Religious Belief - Not a Choice??
Browsing through my RSS feeds, I came across Warren Throckmorton's latest blog, called Is religious belief a choice?
In the ongoing discussion of sexual identity therapy, some have asserted that sexual orientation is not a choice but religion is (“The bottom line is your sexual orientation cannot change and your religion can,” [Wayne] Besen said.”). That struck me as a failure to understand the function and centrality of religious belief for those who are committed to it. Is religious belief a choice?
This is a provocative question. For instance, the Christian "family" groups are fighting vigorously against the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crime laws, arguing that gay and transgender people shouldn't get "special treatment," while at the same time they themselves get special treatment, special protection for their religious beliefs. We know that sexual orientation and gender identity are inborn, yet there does not seem to be any rational way of looking at human behavior that concludes that religion is -- if it were, adopted children would grow up to adopt the beliefs of their biological parents, not their adoptive ones. The Lamarckian conclusion seems absurd.
Throckmorton quotes another blogger, who has questioned whether faith is a choice, and says:
I know there are inconsistencies in my beliefs but I have tried on many other worldviews and have found them full of cognitive inconsistencies as well. It does not seem like my beliefs are chosen as if from a menu. To me, it seems like our brains are wired to believe but not wired well enough to find a system without holes.
Ah, so yes, it does appear to be universal that people seek an explanation for meaning, and end up believing in a higher power; this happens everywhere in the world, in some form or another. It may be explained as a way to escape the ungrounded tautology of meaning, but regardless, it is a universal human expression.
Now I think of those guys that shouted down
the Hindu priest in Congress the other day. If Throckmorton's interpretation is right, then those Christians should have realized that the Hindu seeks spiritual fulfillment just like the Christian does, and the Muslim does, and the devout pagan. Were they born to be Christians? Was the Hindu born to be Hindu? There are norms, social pressures, that compel us to choose one way or the other, but if you think people have free will then you can't see that as a contradiction to choice: we can always violate our group's norms, if we will it.
Yet there is very strong resistance among fundamentalists of all faiths to the idea that there is a single supreme deity worshiped in diverse ways by diverse groups. They insist that their
god is the one and only, and He-She-It has a special interest in them, specifically.
Let's say maybe people have two antithetical inherent tendencies. First, there is a need to complete the arc of meaning by identifying the source of beauty, intelligence, goodness, and love. Many people smarter than me have concluded that a god has created the world and imbued it with special qualities, and that's why we are able to perceive and appreciate the inner glow of ourselves and the radiant universe around us, that's the source of love and our knowledge of right and wrong. Second, people have an inherent need to feel superior to other people, a tendency to elevate their ingroup above other outgroups.
The first of these tendencies leads us to faith. We suffer a spiritual thirst, and we need to drink -- I am willing to agree that this is not a choice but part of the human condition. But if it was just that, then there would be no problem understanding that the particular details of other people's explanations of spiritual dimensions might differ from ours. The second tendency leads us to pettiness, and leads people to violate the obvious command of true faith, the command of love. The blending of these two tendencies leads people to the conclusion that their god is special and favors their own ingroup, and leads them to conclude that outgroup members are ugly and depraved and hated in heaven.
I'll agree with Throckmorton halfway. It may be that people have a need to believe. But people also have a need to aggrandize their own mythology and themselves, in comparison to others' mythologies and selves. The result is so counter-spiritual that it is laughable, except that it is so tragic: war between people on the basis of religion, hatred in the name of God.
As for Throckmorton's concern about Besen's statement, that sexual orientation is inborn but religion isn't, the desire to believe may be inborn, but no one is born with Christian or Muslim or Hindu or pagan faith. At the same time, beyond the inborn need to love and be loved, there is an innate tendency to seek out a certain kind of mate; some are born to love a man and some born to love a woman, the evidence is beyond reproach, the only challenge to the conclusion comes from serious wishful thinking. The comparison between religion and sexual orientation is a false dichotomy, the two are not comparable.
When we were little, our parents got into a routine of having a glass of sherry in the evening. They'd be sitting in the family room, and my mother would typically say to one of us, "Go break a law, kid." Which meant, go pour us a glass of wine. It offended her that the government would decide that her kids could not touch a container containing alcohol, whether to carry it to her, to pour some for her, to hand her a glass, or whatever, in the privacy of our own home.
It was also traditional in our family to let the kids have a glass of diluted wine with holiday dinners, and a sip from an adult's beer at a party was considered a kind of treat. I get the feeling we weren't the only family like this.
This past weekend my 17-year-old son and I attended my niece's (his cousin's) wedding in Arizona. We went to the rehearsal dinner, which was held at a nice resort in the foothills of Tucson. The groom's family is from Connecticut, and they wanted the whole thing to be "Western" style, so it was like a dude-ranch thing; everybody was issued a straw hat and a bandana -- yellow for the bride's outnumbered family and blue for the groom's -- and at one point some actors dressed up like cowboys came and staged a hold-up, etcetera. Our side of the family all being from Arizona, we wouldn't have done it that way, but, whatever.
So the waiter came around with the wine, and I asked him to pour a glass for The Kid. He looked confused, then complied, and then came back and tried to card the boy. I finally said, "No, he's not twenty-one, if you don't want to serve him, don't." He was very apologetic and said he had "gotten caught." He was in trouble now for serving wine to a young adult, six feet tall, sitting with his father at a family-oriented private affair.
After a while one of the guys from the groom's side who were sitting with us -- our two new friends both had MBAs from Duke, where they were buddies with the very-Republican groom -- called the waiter over and said he hadn't tried the white wine, and could he please have a glass? He then passed that to me, and we poured it into my son's water glass, and everybody was happy.
Let me note, for the record, that the probability of this fancy-schmancy place losing their liquor license for serving a minor very closely approximates zero-point-zero. If the ABC were to start carding people at private dinners at resorts, they would be seen as undermining an industry that is probably the biggest money-maker for an area like Tucson, the tourism industry. It's one thing to check customers in a college bar, the fact is they just aren't going to make everybody in the bride's and the groom's families show ID while they're sitting at a banquet listening to sentimental speeches about the lovely couple.
By comparison, I was once sitting in a college pub in Essex, England, and I asked a friend, a professor, what the drinking age there was. "Drinking age?" he asked me, quizzically (think of that with an English accent).
"Yes," I said, "How old do you have to be to have a beer here?"
He looked at me like I was crazy. "Why would there be a 'drinking age?'" he asked me. I felt very American at that moment, worrying about whether the government would allow someone to do something that the English consider extremely ordinary. I think it has something to do with the concept of individual freedom.
Now the question here is not whether a seventeen-year-old is old enough to drink a glass of wine. Some may think so, some may not, people have been sharing wine with their young ones since the dawn of time, there have been teetotalers for a long time, too. I'm not asking whether you agree with my decision, I'm asking whether I should have the right to make it.
The question has to do with family values. In my family, we do share a sip of wine with the kids on special occasions. And the question is, should it be the government's place to tell us we can't do that?
So: family values, but not evangelical
You know what I think. I don't think I needed the threat of government crackdown to decide whether it was appropriate for my son, sitting with me at a family function, to have a glass of wine or not. I consider that to be a decision for me to make, part of my responsibility as a father, and in this case I would decide to value family tradition over the restrictions of some law.
These days we have the Family Blah Blah groups arguing that America's "family values" are being usurped by the liberal establishment, etcetera etcetera. Now here's the real question. Do they really believe that people should practice their family
values, or do they believe that people should live according to their
values? (Noting preemptively that there is nothing at all in the Bible telling people to abstain from alcohol, in fact quite the opposite.)
I'm all for parents passing their values down to their children. I think the result is diversity, individualism, pride. I am against the government imposing values on families: I think the result can only be a kind of milquetoast homogeneity, weakness, and shame.
Curious to know if anybody else sees it my way, are we really talking about "family values," or is all of this a battle to make sure that one group's or another's specific values are forced by the government on everybody?
Update: Gazette Edits Slur
I'm not sure what the editor's manual says about this, but the Gazette
at least showed they knew they had to do something
Yesterday we pointed out an ugly slur they carried in a letter to the editor. I partly blamed the newspaper, because they should have recognized it for what it was, and not published the letter.
