Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sunday's Inner Loop

This post will be a little bit long, but you might find something of interest in it if you've been following the Montgomery County sex-ed discussion.

A show called "The Inner Loop" on CW-TV (Channel 23 on Comcast) did a half-hour show this morning (Sunday) about the new sex-ed curriculum. They interviewed me and John Garza of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, plus they had quotes from Betsy Brown from the school district and bunch of people who supported the CRC. The studio had actually sent their camera crew to the CRC's "big" meeting a month or two ago, to film interviews with some of their leaders and parents who support them. They did not ask for more than one member of our group, and didn't interview any parents who support the new classes.

They did try to get a parent who supported the curriculum, well, they didn't try, really, but they asked us to. Obviously, most county parents do approve of it, but also, most people who support the curriculum are not upset or motivated enough to go on TV and talk about it. They just know the school district does a good job, and they're comfortable with what they've heard about this.

I found a lady, a mom with a kid in eighth grade. The day I talked to her, she said her kid had just had the first day of the sex-ed class. She was very curious about it and had quizzed the kid afterwards, and they said it was no big deal. "So I guess the controversial stuff is in the second day," she said. "Call me tomorrow."

The next day I called her. She said, "Well, I guess the controversial stuff is in tenth grade." She also decided not to bother to take time off from work to go into DC and be interviewed on TV. That's how it happens. Those who know what's in these classes can't really get worked up about it.

I left work at lunchtime, took the Red Line over to Farragut North. The TV studios are in the Woodies building, on the sixth floor. This place is nothing fancy. John Garza and I arrived at about the same time, and we, plus some other guy whose kids go to a pilot-test school, sat around plates of wraps and salad in the green room with a couple of CW-TV employees. The other guy seems OK to me, we chatted about some different things, Bush, the Vietnam war. He's not a wild-eyed radical, just a guy who seems to believe what the CRC has told him -- he attended their meeting at Rio a while back, and believes, for instance, that the curriculum fails to present facts about the risks of gay sex.

After a while they called Garza into the studio and interviewed him, while we waited. Then they called me in and we did our interview. I blogged a little bit about the experience HERE. Whatever, TV is a bizarre medium. No matter how intense your viewpoint, or how extensive your knowledge, they boil it down to some small number of seconds or minutes, and that's what the public sees. Some people are good at working in this art-form, I'm not. I'm willing to learn, but at this point I hate it and am not very good at it.

I did my interview, got my backpack, and left. Walked back to the Metro and got back to work; it wasn't even a long lunch. Nobody noticed I'd left the building; it didn't change my day in any noticeable way, it was just something you did, like going to another meeting. I did not feel good about the interview. I felt that the interviewer had a preconceived story-line, which she wanted to try to fit my narrative into, and that it didn't fit. It was clear she didn't know very much about our situation, which would've been OK except I felt that she interrupted me (you'll see in the transcript) and tried to guide me in a direction that really didn't make sense.

The show started with a series of short clips of people talking, all of them were people from the CRC's meeting except for Betsy Brown from MCPS, who was not identified on the show.

So here's how it kicked off:
Lillie Hamer: Hi and welcome to The Inner Loop. I'm Lillie Hamer and today we are in the studios at Tribune News Bureau in Northwest Washington DC. In January 2007 Montgomery County schools were approved to begin a revised sexual education curriculum but a group of parents who opposed the curriculum back in 2004 recently said they still don't want their kids to participate in the health class. We recently sat down with a few of the parents and a Montgomery County official to talk about the curriculum. This is what they had to say.

Unidentified woman who is Betsy Brown of MCPS: They are simply stating that there are sexual orientations that are called bisexual, homosexual, and heterosexual.

Unidentified man in Nike baseball cap: I really don't believe 8th graders need to know these type things and if they do, if it's a concern, I believe that the parents should play the major role in teaching their children about these things more so than the school imposing it on everyone.

Still unidentified Betsy Brown, MCPS: The focus really is tolerance, empathy, and respect for all individuals regardless of sexual orientation.

Unidentified woman who is Michelle Turner, CRC spokesperson: At the 8th grade level and 10th grade level they are now telling students that sexual orientation, homosexuality, transgender are innate, that you are born with these orientations and to date there is no scientific research that supports that.

Still unidentified Betsy Brown, MCPS: We're acknowledging they exist and then they're taught within the context of empathy, respect, and tolerance period.

