazing presence of mind so far -- oh, they can be political, but in some ways this is what politics is all about. Do the voters of Montgomery County support these changes? Well, just look at the last election. Progressive board candidates beat more conservative candidates by a typical ratio of two to one. The board doesn't want to precipitate an unnecessary lawsuit, but they have made it clear they are ready for a fight, and that's what we need, a committed board. The voters want that -- that's why we voted for these people.

Now they have some pilot test results, and they'll be going through those. I think they all know that the part of the curriculum that says what to do when there are questions is not ready for prime time. "Go talk to a trusted adult" is not as good as a teacher actually answering a question. And if the teachers had the compendium in front of them, or if students were handed the bullet points, ninety percent of the hard questions would be easy to answer.

So yes, liberal parents in a liberal county want the curriculum to go a little further. What can be wrong, after all, with quoting the experts in science and medicine?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, I'd like to point out something about that "Go talk to a trusted adult," portion of the curriculum. The Board of Education discussed this at length in their public meeting on Januray 9, 2007.

First, as the student member of the BOE so very aptly pointed out, the health teacher is the "trusted adult" to whom many students will bring their questions. Being turned away by the health teacher becomes a lesson in itself; this isn't a subject for discussion. Second, other trusted adults in the school to whom students may turn, the nurses and counselors, are not being given the curriculum training that the health teachers are getting. They do not have the resource of MCPS-defined "good text/bad text" to answer students' questions. That returns the staff to the uneasy position they were in under the old modified gag rule.

The Washington Post editorial implies that we oppose the curriculum because it doesn't have all the information that we want it to have. That is a serious inaccuracy; we do support the curriculum but we know it will be improved if the teachers are given more resources to answer students' questions. We agree with the CAC that the bullet points, taken from the literature of the most respected medical associations in the country, will strengthen the curriculum for students and staff.

April 02, 2007 4:55 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

"sphincter-clamping" -hello, Ruth Jacobs!

April 03, 2007 11:31 AM  

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