Then today somebody in our comments pointed out that they had changed a word in Maria Pena-Faustino's letter, discussed in the previous post: they changed the word "his" to "her."
As Dr. Dana Beyer stated in her July 11 letter ...
OK, that's at least a kind of fix, it resolves the Gazette's
problem. But ... that wasn't what Ms. Pena-Faustino wrote.
Tough decisions here. Worst: print the slur as if it were acceptable. Somewhat better: change the letter to cover up the fact that the writer used a slur. Even better: don't publicize this kind of ugliness at all. Best: expose bigots for what they are.
What do you think?
The Gazette Publishes an Offensive Slur
ran a letter that was unbelievable in its rudeness. First of all I'll just show you the letter, in case you didn't see it. It's from Maria Peña-Faustino, who was a member of the MCPS citizens advisory committee that reviewed the new sex-ed curriculum. She sat right next to me, we got along, but we voted opposite on nearly everything. She voted with the CRC and PFOX members, if you look at the minutes you'll see a lot of 3-to-something votes. That was the three of them trying to get some nutty thing into the classes, and failing at that.
I have always been proud of living in Montgomery County because of the willingness to accept diversity.
I was a member of the Montgomery County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee for the last two years and helped to review the new sex-ed curriculum. I did not apply for reappointment because of the committee's refusal to include ex-gays and lesbians.
Some committee members either have a relative in an alternative lifestyle or are themselves gay.
I was shocked because this "liberal" committee voted to include all kinds of lifestyles but didn't include ex-gays or ex-transgenders. What about a committee that is more inclusive of others?
I was frustrated that my voice was silenced 99 percent of the time. I have served in several boards and commissions and have always being proud of my service, but in good faith I couldn't lend my name to a curriculum that does not reflect the population of Montgomery County and does not follow Montgomery County efforts of inclusion.
I do want to thank Dr. Jerry Weast, Brian Porter and the incredible staff of curriculum and instruction for their work and dedication. In contrast, I can’t let pass the attitudes of board members Sharon Cox and Patricia O'Neill, who challenge the opposition to bring on the lawsuits and that they're ready for it.
I can see how ready they are with our taxpayer money. They would sing a different tune if they had to pay from their own pockets. This money should be used to pay for our children's programs and not for lawsuits defending their un-inclusive thinking.
As Dr. Dana Beyer stated in his July 11 letter, "we need morality that welcomes all into the community with dignity and respect."
Maria Peña-Faustino, Laytonsville
The writer ran for County Council in 1998 and is a former member of the Citizens Advisory Committee.
Open forum: All-inclusive committee does not include ex-gays
OK, first of all, the committee included a representative of PFOX, the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. That rep was Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council. That's who they wanted -- they could have submitted names of any of the tens of thousands of "ex-gays" out there, but
they couldn't find any
instead they submitted Spriggs' name. He announced earlier this year that he is not "ex-gay," and described himself as "everstraight." If there are no "ex-gays" on the committee, it's really their own fault.
Second, these three tried to introduce language to the classes suggesting that "ex-gay" was a kind of sexual orientation. It's not. Never was, never will be. The varieties that are recognized everywhere are Heterosexual, Bisexual, Homosexual. If you were to describe a person who used to be gay and is now straight, their sexual orientation is Heterosexual. They're included already, end of story.
Uh, third, nobody ever silenced Maria's voice, ever. The CRC's Ruth Jacobs was asked to pipe down a couple of times, when she interrupted and tried to dominate the discussion, but I don't recall any instance of Maria being silenced. It would have been correct to say that most people didn't agree with her most of the time, but ... wow, that's why you put together a committee instead of just having one person decide everything, so you can have different opinions.
And the expense of a lawsuit, I'm sorry, that reasoning doesn't hold up, either. She is advising the school district to develop curricula designed to minimize the threat of lawsuits? No, that's not the ideal we look for here. Unfortunately they have to keep that in mind, but the reason we have some of the best schools in the country is that MCPS develops curricula to best educate our children
. If you have to fight in court to do that, some board members have said, OK, we'll do it, let's roll.
But that's nothing, I wouldn't have written anything here if it was just that.
Her last sentence is the one that goes over the line:
As Dr. Dana Beyer stated in his July 11 letter, "we need morality that welcomes all into the community with dignity and respect."
Dr. Dana Beyer had a letter published in the Gazette
on June 11th (HERE
), where she encouraged science-based sex-ed in Montgomery County schools.
I said "she."
Maria Peña-Faustino knows Dana Beyer personally, I have seen them converse many times. Dr. Beyer is a well-known member of our community, who ran for office this last year and works in highly visible positions within the community. Dr. Beyer is a transgender woman. She is not a "he," and Maria knows that perfectly well.
In one citizens advisory committee meeting, the CRC's representative made a reference to Dr. Beyer as "him," and the other members, including me, were outraged. Several of us independently contacted the offender privately, and several of us informed the committee chair that a second offense would not be allowed.
When somebody makes a life-changing decision as important and difficult as Dana has made, they deserve our respect. You don't have to understand it or even approve of it, but Dana is a woman, and the feminine pronoun applies.
This wasn't an accident, Maria knew exactly what she was saying here. Out of one side of her mouth she's whining because PFOX didn't appoint an "ex-gay" to the committee, and that "ex-gays" don't get any respect, and out of the other side of her mouth she's showing disrespect and the absence of recognition of the reality of transgender people.
should be ashamed of themselves, as well. They know who Dana Beyer is. Why did they publish this ugly slur? Is there an editorial staff over there, or not? Do they read the news before they print it?
Listen, it's easy to make a mistake here -- the English language forces us to choose the gender of pronouns, and transgender people challenge that usually-intuitive choice of words. This was a running joke in Rent
, as I recall, everybody kept referring to the transvestite character as "him - I mean, her" throughout the play. That's a mistake, anybody can do it, you apologize and move on.
This was not a mistake. This was profound, unforgivable rudeness.
Here are a few links about Dana, mostly from the time of her campaign for Delegate last year.Her campaign web site
has lots of information about her.Political Transition Democrat Dana Beyer fights to be Maryland's first transgender delegate
A nice feature story in the Metro WeeklyMD-Delegate 18 - Dr. Dana Beyer - A Winning Transgendered Candidate?
Daily Kos followed the raceA prescription for change: Transgender seeks district 18 house of delegate seat
From the wonderful Silver Chips
student paper at Montgomery Blair High School.
(Silver Chips at Montgomery Blair)Trans candidate takes aim at political barriers: Beyer would be first elected statewide in Md.
tells the story.
There was no mistake made here. Maria should apologize, and the Gazette
Two Happy Endings
There are two stories that I've been sort of following in recent days, related but different. The first one is about the group of medical professionals they've been calling the "Tripoli Six." I don't know what really happened, but they were mostly Europeans who were working in Libya, when the Libyan government accused them of intentionally infecting hundreds of children with the HIV virus. They have been in prison for eight years.
This was a crazy accusation, nobody outside of Libya believed it, but they were tried and convicted and sentenced to be executed. European governments were negotiating with Libya, and it sounds like Moammar Ghadhafi knew he had a good deal going. In fact he ended up with a settlement of hundreds of millions of dollars and other goodies:
LONDON - They went to Libya in search of better-paying jobs. They ended up as pawns in a high-stakes game of geopolitical horse-trading.
After enduring more than eight years in prison, including the last three under a death sentence, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were freed Tuesday despite their convictions for allegedly infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV -- charges most of the world scorned as a frame-up.
But their release came only after the government of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi negotiated a package of concessions that ranged from $400 million in cash for the sick children's families to a pledge to help restore Libya's archeological sites.
Behind the deal, analysts suggested, was Gadhafi's need to save face at home, hence the cash settlement to the families of the victims. But he also needed to bring an end to an affair that had brought his country international condemnation and stood in the way of political and economic opportunities for his nation in Europe. Long nightmare ends for 6
Weird, crazy story. In the middle of it all, the Bush administration decided to once again establish diplomatic relations with Libya for the first time since 1979 -- read about that HERE
. There were many words of praise for Libya from our Secretary of State.
Anyway, it will be interesting to hear more about the Tripoli 6 and what really happened there, once they're free to talk.