Unidentified woman in black turtleneck: One of my chief concerns is I want to be the one to tell my own daughter about these kinds of things. I don't want someone else teaching her from their worldview. I have my own worldview.

Still unidentified Betsy Brown, MCPS: I think it's really important for people to understand that in the four lessons on human sexuality there's no mention of sexual behavior at all. We're talking sexual orientation, we're talking about sexual identity.

Unidentified woman who is Ruth Jacobs, CRC representative on the citizens advisory committee: This curriculum is clearly not including the risk of the homosexual lifestyle or of homosexual behavior. [clip edit] You must immediately improve your infectious disease section of the curriculum. The school has not done this so the school is presenting homosexuality but they haven't updated their infectious disease prevention curriculum to match it.

So you see ...

This was a half-hour show, and we won't try to post the whole transcript here. I'm just going to give Garza's part, and mine, with the usual sarcastic, uh, I mean insightful comments thrown in for behind-the-scenes color.

Here's John Garza, lawyer and now-President of the CRC:
LH: Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum is a group of parents in Montgomery County who believe that children's rights are being infringed because of the new curriculum. They oppose the discussion of homosexuality and want the school board to offer alternative classes. John Garza is the president of CRC and is here today to discuss the matter. John, thank you very much for joining us.

JG: Thank you very much for having me.

[Note: so far everything he has said is completely accurate and truthful.]
LH: So this is obviously an enormously hot topic in Montgomery County. What is your primary, and what is the CRC's primary objection to the curriculum?

JG: Our primary objections are threefold, one that the school board didn't follow their own procedures, number two that there is factually inaccurate information in the curriculum, and number three the curriculum tramples on our religious rights to exercise our own religious beliefs.

LH: Let's take the first one. Saying that they didn't follow their own agenda here in implementing, or attempting to implement this curriculum. What do you mean by that, exactly?

JG: Well the Maryland law provides a whole lot of things that have to be done in order to pass a curriculum. For example, the citizen advisory committee has to represent the broad spectrum of the county. This citizens advisory committee represents groups like, uh, Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights League, and a lot of, uh, gay organizations. We don't believe that that is a representation of the county. In fact they seem to be related to the abortion and the gay industry, rather than a broad section of the county.

OK, time to interrupt.

I don't understand why the anchor would let him continue after these statements. The citizens committee had representatives from the CRC itself, plus PFOX -- in fact, the school district let Peter Sprigg, monkey-monk at the Family Research Council, e.g., a nationally known, professional anti-gay spokesman, represent PFOX on the committee. Yes, NARAL had a member, but I don't think Planned Parenthood had one. Here are the groups that were represented, just so you know:
  • Montgomery County Council of PTAs
  • NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland
  • Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
  • Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX)
  • Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and
  • Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils

The news anchor should have known this, and should have stopped Garza mid-lie.

At least she should have stopped him when he claimed that "a lot of gay organizations" were represented on the committee.

There were no "gay organizations" on the committee, unless you count PFLAG, which is an advocacy group for families of gay people. Which, even if you counted them, isn't "a lot." It was one nice lady named Emily.

As far as I know, there was one openly gay guy, and he's Director of the AIDS research division at NIH, no slouch or propagandist, fully qualified to discuss these topics.

The statement that the committee members were "related to the abortion and the gay industry" should have been the end of the interview, if you ask me, or at least the opportunity for a hard question. Like: "What is the gay industry?"
LH: Now, what I want to do right now is make this very lay. That, there, you know, we could talk about the technicalities of this issue, and look at the components of their objectives and the CRC's objectives, but at the end of the day, what are you concerned about with implementing this kind of curriculum?

JG: Our two biggest concerns are that this curriculum teaches that homosexual conduct is perfectly safe and a reasonable thing to do, in fact a very appropriate thing to do, when many of our students go to church on Sunday where they're taught exactly the opposite. This is a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the Constitution. The government should not be teaching something that directly opposes what a church is teaching on Sunday.

And I'm no lawyer, but I have had this explained to me a couple of times, and ... he's wrong here. The classroom is not a public forum, the school has the right to teach what it considers appropriate, nobody is forced to attend.

Also, saying that the curriculum teaches that "homosexual conduct is perfectly safe and a reasonable thing to do" is a lie. Number one, "homosexual conduct" is not mentioned anywhere in any of the curricula, and number two, nothing is said anywhere at all about safety or reasonableness. He reads this between the lines, which is his own problem. None of it exists in reality.