They are lucky to escape with their lives. They were deported to Bulgaria, supposedly to be imprisoned there, but the President of Bulgaria pardoned all of them as soon as they landed.
The other story is one that I wrote about
a while back, the medical staff in New Orleans who were arrested for murder for their roles in the deaths of some terminally ill patients in a flooded, overheated hospital without hope of supplies, during Hurricane Katrina.
Yesterday, the grand jury decided not to prosecute the doctor in charge.
A grand jury Tuesday refused to indict a doctor accused of killing four elderly patients in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, ending a case that inflamed public opinion here, turned the doctor into something of a folk hero and demoralized an already-shaken medical community.
The doctor, Anna M. Pou, had been a respected medical professor on the staff of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. The Orleans Parish grand jury cleared her of accusations that she had deliberately injected the critically ill patients with a lethal combination of morphine and another drug in a sweltering hospital that had been without power for days after the storm. Charges against two nurses accused of assisting her had earlier been dropped in exchange for their testimony for the prosecution.
Dr. Pou, 51, has maintained her innocence since her arrest a year ago. Medical ethicists have said that at the very least the accusation of homicide against her raised difficult questions of what constituted appropriate treatment during a crisis; some said charges should never have been brought against her.
On Tuesday the American Medical Association released a statement praising the grand jury’s decision.
Trembling and tearful at a news conference, Dr. Pou said she had been through a "very challenging and painful" time and now planned to resume her practice after teaching for the last year. Describing how she had received the news, she said she was "at home with my husband and I fell to my knees and thanked God."
She declined to discuss precisely what happened at the hospital after the hurricane, citing pending civil suits against her by three of the patients’ families. In previous television interviews she has said that she had simply tried to make patients at the hospital "comfortable." No Indictment in Katrina Deaths
I suppose this is a kind of situation that governments and law enforcement people have to get involved with. Some people died, some people were present and those people had to make the most difficult choices imaginable. Somebody had to decide afterwards whether they made the correct choices or not, I guess that's how it works. I'd just hate to have to be those doctors and nurses who were there that week.
Attorney General Charles Foti of Louisiana, who had ordered Dr. Pou and two nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, to be arrested last year on charges of second-degree murder, defended the case Tuesday, saying independent expert pathologists had reviewed it favorably before it was brought.
"I regret their decision," Mr. Foti said of the grand jurors, while criticizing the district attorney’s office for not calling on certain witnesses to testify.
But the district attorney in New Orleans, Eddie Jordan, told reporters, "I agreed with the grand jury."
From the beginning the case has transcended the simple accusation of murder, coming to encapsulate for many here the horrific conditions and choices that prevailed in the days after the storm -- and particularly on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005, the day the deaths occurred, and the last day before large-scale help arrived in New Orleans.
The temperature at Memorial Medical Center was over 100 degrees, five feet of water lapped its lower floors, patients were dying, and Dr. Pou and the nurses were among the few medical professionals who had stayed behind to confront the hurricane’s aftermath at its worst flash point -- the hospitals.
Patients had to be squeezed through a hole and carried up many flights of stairs to the roof to be airlifted out. There were at least 34 deaths at Memorial as patients and doctors waited to be rescued from the marooned hospital.
So there you go -- two stories with happy endings. There are still lawsuits pending in New Orleans, but at least these people will be free.
Well, my niece is getting married in Tucson this weekend, so my son and I are going to fly out there to grace the affair with our presence. I might have Internet access out there, I don't know, it's a whirlwind trip, you know, rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, reception, seeing people I haven't seen for a long time, so I might not be posting anything till next week. I'm going to enjoy the wedding and the warm Tucson sunshine, if something happens while I'm gone I'll hear about it next week.
Run For Your Lives!!! Lesbian Gangs!!!
There has been the craziest thing on TV lately. Mostly the bloggers are getting kick out of it, because it's so dumb, but some people take this stuff seriously, so you have to do something about it.
Bill O'Reilly had a breathless piece recently about "lesbian gangs!!!" (It is my understanding that the term is required to have three exclamation points.)
From the Southern Poverty Law Center's report on it:
A "national underground network" of pink pistol-packing lesbians is terrorizing America. "All across the country," they are raping young girls, attacking heterosexual males at random, and forcibly indoctrinating children as young as 10 into the homosexual lifestyle, according to a shocking June 21 segment on the popular Fox News Channel program, "The O'Reilly Factor."
Titled "Violent Lesbian Gangs a Growing Problem," the segment began with host Bill O'Reilly briefly referencing for his roughly 3 million viewers the case of Wayne Buckle, a DVD bootlegger who was attacked by seven lesbians in New York City last August. Deploying swift, broad strokes, O'Reilly painted a graphic picture of lesbian gangs running amok. The Oh-Really Factor: Fox News' Bill O'Reilly offers up an 'expert' to claim that pink pistol-packing lesbian gangs are terrorizing the nation
You ought to read the rest of this, it gives a lot of detail. A lot of background.
Most of the blogosphere got a bit of a laugh out of it, except you just know there are people at home who watch this ... stuff ... and huddle together in fear. Fear of the menace of lesbian gangs!!!
But, you ask -- who would ever believe a story like this? Ah, we know who (scroll down to "Related News")
Yesterday, Box Turtle Bulletin
carried a statement from GLAAD, who figured they'd better do something about this nuttiness before it got out of hand.
GLAAD Challenges Irresponsible Reporting of “Lesbian Gangs”
This year, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has been busy challenging sensationalistic and unsubstantiated reports of so-called “lesbian gangs.”
On June 21, Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor featured a segment titled “Lesbian Gang Epidemic,” in which Fox News Crime Analyst Rod Wheeler made the factually inaccurate claims that a “national network” of “lesbian gangs” preys on young girls and that 150 such gangs exist in the Washington, D.C. area. Both the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center found Wheeler’s assertions and statistics to be deeply flawed and misleading. In response, GLAAD issued a Call to Action, urging constituents to demand The O’Reilly Factor to provide background information and evidence that supported Wheeler’s statements. Following GLAAD’s efforts, Wheeler posted a retraction of the story on his website.
Well, that's good. I didn't think those kinds of guys posted retractions. I mean, The O'Reilly Factor
is worried about what? -- their credibility?
Look, maybe I just fell off the turnip truck. I don't get this. Lesbian gangs??? Who makes this stuff up?
But this story gets better, I mean really. O'Reilly actually invited a guy from GLAAD onto the show (yo, Rashad), and O'Reilly sort of apologized.
As a result of the overwhelming feedback from GLAAD and its constituents, The O’Reilly Factor invited GLAAD’s Senior Director of Media Programs, Rashad Robinson, to appear on its July 9th show. On the program, Robinson brought to light the sensational and inaccurate assertions in Wheeler’s report. Bill O’Reilly agreed that the report was exaggerated and promised, “We’ll do better next time.”
This was not the first time GLAAD took the media to task for irresponsibly and sensationally reporting on “lesbian gangs.” In February, GLAAD called on local ABC24 and CW30 affiliates in Memphis, TN not to air a shockingly defamatory and inaccurate report dramatizing “Gays Taking Over,” with actors portraying a group of African American women preying on other women. In the report, which GLAAD screened before its airdate, the principal interview subject, a so-called “gang expert,” stated without evidence that people victimized by “lesbian gangs” would be turned gay.
Although GLAAD’s urging prompted the station to modify its report and to disclose that it was unable to document its claims or provide evidence to back them, the segment that aired retained its sensationalistic and homophobic tone. And, unlike Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, ABC24 general manager Jack Peck refused to acknowledge the report’s irresponsible exaggerations. And recently, he even began falsely claiming that GLAAD had threatened to sue the station.
Whenever media outlets seek to boost ratings by airing sensationalized and unsubstantiated stories such as these, GLAAD will continue to demand that journalists back up their reporting with facts and statistics and that their representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community are fair, accurate and inclusive.
GLAAD Statement on “Lesbian Gangs!!!”
It is a weird, wild, and wacky world we live in. But slowly, slowly, things are changing. Not so many years ago nobody would've challenged a story like this, now even Bill O'Reilly admits he got it wrong.
An Irrelevant Dilemma and an Irrelevant Linguistic Mystery
This post really
doesn't have anything to do with sex-ed in Montgomery County. Well, that fight seems to be about over, there's nothing really to talk about this week, just a little background noise and some attempted low blows, nothing to get excited about. Yet. So here're a couple of thoughts I'm having.
First, sympathize with my son, the 17-year-old, who snatched the new Harry Potter book out of his dear mother's hands and ran to his room, where he read the whole thing the day it came out. Then, sometime after midnight on Saturday night (Sunday morning, some of you call it, but I don't), he sort of staggered around the house, saying, "Man, that was good. A lot of stuff happens." Totally distracted, going over all the details of the plot in his head, realizing how different parts were set up in the early chapters, why somebody did this or that. But - ha! - there was nobody to talk to about it! Who died? He knew, couldn't tell anybody. How's it end? Couldn't say. That was tough. Of course, the next day his sister stayed up late and read it, so now they can talk, but not in front of Mom, who's on the sofa trying to sneak a peek as I write this.
It just seems like a funny dilemma, everybody in the world is reading that book, but Q: When you're the first one to finish it, where do you go? Who can you talk to? A: Nowhere. Nobody.
Then, a totally unrelated topic. You have a mouse on your computer. If you went to the store and there were a bunch of them on the shelf, would you say to the salesperson, "How much are your mice?" Or would you say, "How much are your mouses?"
It seems to me that people say the latter, they say "mouses," and I find that very interesting. OK, the batter flied out, it wasn't that he flew out to right field, I get that one. He doesn't really fly. But how do we decide whether to follow the standard linguistic rule for making a plural out of mouse? A computer mouse is obviously called that because it's about the same size as a regular mouse, it isn't an entirely
different concept. So why are two of them "mouses?"
Or are they?
Ah check this poll out
More from Mother Tongue Annoyances
<stroking_chin_thoughtfully> The always erudite Language Log NOTES
"Sometimes, a morphologically-irregular word form becomes regularized when the word is used in a new way:
Factories churn out Barbies, Mickey Mouses (*Mickey Mice) and Ninja Turtles."
Oh, great -- Mickey Mouses
Well, yes ...
Pew Survey Shows Us a Changing America
Pew published a new survey earlier this month, looking at Americans' views of marriage and parenthood. Here's the executive summary:
- A Generation Gap in Behaviors and Values. Younger adults attach far less moral stigma than do their elders to out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation without marriage. They engage in these behaviors at rates unprecedented in U.S. history. Nearly four-in-ten (36.8%) births in this country are to an unmarried woman. Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 30s and 40s have spent a portion of their lives in a cohabiting relationship.
- Public Concern over the Delinking of Marriage and Parenthood. Adults of all ages consider unwed parenting to be a big problem for society. At the same time, however, just four-in-ten (41%) say that children are very important to a successful marriage, compared with 65% of the public who felt this way as recently as 1990.
- Marriage Remains an Ideal, Albeit a More Elusive One. Even though a decreasing percentage of the adult population is married, most unmarried adults say they want to marry. Married adults are more satisfied with their lives than are unmarried adults.
- Children Still Vital to Adult Happiness. Children may be perceived as less central to marriage, but they are as important as ever to their parents. As a source of adult happiness and fulfillment, children occupy a pedestal matched only by spouses and situated well above that of jobs, career, friends, hobbies and other relatives.
- Cohabitation Becomes More Prevalent. With marriage exerting less influence over how adults organize their lives and bear their children, cohabitation is filling some of the vacuum. Today about a half of all nonmarital births are to a cohabiting couple; 15 years ago, only about a third were. Cohabiters are ambivalent about marriage – just under half (44%) say they to want marry; a nearly equal portion (41%) say they aren't sure.
- Divorce Seen as Preferable to an Unhappy Marriage. Americans by lopsided margins endorse the mom-and-dad home as the best setting in which to raise children. But by equally lopsided margins, they believe that if married parents are very unhappy with one another, divorce is the best option, both for them and for their children.
- Racial Patterns are Complex. Blacks are much less likely than whites to marry and much more likely to have children outside of marriage. However, an equal percentage of both whites and blacks (46% and 44%, respectively) consider it morally wrong to have a child out of wedlock. Hispanics, meantime, place greater importance than either whites or blacks do on children as a key to a successful marriage – even though they have a higher nonmarital birth rate than do whites.
- Survey Sample and Methods. These findings are from a telephone survey conducted from February 16 through March 14, 2007 among a randomly-selected, nationally representative sample of 2,020 adults.
As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned about Social Impact
Click on the link, go look at those graphs. The country is definitely changing.
Like, there's a graph that compares what people believe makes a marriage work in 1990 and 2007. Faithfulness is number one, but it's dropped a few percentage points over the years, and "happy sexual relationship" is second, and has gone up by three percentage points. Most interesting, though, "Sharing household chores" jumped by 15 percent to number three, and "Children" dropped by twenty-four percent, down to a position just above "Agreement on politics."
What this means I couldn't guess. Some of the graphs look at data by the age of the respondent, and you can see that younger people are much more accepting of such things as unmarried cohabitation and unwed pregnancy. It is interesting to see that people think it's better to divorce than to live in an unhappy marriage. I don't know, there's lots of interesting findings in this thing. They look at results by religion and by race, and the effects are quite complicated.
Our world is changing quickly, and we don't know where it's headed. What will life be like in a hundred years, do you think?
Sunday: Versus Pretending and Wishing
The temperature has fallen a little bit, there's a cool breeze out there, PFW is interviewing an atonal bass player, the coffee is bubbling, my house is quiet at the moment. The seventeen-year-old read the whole Harry Potter book yesterday -- man, we don't have a day that quiet very often, he grabbed that thing and holed up in his room all day long. He seemed stunned afterwards. He says he doesn't know how they'll make a movie out of this one, there are no details that you could leave out, and he says every single page has important stuff on it, stuff you wouldn't believe. Especially, I think, he said the third chapter from the end is amazing. We had a bit of a family stand-off, three people wanted to read it at the same time. Think we got it sorted out. We had UPS deliver the book, just like the earlier ones, and mom got to it first, but in classic magnanimous, Altruistic Mom Style she let the younguns read it first.
I see a front page Washington Post
article this morning, called Teen Sex Rates Stop Falling, Data Show
The long decline in sexual activity among U.S. teenagers, hailed as one of the nation's most important social and public health successes, appears to have stalled.
After decreasing steadily and significantly for more than a decade, the percentage of teenagers having intercourse began to plateau in 2001 and has failed to budge since then, despite the intensified focus in recent years on encouraging sexual abstinence, according to new analyses of data from a large federal survey.
The halt in the downward trend coincided with an increase in federal spending on programs focused exclusively on encouraging sexual abstinence until marriage, several experts noted. Congress is currently debating funding for such efforts, which receive about $175 million a year in federal money and have come under fire from some quarters for being ineffective. Teen Sex Rates Stop Falling, Data Show
We are a strange society in that we live well into adulthood before marrying -- median age 25 for men, 27 for women at marriage. You hit puberty, say, in your early teens, you're sexually mature, all of nature motivates you to have sex, and then you wait. All of this is rather recent, people never used to wait this long to have "legitimate" sexual relations, and our culture has not really provided a way to deal with the delay. You're supposed to just tough it out, bite your lip and go without, but nobody actually does.
article last year reported that:
By age 44, 99 percent of people were no longer virgins, 95 percent reported having had premarital intercourse, and 85 percent had married at some point. Wait Until Marriage? 'Extremely Challenging'
So ... here we're talking about high school students, probably living at home, too young by old folks' standards to do the stuff they're doing, but it turns out that eventually just about everybody does it. Married or not, whatever, it happens. This is not an endorsement, this is a fact.
There was a funny story this week in the European press. Here's one version of it: US Censors Teenie Weenie
. A German author had written a children's book and an American publisher wanted to carry it ... but. They had to censor it.
Of course, said publishers, Boyds Mills Press, there would be some cultural differences that would have to be addressed and possibly changed, which Berner herself was happy to consider. The publishers suggested that the inclusion of some smokers in the brightly colored illustrations would not be suitable for US children, and Berner agreed.