You wonder why the anchor let him go on without challenging these falsehoods. Surely she had read the curriculum documents, or someone had briefed her on them, don't you figure?
LH: Now, would you disagree that homosexuality is a very integral part of our society, and if you would not disagree, then what would your proposition be, to, uh, in some way express and share information with children, or would you prefer an environment where this was handled strictly in the home?

JG: Well, we would prefer that it was handled in the home, but recognizing that homosexual activity is, uh, around, uh, that we would be acquiesced to some teaching in that area. We don't like the teaching that homosexual conduct is exactly equal to heterosexual conduct, uh, and that's where we come into the factual inaccuracies. We presented facts and medical reports from government agencies and universities, showing that those who participate in homosexual conduct tend to have much higher health risks than those who participate in heterosexual activities.

Hmmm, y'know, they say this all the time. I was on the citizens advisory committee, and I only missed one meeting. I don't believe that anything was introduced by anyone that showed "much higher health risks for those who participate in homosexual activities." There may have been something about HIV rates among men who have sex with men, but, well women have certain health risks, too, like osteoporosis and lupus and breast cancer, and certain things are more prevalent among blacks, or Hispanics, or men. I don't believe you can find reference to "much higher health risks for those who participate in homosexual activities" in any material recommended by anyone at any citizens committee meeting.

Besides, again, nothing was said in any class about "homosexual activities;" the curriculum is simply not about that.
LH: And have you found that in that information and in conveying that, in Montgomery County School board, for instance, or those who are officiating over this process, that that is incorporated, that information is incorporated into the curriculum?

JG: Uh, no, in fact the opposite has occurred. For example, we've given them statistics from the United States Census Bureau, and they rejected those statistics in favor of using statistics from the Gay Lesbian Education Network, uh, uh, "glisten" [GLSEN: note that the "S" stands for "straight," which he forgot to include in the name] is what the place is called. Um, we've given them information from the US Surgeon General about the safety of condoms as it relates to anal sex. Rejected that, and preferred to use gay-affirming information from gay groups.

[Note: that question, ladies and gentlemen, is what is called a "softball."]

I'm not going to go back over the irrelevant statistics they tried to introduce, but I will note that the "US Surgeon General" comment is ... nearly twenty years old. The current Surgeon General didn't say anything like this, nor have any, actually, while they were in office. The CRC almost always tries to confuse this issue, implying that a current Surgeon General has expressed this opinion.

And the fact is, nothing at all was included in any class about "the safety of condoms as it relates to anal sex," including anything by "gay-affirming groups."
LH: Well, you know, I think that certainly when we listen to the information on all sides of the situation, that one of the things is going to factual at the end of the day, that everyone is going to have to find a way to communicate about this issue in a way that is going to be effective and advantageous to the kids. So what's your, what's your plan? What would you like to genuinely see happen?

JG: Well, we would like to see the factual inaccuracies stripped out of the curriculum and also, um, a neutral position with regard to the, um, the goodness of homosexual conduct. Rather than presenting uh, these vignettes about Portia, the boy who wants to become a girl, and what he goes through to become a girl, and how wonderful this trans- transformation is, we would rather be more uh, clinical, teach the facts, and leave alone the moral consequences as to whether or not right or wrong, okay or not okay.

Oh, they hate that Portia vignette! Hate it hate it. But I do thank him for the "Teach the Facts" plug.
LH: What's the next step for your organization?

JG: What we've done is we have filed an appeal to the Maryland state board of education, we've asked them to set this in for a hearing so that we can take it before them, and let them make a decision to overrule the Montgomery County school board.

LH: And if that does not happen, then what would be the next step?

JG: The next step would be to take these constitutional issues to a federal court, like we did the last time, and we think that ultimately, if we can't prevail at the state board level, a federal judge will look at this again and see that, uh, you can't teach kids, uh, things that just trample all over the religious, basically most of the largest religions in the country would teach against, directly against what the school board is teaching.

Except, of course, that this time there is nothing about any religion at all anywhere in the classes, in the background materials, nothing was said about any religion in any meeting by anyone. MCPS lawyers have gone through this thing with a fine-toothed comb. No lawsuit will succeed.