But when the publishers began suggesting censorship of naked artworks in the background of a museum scene, the German author couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"It was a sensation to start with," said Berner of her amazement at attracting US interest, in an interview with the German Der Spiegel news magazine. But when the suggestions for edits and exclusions started to flood in over the nude paintings and sculpture, she thought it was a joke.
Apart from a tasteful nude reclining in a slightly blurred watercolor in the background, the main offending artifact was a tiny male statue and its microscopic penis.
On the page, the sculpture stands at a very unthreatening seven millimeters tall and the appendage could, at first glance, be dismissed as a wayward brushstroke. The "little willy" as Berner called it "was barely half a millimeter in length." The sculpture is an aside in the overall museum scene and is in no way prominent to the storyline on that page, she added.
Yet, the censors spotted it and wanted it out. It seemed that the whole micro-penis affair is "highly embarrassing" to the publishing company, according to Berner, which fears a backlash from angry parents if the book is published with the tiny organ still in place. US Censors Teenie Weenie
You ought to read that article, just to see things from a different point of view. They can't believe it. It makes no sense to them, our American fear of sex, it's just a joke to them. Like sex will just go away if we shut our eyes tight enough and don't think about it. People elsewhere on the planet figure out how to live with it as a fact of life.
This is kind of off-topic, but I got a kick out of yesterday's story about the British approach to marijuana:
Eight members of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cabinet admitted this week that they had smoked marijuana, in an unusual cascade of confessions that led to newspaper headlines such as "Parliament has gone to pot." On Pot Question, Cabinet Doesn't Blow Smoke
Most were contrite, but nobody really bothered to take a stand against it. One guy said he "did the sex and rock-and-roll, but not the drugs." Like, he didn't want to seem like an American
or something, you know.
Responding to a report that an Oxford classmate said he thought Johnson had never taken drugs, Johnson said: "This is an outrageous slur . . . of course I've taken drugs."
Look, you can say they're different over there, but really, we're the ones who are different.
So now back to The Post
and its page one story about teenagers. The proportion of students in grades 9-12 who have "ever had sex" has decreased from 54.1 percent in the early nineties to 46.8 percent now. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a big change, nearly eight percent.
None of us want to see teens doing things they're not ready for, but nobody really knows how to get them to decide not to. I would have to point out that probably the very least likely approach will be to ... tell them to abstain from sex. Teenagers are not known for their profound devotion to obedience, let's say. You say, "Don't do X" and you can bet X will be done. Not how it works.
Course, some people don't see it that way.
But abstinence proponents argue that, if anything, the data underscore the need for greater emphasis on encouraging youngsters to abstain from sex until marriage.
"We need to increase abstinence education and give more dollars to abstinence education. It is the healthiest program we have for young people," said Leslee Unruh of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse.
A recent study of four separate abstinence programs, conducted for the Department of Health and Human Services by Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan firm, found no evidence that the programs delayed the start of sexual activity among teens, but Unruh and others said such programs need more time and wider use to counter pervasive messages encouraging teens to have sex.
I'm guessing that maybe we've reached the white-knuckle limit. Human beings are made to have sex, you have self-control but eventually it becomes an obsession, a fetish, as it has in our culture. Denial is not a workable strategy for going years and years into sexual maturity without engaging in actual sexual intercourse -- oh, there are people who can "just say no" for a long time, but there aren't very many of them, and it would be dumb for us to imagine that everybody will do that.
Here they're saying that more than half of American kids get through high school without giving in to the impulse, and everybody's lamenting that the percentage can't be higher. Because this means that about half of American teens do
have sex while they're in high school. Just to say it out loud, we have to address this as a reality, we have to teach them how to deal with their sexuality, there is no benefit in pretending or wishing it doesn't exist.
More Letters: The Gazette This Time
Ah, why not? While we're on the topic of letters to the editor and the public expressing themselves about the new sex-ed curriculum -- look at the Gazette
Last week, somebody wrote a letter to the editor about the new sex-ed curriculum:
Back in the 1950s, we had classes called ‘‘Health and Anatomy.” We learned about hormones, body organs, eggs, sperm and reproduction and how babies were created and born. That is sex and what sex education should teach (‘‘Critics try again to block sex-ed curriculum,” June 27 article).
Sex education should not be about teaching children perverse sexual acts or to introduce, teach or promote lewd sexual behaviors to them.
Much of what is happening in this country is prompting our children to live and accept an unhealthy lifestyle. If we are going to introduce, teach and promote perverse sex activities, such as homosexuality, we may as well go the whole gamut and teach and promote other sexual deviations such as pedophilia, etc.
I don’t want my grandchildren taught that these acts are normal and an OK way to live. But when they’re taught all this lifestyle in school, it negates what they are taught at home. And then we wonder what’s happened to our kids.
Bobby Cox, Germantown
Sex-ed courses promote alternate lifestyles
Um, yeah, Bobby, thanks for that.
Some people didn't think very highly of this letter, and responded to it.
Here're unedited letters from yesterday's Gazette
In this day and age, I find it not only offensive but intolerant to use the words homosexual and pedophile in the same sentence (‘‘Sex-ed courses promote alternate lifestyles,” July 11 letter).
The letter writer’s opinion regarding ‘‘deviant” lifestyles does a disservice to anyone who doesn’t conform to his idea of normal. I want my child to learn in an environment that promotes personal safety, the safety of others, factual information and tolerance. And I believe the school system should help me educate my child by providing additional information.
Our society is made up of people both gay and straight and our children need to be aware that any sexual behavior has consequences both physical and emotional. Discussing the fact that there are both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, the proper use of birth control and how a baby is conceived in no way promotes anything but a well-informed child.
Liz Gayaldo, Silver Spring
In his July 11 letter (‘‘Sex-ed courses promote alternate lifestyles”), Bobby Cox expresses animosity toward the new sex education curriculum in county public schools, but he demonstrates an ignorance of what will be taught and what it means to have a homosexual orientation.
His misconceptions show why better education and better reporting is needed. Perhaps he does not know the curriculum in detail and does not read about scientific reports on sexuality.
The curriculum does not teach children perverse sexual acts or promote lewd behaviors. What it does do is acknowledge that some people have a homosexual orientation and live in same-sex relationships.
They often discover their sexual orientation at a very early age, just like heterosexuals do. Gay and lesbian people go on to raise families and lead productive lives in every career choice that one can imagine.
Why keep these facts hidden from students and marginalize and stigmatize a group of people when sexual orientation is not something we control any more than whether we are left-handed or right-handed? Why cause pain and loneliness for a child who fears talking about stigmatized feelings?
The whole point is that any student has the potential to become an adult capable of living in a happy, healthy adult relationship either gay or straight. Knowledge engenders respect from peers and self-confidence that the student’s feelings are natural for many well-functioning human beings.
The curriculum does not promote a lifestyle; it attempts to impart observable scientific facts about human behavior.
Ronald Livingston, Germantown
We’re all for free speech, and we recognize that reasonable minds can disagree on issues such as the appropriate content of our public schools’ curricula.
We applaud The Gazette for providing a forum for public debate. But, there are limits.
The July 11 letter, ‘‘Sex-ed courses promote alternate lifestyles,” added nothing of value to our public discourse — no novel idea, no original thought and no new perspective. Instead, it was hateful and intolerant.
The Gazette should decline to publish such diatribes, and focus instead on the publication of letters that inform thoughtful and intelligent discussion of these important issues.
Alan and Remy Freeman, Potomac
Stand on sex-ed courses disputed
It is really good to see that people people speaking out about this.
The Post: What the People Think
The Washington Post
recently asked for people to write them with their opinions about the new sex-ed curriculum. This morning they published those letters. I'm not going to edit, here's the whole thing:
The Montgomery County Board of Education recently approved Montgomery's new lessons on sexual orientation for all middle and high schools beginning in the fall. Two 45-minute lessons will introduce homosexuality and gender identity in health courses in grades 8 and 10, along with a 10th-grade lesson and instructional DVD on the correct use of a condom. Two weeks ago, the Maryland State Board of Education rejected an appeal to overturn the curriculum.
County educators have been in a pitched legal battle for several years over the sex-education curriculum. Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which led a consortium of opposition groups, had appealed to the state board to block the curriculum and had convinced a federal judge in 2005 to halt the first revision. Another group, TeachtheFacts.org, organized to support the changes. Representatives of both groups and others served on the Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Committee, which offered recommendations on what should and should not be taught in the lessons.
Montgomery Extra invited readers to comment on the curriculum, and several dozen people responded. Most favored the new curriculum.
Here are some of the letters. Some have been edited for space and clarity.
Lessons Should Go Further
I have had two students graduate from Montgomery County public schools, and three years ago started teaching at Magruder High School, where I also sponsor the gay-straight alliance student organization. In addition, I spent a decade doing volunteer contraceptive counseling for Planned Parenthood. I completely support the changes, and I think that in spite of all the discussion and counter lawsuits, they still do not go far enough to put Montgomery County into the realm of those who deal with sex education in an enlightened manner.
The more students learn about how to use contraceptives and condoms in particular, the better. It would be preferable if they could actually handle the contraceptives themselves, which the curriculum still does not let them do. Many sources, including some good surveys from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, show that those students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or just questioning their sexual identity suffer more than other teenagers during their school years. They are depressed, feel victimized, experiment with drugs, attempt suicide and drop out in disproportionate numbers. I have seen anecdotal evidence to support this during the short time that I have been working with these students. The curriculum change is a small step toward discussion and acceptance of differences. The lessons are too structured and scripted to allow for meaningful conversation, but let's hope that can happen somewhere else. Let's stop pussyfooting around this issue and give our teenagers some real information.
Props From a PFLAG Parent
As the parent of two graduates of Montgomery County public schools and as a member of the Metro DC chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), I support the action taken by MCPS to include in the eighth-and 10th-grade health education curriculum information regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. Teenagers, particularly those who are gay or transgender, need this information, as do their families. I wish that it had been available to my children when they were in middle and high school.
Deborah S. Strauss
What's All the Fuss About?
The question of whether schools should present factual material about a subject that the average teenager thinks about every couple of seconds kind of answers itself. To think that the presentation of scientifically solid information about sexual orientation and the use of condoms will turn a straight youth into a homosexual (or modest behavior into debauchery) confers superpowers on mere teachers and belittles our children.
I would ask those who oppose the curriculum changes: "Did you move to, or choose to remain in, Montgomery County because of the housing prices, the traffic congestion or the school system?"
Ira R. Allen
Not the Role of Schools
The new sex-education lessons are teaching the "world view" that homosexuality is beyond one's control. The lessons teach that it is a way of life that has equal value with any other choice. This is one perspective.
The government schools want to teach chosen "facts" about sexual orientation. But this issue is one where families can teach their own children. It is a moral issue. It is inappropriate for the schools to teach about it.
The school board is also overreaching when it approved a class to teach about condoms. Again, the subject is a moral one. The government schools are taking the position that students will be immoral, and so they need to know the correct use of condoms. They are "setting the bar" very low. This is not the Victorian Age or the 1950s era, when talking about sexual relationships was taboo. Parents are articulate and capable. They can teach their own children, and they have the right to teach their perspective. The schools are trying to push their opinion as though it were fact.
Target Behavior, Not Beliefs
I am the mother of a child who will go into the eighth grade this fall and, therefore, will take the revised segments of the curriculum. I am also a member of TeachtheFacts.org, which was formed to support the Montgomery County Board of Education's efforts to update the curriculum on human sexuality.
I am completely in favor of the new curriculum, especially the fact that it defines sexual orientation in general and provides some basic information on this subject in the eighth grade and provides more specific definitions in the 10th grade, including a definition of "transgender." The material includes an explanation that students may "come out" during their middle and high school years and that this process may be difficult for some people.
It indicates that students should treat those who define themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual with the same respect that is given people in the school system with other differences, which might include religion, national, cultural or ethnic background and race. The curriculum, however, does not go far enough, because it does not include a statement that non-heterosexual orientations are not mental disorders or diseases according to the leading medical and mental heath organizations. Teachers may provide this information if a student asks.
Those who have vocally opposed adoption of the revisions to the curriculum claim, among other things, that their families' religious beliefs are being violated because the curriculum "normalizes" homosexuality, which they believe to be sinful. Further, they assert that their children are being forced to accept differences in sexual orientation and that the curriculum advocates different sexual orientations. First, parents may opt to keep their children out of lessons addressing sexual orientation. Second, the focus of the curriculum is to create an environment within the school community where teachers, other employees, students and parents are treated the same regardless of sexual orientation.
Neither the curriculum nor the school system dictates what people may or may not believe; the focus is how they behave. The students are completely free to receive the teachings of their families' values, and they are free to hold those beliefs and even express them respectfully, as long as they treat everyone within the school community equally.
Amy R. Heyman
Knowledge Is Power
Usually by the time adolescents are 13 to 15 years old, their gender identities are well-established by nature, nurture or a combination of both. Unfortunately, so is prejudice, by societal forces.
Appropriate education on homosexuality and gender identity would offer students an opportunity to learn more self-understanding and tolerance of others who may be different (not to be read "bad" or "immoral") from themselves. Likewise, removing the mystique of the condom and its proper use does not guarantee early sexual intercourse.
Instructions on the proper use of matches, knives and power tools does not presuppose adolescents' aggressive/violent use of these things with other people. Truly, knowledge can produce strength and thoughtfulness in youth.
Respect Other Choices, Too
Our legal appeal of the Montgomery County Board of Education's new sex-ed curriculum also involved discrimination allegations. The curriculum is entitled "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality" and promotes tolerance of homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, cross-dressers and the intersexed. The Board of Education refused to include tolerance for ex-gays despite the four-year presence of our ex-gay organization, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, on the curriculum advisory committee.
This is why we filed the lawsuit against the board's so-called "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality" new sex-ed curriculum. The board cannot pick and choose which sexual orientations they favor and then refuse to teach tolerance about the ones they don't like.
Executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays.
Teens Need Information
Last semester, I took the newly approved 10th-grade health class at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Before that, I have taken a much broader relationships and human sexuality class at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
I strongly believe that every student should be required to take the new, more expanded health class. All youths should be able to get answers to their questions.
Many critics say that these classes "usurp parents' role." Many parents have a hard time talking to their kids about sex. Some tell their children that it's wrong, just "don't do it!" Sometimes they don't say anything. When this happens, most kids and teenagers go to their friends for information, and usually get the wrong idea or facts.
Critics also say that "teaching about sex spurs teens to try it." But studies have actually shown that sex education decreases pregnancy and disease rates. If you aren't given the right information, you could get HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases or become pregnant. If you become pregnant, you might have to drop out of school. If you get a STD, then it will stay with you for the rest of your life.
If youths aren't educated about sex and its responsibilities, diseases and consequences, where will they get truthful answers when they need them? When youths are given the right information, they are better equipped to make decisions that can affect their whole life.
Move Forward, Not Back
The new eighth- and 10th-grade sex-education curriculum is a long-overdue step forward.
As a researcher and professor of higher education who teaches sexuality issues, I am appalled at how much abstinence-only education and other repressive measures have attenuated my students' education by the time they get to college. They are much less informed on basic health issues than students their age used to be. We need to go forward, not backward.
As I teach my students, Montgomery County is becoming a global community that combines many different cultural assumptions. It is important that we learn to talk about sexuality openly and non-judgmentally, and make the largest amount of accurate information available that we can. High school students are already discussing this. We just need to give them a healthy classroom space in which to do it and do it well.
Parents' Roles Unchanged
As a former member of the Advisory Committee on Family Life and a Montgomery County public school parent who also works in the field of teen pregnancy prevention, I strongly support the new curriculum.
The protests by those who oppose adding information about homosexuality and proper condom use are hugely misguided. Emphatic claims that teaching kids about contraception will spur them to have sex ignore solid research showing that comprehensive sex education that encourages teens to delay sex and includes information about contraception is most effective in getting kids to wait longer to have sex and use protection when they do.
This long debate over a relatively short lesson plan has drowned out the most important point of all: When it comes to decisions about sex, love and relationships, teens say that parents influence them more than anything else -- more than friends, the media, siblings, religious leaders and, yes, more than teachers and sex educators.