But he can dream.
LH: A final thought from you. You're sitting down with your children, ten years from now, and they're being introduced to some sort of curriculum in Montgomery County. What is your thought going to be, as a parent, if you know that this is what they're being taught?

JG: Well, it's unlikely to happen because I'll probably pull my kids out of the school system and so that I can protect them. But if it did happen, I would hope that they would listen to their father, uh, as someone who's more trusted than the schools.

Hate to say it again, but this interviewer should have stopped him right here.

She should have said, "Mr. Garza, are you saying that your children attend Montgomery County Public Schools?"

Because they don't. He can't "pull them out," because they'll never go in the first place.

He's pulled this several times recently. One of these days an alert interviewer is going to ask him about it. Well, maybe not.
LH: And you're not saying that you don't believe that this should be a part of the system, at all, that's not what I'm hearing today.

JG: No no no, we are in favor of sex education, that's, we think that's important for our children. Especially some children who don't have parents like, like, uh, some of us. But we want accurate information, for example the school board is teaching that homosexually [sic] is innate and cannot be changed, a child should label himself, and that label should stick for the rest of their lives. We think that's totally wrong, and we have the evidence to back ourselves up.

What? Is he saying that some people in the CRC don't have parents? What are they, like, Adam and Eve, or what?

Of could he mean that some people don't have "parents like some of us"? Like, wonderful parents who know everything, like the parents in the CRC. I wonder...

Oh, and again, I will point out that the "labeling" thing is another lie. The classes do not teach anyone to label themselves.
LH: Thank you very much for joining us today, and sharing the information with us. And I'm sure we'll hear much more about this issue in the days to come.

JG: I think you will, thank you.

LH: If you'd like to get more information on the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum or support their initiative, you can visit their web site at ... [shown on screen]. Thank you. We'll talk with a group of parents -- residents who want Montgomery County to continue the sex ed curriculum. We'll be right back.

OK, the next part was me. I have to admit, I hate to see myself on TV. Well, the camera must lie, I can't really look that ... do I?

In my mind, I still look like this:

That really is me ... a couple of years ago. Look at that hair. Look at that stomach. If you see this show you'll probably notice that I don't look anything like this on TV. It's the TV's fault.

So we go into my part:
LH: And welcome back. A number of parents were alarmed by the actions taken by the CRC to stop the progress of the sex-ed program so they formed Teach The Facts in 2004 after the CRC petitioned for a recall of the entire school board. Jim Kennedy, the President of Teach The Facts is here today to talk further about the curriculum and why he strongly believes uh and approves of it. Mr. Kennedy, thank you very much for joining us today.

JK: My pleasure. I'm glad to be here.

LH: So Teach The Facts was formed after the CRC came out in opposition to the curriculum being implemented. What is your thought behind the delay on implementing the curriculum right now that's proposed?

JK: Let's start at the start.


JK: Teach The Facts formed in about December of 2004 after a meeting of a group that had a website called "" They had an organizing meeting, which was announced on a high school, you know, Internet email group. I was interested to see what this was about and I went to that meeting, as did several other parents who didn't agree with what was going on. We went to this...this was right after the school board had unanimously adopted a new curriculum in 2004. In November, which was also right after the Presidential elections you'll remember. So there was a kind of what they called "the mandate" at that time. There was a kind of a strong, uh the religious right was feeling very strong at that time. So I went to this meeting and they were, there were maybe 75 people there and they were splitting up into groups: the legal team, the fundraising team, the publicity team. They were ready to hit the ground running to fight the school board over this new curriculum, which I had read. I couldn't really see anything to object to and it was quite conservative...

LH: So tell me about the curriculum through your eyes.

JK: Well that curriculum has been thrown out.

LH: Right

JK: We've got a new curriculum so I can tell you about the new curriculum.


JK: I was also on the citizens advisory committee that evaluated this and reviewed it and had actually quite a lot of input into it. The classes we're talking about -- it's five 45-minute classes, two in 8th grade that are called something like "Respect for Differences in Sexuality" and are mostly about bullying and harassment. The theme is empathy, tolerance, and respect, for 8th graders. In 10th grade, we're talking about three classes that are new. One is a condom class that's basically instruction in how to use a condom with a short video that goes with it. And the other two classes are a continuation on the "Respect for Differences" theme that started in 8th grade, only in the 10th grade, they get into a little bit more detail. They learn some terms about sexual orientation and gender identity and things like that.

LH: Now, in sitting down and talking with a member of the CRC just shortly, a short time ago, um the position obviously very far from the position of your organization, but the one thing that you do seem to have in common is that you do want something that's put into place that's going to be informative, accurate, advantageous for children. So is there a middle ground?

JK: There is definitely a middle ground. Let me say that my position is not that this or this is the best sex education curriculum. My position is that there are parents who are more conservative, there are parents who are more liberal, and they need to talk together in the community and determine what our community values can accept. We all want to have information given to our children. We all want to have our values respected.

The problem that we've got here is that we have a group that insists on all or nothing. They don't want to approve the curriculum. They want to interrupt it. They want to throw it out. An example – this week, the last couple of weeks, we've been having pilot testing. The Montgomery County Public Schools has been pilot testing the new classes in six schools, three middle schools, three high schools. The CRC has held a meeting with press there to encourage parents to opt out of the test. They sent letters, they took the PTA's directories and sent letters to homes of families at the pilot test schools asking them to opt their children out of these classes. They set up a program to phone people and play a recording asking them to opt out. They don't want...

LH: [Interrupts] Well, what I don't want to do Jim, I don't want to get into the the the banter between the two organizations.

JK: But the...

LH: And that's not to dispel the position but it is to say that at the end of the day, there is an objective for the curriculum to be put into place.

JK: Yes there is.

I was quite offended and flustered by her comment and by the fact that she had interrupted me in the middle of an explanation, but we plunged on ahead to a topic that she apparently thought was better than the one I was talking about.
LH: And we're at an....we're we're not not coming to the middle. There's no middle ground seemingly.

JK: There's plenty of middle ground and there's been plenty of community input into this. What I'm saying is that this is not...

LH: [Interrupts again] Do you think kids are being hurt?

[Crosstalk] As a result of not having it?

JK: Being hurt? By the delay? Certainly.

Does anybody know what's going on here? Why does she ask me questions if she won't let me answer them? This was very confusing. And you're sitting there with cameras rolling, trying to figure out what in the world is going on.

At this point it seemed she wanted to get back on more familiar ground, back closer to the cliches she expected. OK, I'll go there with her.
LH: How?

JK: Let's say there are two kinds of kids in a class. There are kids who are learning... they are discovering that they have feelings that they don't understand that are different from the other kids, the gay students and the transgender students in the classes. And the chances are there's at least one kid like that in each class, at least on average. Then there are the other kids who may feel that this is something funny, or this is something dirty, or gross, or disgusting. And they need to get a little bit of education about this too.

LH: So your overview of this then may very well be that because parents can't find middle ground, the kids are the ones that suffer.

JK: Certainly. The kids need this information and if anyone wants to look at the content of the curriculum, it's online. It's easy to find. Our website has it, the CRC's website has it, the school district has it. And you can see what the content of this is and it's not going to offend anyone.

LH: Jim, thank you very much. I wish we had more time to talk. I'm sure we're going to hear a lot more about this.

JK: Oh yeah

LH: In the future. Thank you so much.

JK: Thank you

LH: If you would like to learn more about Teach The Facts or support the initiative, please visit the website

TV is a strange bird. Until you've gone through something like this you can't appreciate the great disconnect between what happens and what you see happening on TV.

All in all, this show was just like every other news talk show. They had six people to speak against the curriculum, and two to support it -- me and Betsy from the school district. Everybody landed a punch or two, everybody missed with a couple.

The dad came on after me. We're not going to transcribe his part. He did admit that he hadn't seen the curriculum and had only heard what was in it. Probably got one of those letters, those phone calls from the CRC.

I have found myself doing some pretty strange things in my life, things I never imagined doing. Some of them have been fun, some have been a lot of unrewarding work. I guess the best you can do is to try to learn something from everything you do.

The producer mentioned that they put this show online somewhere, but so far I can't find it. I'll link it if I figure that out.


Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Jim said "That really is me ... a couple of years ago. Look at that hair. Look at that stomach.".

Ooo, Jim, you're a cutie. Kind of remind me of the singer Gowan. I thought you said you were a black man?

April 18, 2007 11:49 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Randi, I hate to break it to you, but I don't seem to look like that any more. At least on TV. The stomach, the hair, they have come and gone, respectively.


April 19, 2007 7:19 AM  

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