Schools may be where formal sex education takes place, but it's at home where kids soak in the truly meaningful aspects of these topics. Parents are the ones who can go beyond the "what" to the "why." Schools can't, nor should they be expected to, do all that. So whether you're a parent in favor of the new content or opposed to it, you've got plenty of work to do with your kids after the school bell rings.
You Call That Tolerance?
The new Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum could be summed up in one sentence: Shut up, sit down and listen to our one-sided lesson on tolerance, and we don't want to hear any of your bigotry about the U.S. Constitution.
Brown is a former member of the Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Committee.
Changes Are Welcome
I am an HIV counselor for the Whitman Walker Clinic and the president of Latin@s En Accion, a Washington-area Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization.
On a professional level, I am really pleased to see such an innovative curriculum that not only focuses on a social issue but a very important health issue.
Many of the young men and women facing issues related to sexual education as it relates to sexual orientation or gender identity that I come across through my advocacy work happen to live in the Silver Spring, Rockville and Gaithersburg areas.
It has been my experience that when you help young kids to deal with sexual identity issues they are more likely to be prepared and empowered on other issues such as substance abuse.
There is a child that will benefit from the much needed education that at many times other peers deny them.
Face Sexuality Head-On
Let's keep our children informed and educated. Hiding our heads in the sand will not curb the behavior of our young people. The more education that our children have, the better equipped they will be to make decisions and to deal with the world we live in today. Sexual orientation is not a choice, and homophobia is all about lack of education.
Kathleen Soto Mayer
Being Gay Is a Choice
I am very disturbed and deeply saddened by the incredible bias of the Montgomery County school board. They have chosen to teach only one side of the story regarding homosexuality in their new sex-ed curriculum.
Why one side of the story? Because people can choose to live a gay life, or they can choose to change and come out straight. How do I know this? Because I made the change many years ago, and today I am living my dream.
My wife and I recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, and we are the proud parents of three remarkable children. I am living my dream because someone informed me that I had a choice -- to live a gay life, or to seek change and be straight.
Why is Montgomery County denying our students the right to choose for themselves? Where is the tolerance, diversity and equality? One side of the homosexual issue is all they are advocating. I am very sorry for our students and future generations.
Cohen is director of the International Healing Foundation, which promotes the idea that changing from gay to straight is possible.
Educating Straight People
My daughter is a lesbian who had to go to Canada to get married. She now lives in New Jersey, where she and her partner are raising a beautiful baby boy who just turned 1. As I am 60, social conversations often turn to the question: "Do you have kids?" When I respond, I make a point of telling them the story about my daughter and her family.
I'm sometimes amazed at the obvious discomfort that some people seem to feel as I'm talking. My small contribution is to educate straight Americans about gay Americans.
I might not have to do that so often if young people learned a few facts about sexual orientation and gender identification while they were in school. This is why I support the Montgomery County school board's approval of the decision to include lessons on these issues in its health courses, which I'm hoping will include discussion about prejudice and discrimination against gay people.
Mark F. Wurzbacher
Update Is Long Overdue
We are the parents of three children: one who graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in 2000 and two who are entering the eighth and sixth grades this fall. We strongly support these classes. It is past time for MCPS to address sexual orientation and the issues caused by ignorance and misunderstanding.
The curriculum has been available online and we have read it in its entirety. While it is a fabulous anti-bullying curriculum, it is not strong enough in one particular area: It does not make clear that all of the mainstream medical associations in the United States agree that homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder. Only if a student asks will a teacher say that the American Psychiatric Association does not consider homosexuality a disorder. This is a disservice to all of the students, but especially to those who are questioning their own sexual orientation.
The other "controversy" over this curriculum is a video demonstration of proper use of condoms. Come on, people. There has been a video demonstration of condom use since 1994. The old video was outdated and too long. All research about condoms agrees that careful and consistent use increases the protections against pregnancy and STIs. The full curriculum, which is presented over several years, makes it clear that only abstinence is 100 percent effective against both pregnancy and infection. The video also makes this point. Why would anyone stand in the way of this long-overdue update?
and Gavin Brennan
Readers Speak Out About New Sex-Education Curriculum
Wow, there's a lot to talk about there. Richard Cohen says it's a choice?
A couple of these are familiar names, but it is also nice to see voices from the community, just plain folks who live here. OK, a bowl of oatmeal and I'm out the door. Talk amongst yourselves.
Campfire Songs of the Disgruntled
Wafting over the hillsides come snatches of the lonely campfire songs of the disgruntled, huddled around their fires feeling left out, trying to figure out who to sue next.
The Allied Defense Fund
sent a letter this week to the Montgomery County school board, complaining that PFOX isn't treated fairly. They say:
Recently, several school employees and at least one principal ... have encouraged and incited students to throw out the materials distributed by PFOX. This was accomplished primarily by school personnel placing PFOX's name on trash cans in the main lobby and encouraging students to throw PFOX's materials out.
LETTER HERE (pdf)
Here's what the Churchill Observer
-- the school newspaper -- said at the time:
"The administration contacted the teachers to let them know that they were not required to physically hand the letter to each and every student—the teachers merely needed to make the flyer available to the students should they choose to take it," SGA president senior Roisin Magee said. The distribution of the letters by CHS was mandatory. The administration had no other option but to make the flyers available to students.
In response to the flyers, the GSA organized a protest, allowing students the option of discarding their letters in recycling bins around school and student distributed trash bags labeled "PFOX." The protest, which was officially held after homeroom Feb. 1 in the Bulldog lobby, was viewed as a success by many.
So it sounds like the administration explained exactly the letter of the law to the teachers, and they followed that.
Further down in that story:
The administration was also supportive in helping the protest run smoothly and effectively. Trash cans were placed in the center of the lobby, and security guards and administrators stood by protestors to ensure safety.
"[The protest] was wonderfully planned out, wonderfully executed, and wonderfully received, with great respect from the administration, especially Dr. Benz," Richard said. "Having her be there by the trash cans with us was incredible, and a great symbol of the support we had from the school. The protest couldn't have gone any better."
OK, they made the materials available to students, check. Those that didn't want them had a place to throw them away, check.
Well, the Alliance Defense Fund says...
... certainly, actively encouraging students to throw PFOX's materials in a trash can, while not interfering in any way with the dissemination of materials by other non-profit organizations, violates PFOX's First Amendment right to distribute materials at Montgomery County Schools. Such conduct is a blatant example of unlawful viewpoint discrimination.
Hey, I'm no lawyer, I have no idea how this comes out. PFOX won the right to have the schools distribute their bizarre information in the schools, and that's happening. The schools didn't have to promise Service With a Smile.
Before you start feeling special for living in a county lucky enough to receive this kind of attention ... ahem ... you should see that the same exact thing is going on down in Albermarle County, Virginia. From the June 30th Charlottesville Daily Progress
The Albemarle County School Board has settled a debate first sparked last summer over the role of schools as community informers, deciding in a 5-1 vote to allow only school-sponsored and local government groups to send fliers home with students.
The decision means groups such as vacation Bible schools and sports leagues not affiliated with the county recreation department - including Little League and the Soccer Org-anization of Charlottesville-Albemarle - cannot send fliers home in students' backpacks.
"For us, it was very much the question: 'Where are we spending staff time?'" School Board Chairwoman Sue Friedman said Friday.
The former policy, enacted in late September, allowed all outside organizations to distribute fliers twice a semester.
Friedman said it was not the number of requests that changed the board's mind, but the time involved in fielding reaction from parents.
"Staff would get 15 calls from parents asking about the flier policy and not asking how their kids are doing," Friedman said.
During summer session last year, Hollymead Elementary students were not permitted to hand out fliers advertising a vacation Bible school at a local church. Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit that offers litigation and policy advice, then sent a letter to Albemarle officials informing them that the flier-distribution policy excluding religious groups was unconstitutional.
The School Board's attorney, Mark Trank, informed the board at a September meeting that all outside groups must be treated similarly, prompting the board to broaden its policy despite some members' reluctance.
Board member Stephen Koleszar summed up the attitude of a majority of the board during this meeting: "I value our schools as community centers and I don't want to stifle that," Koleszar said. "At the same time, I don't want this to get out of control."
During this past school year, the distribution of a pagan flier around Christmas time and a flier advertising Camp Quest, a residential summer camp for those with a "secular worldview," spurred some parents to voice concerns, and the board decided to revisit the issue this month. That led to Thursday's vote.
Friedman said that there are methods - such as bulletin boards and information tables - that schools can use to convey community information.
"If indeed we are perceived that we are one of the only communication links, we would be more than happy to see how we can meet those needs," she said. Albemarle schools rewrite flier policy
Seems that some people wanted equal opportunity for themselves, but not for pagans and people with a "secular worldview," whatever that is.
In the meantime, we'll wait to see if MCPS gets sued for providing containers for the trash they are required by law to distribute.
The Georgetown Covenant
In our county there is a small group of folks who don't like gay people. Think they're evil, think gay people have an agenda, think it's their business to try to get people to live according to their own presumptions about what's right and what's wrong. It's kind of a desperate mission, especially in this community, but they insist they're duty-bound to keep doing it.
In arguing against the new sex-ed curriculum, they have made the point that the classes infringe on their religious beliefs; they believe it is their duty to save sinners, and therefore they need to have the right to speak out against anyone who does things that they consider sinful.
As you can imagine, some people don't really want
to be told that they are sinners and need to change. Some gay people, even, feel perfectly comfortable with their sexual orientation, and it does not occur to them that there's something wrong with them. Actually, at least in our county, most people feel that way.
So I saw this interesting little story on the Washington Post
blog the other day. Georgetown University is a Jesuit school. That means they're Catholic, and also the Jesuit education is known to be one of the most rigorous types of schooling that exists. They accept no waffling, you will look the truth straight in the eyes.
Even though it's a Catholic school, there are Protestants there, and they have their ministries on campus, and that has apparently been a problem. GU would like to be nice to them, but they just ... make themselves unwelcome.
So the school and the Protestant groups worked out a deal.
Following a dispute with several private Protestant evangelical campus ministry groups, Georgetown University this spring issued a "covenant" agreement such groups have to sign in order to operate on campus. Among the points laid out in the covenant was the subject of evangelizing:
"While zeal for spreading the good news of the Gospel is a most worthy Christian virtue, there is increasing agreement among Christians today that proselytism, defined as any effort to influence people in ways that depersonalizes or deprives them of their inherent value as persons or the use of any coercive techniques or manipulative appeals which bypass a person's critical faculties or play on psychological weakness, is unworthy of Christian life. Physical coercion, moral constraint, or psychological pressure and inducements for conversion which exploit other people's needs, weaknesses, and lack of education are not to be practiced by representatives of affiliated ministries." In Depth
This seems like an eminently fair way to handle this. The University is making it clear that they have no intention of interfering with anyone's beliefs -- but they will not
permit university-affiliated ministries to proselytize.
I appreciate the way they define that: any effort to influence people in ways that depersonalizes or deprives them of their inherent value as persons or the use of any coercive techniques or manipulative appeals which bypass a person's critical faculties or play on psychological weakness
. And I appreciate the way they state without qualm that that sort of thing -- the kind of thing the CRC insists its children should be able to do in the classroom -- is "unworthy of Christian life." Very nicely put.
I have said here many times, we don't have anything against anyone's religious beliefs. I understand that strong religious beliefs can provide a sturdy framework for guiding a person through the temptations of life on earth. Personally, I may not agree with their beliefs, but it would never occur to me to criticize anyone for holding them.
Given that, it is quite a different thing to agree that people who have certain beliefs should be given free license to go around insulting everyone else and badgering them to live like they do. Some people don't want to live the evangelical lifestyle, and consider it rude when someone tries to bend their ear about it. They like to say that such people are "anti-Christian," but really they're just "anti-rude."
A Funny Moment in London
This has nothing to do with sex ed or anything, it's Sunday morning and I just want to talk about a funny moment I had the other night. I was in London, and David Fishback's son's band was playing there, so I went to hear them. They were in a part of North London called Kilburn; I took the tube out there but I mistimed it and got there too early. So first I walked around the town and located the club they were playing in, called the Luminaire, a hole in the wall really, and checked to find out what time they would start. The guy at the door -- shaved head, tattoos, pierced stuff -- said that Cheese on Bread would start at ten thirty. It wasn't even nine yet, and I didn't really feel like listening to all the opening acts, so I wandered around Kilburn.
Funky place, Kilburn, but cool. Most of the newspapers in the stands were in Russian, and I heard some people speaking Russian, but most of the people hanging out on the street appeared to be from the Middle East or northern Africa, women with their heads covered and guys with sandals and beards. And Indians. Streets lined with pawnshops and little shops that sell beer and wine, and cell-phone vendors, and Halal groceries. Then you'd come across a pub with dozens of extremely-British people sitting drinking beer and socializing in the evening glow, everybody happy on the street and in the pubs. Working-class neighborhood, busy people living their lives, finding their place, fulfilling their destiny in Kilburn.
In England every town has a High Road, which is what they call the main street. When I was looking for the club, one guy, a dad walking with his little daughters, told me how to get to, I thought, the "Cuban High Road." I couldn't figure that one out, until later when I saw the sign and realized he was saying "Kilburn High Road." They do weird things to their vowels over there. And their consonants, actually, now that I think about it, they talk funny.
After locating the club I wandered around for a while and then decided to get back on the tube and ride to some different station and see what it was like. Went over to St. John's Wood, which I knew from the Rolling Stones' song "Play With Fire." Beautiful neighborhood, very clean, luxurious, just as implied by the song; I sat on a bench and watched the cars drive by for a while. Then I got back on the underground and went the other way, to some dumpy, graffiti-scribbled little stop where I didn't even go outside the station, just crossed the platform and caught the train going the other way. In London you buy your ticket and it's for zones, but it's good all day long.
Back to the Luminaire. They charged me five pounds cover, which was really supposed to be the price if you ordered tickets in advance. At the door it was supposed to be six, I think, but it was getting late and I'd missed the warm-up acts so the guy let me in cheap.
Cheese on Bread was setting up. Remember, I did that for a living for twenty years, played the gigs. Plugged in the cords, tuned up the guitar, tested the monitors, and then tore it all down again at the end of the night. I used to say that was the part they paid us for. The band might play for thirty minutes or five hours, that doesn't really matter, setting it up and tearing it down is the hard part.
I ordered a Guiness (three pounds) (these days, a pound is almost exactly two dollars, so figure I paid six bucks for a beer) and stood at the end of the bar next to the sound man. That's always the best place to stand to hear music, next to the sound guy, because, of course, he's mixing the sound so it's good where he is. Unfortunately, I was also next to the trash can, I mean, the rubbish
can, and it was a little ... aromatic.
The place was great. The ceiling and walls were black, actually the ceiling looked like somebody had nailed a bunch of black doors at different angles up there, I don't know if it was some kind of modular design or what. There were, as everywhere in England, video cameras pointing every direction, all over the place. Back behind me were rows of couches, like, I don't know what else to call them, plush vinyl-covered pews, and some kids were back there making out. I'd guess there were about fifty people in the place, almost all, let's say, less than half my age. There was one other old guy in there, about my age, drunk, and he kept walking past me staring at me, like, hey, there's two of us here. I expected him to try to strike up a conversation but he wasn't quite that
drunk. Everybody else was just regular self-conscious kids, like you'd see anywhere in the world. Flawed, every one of them. Fat, or stringy-haired, or bow-legged, or skinny, or stupid haircut, or overdressed, or hyper, or something, every one of them.
As the band set up the kids started to gather on the dance floor, checking them out. You know, I'm thinking, we're here in England, these kids are probably real critics. Do you have any idea why so many rock and roll bands come from that little country? There's fifty million of them and three hundred million of us, but every other band on the radio is English. So I figure the local bands must just be great. But the kids seemed kind of star-struck. They wanted to see the Americans, weird, huh?
Cheese on Bread starts playing. I won't go into each of the songs or anything, but let me talk about the performance. Dan is the main attention-getter, and he and Sara do almost all the vocals. He's extremely ... outgoing? Waving his arms around, extemporizing outrageously and chaotically into the microphone, bouncing around the stage. Sara, on the other hand, is sort of the anti-chick-singer, with her glasses and her barrettes -- she looks like that girl that sat across from you and got good grades without studying, who you never saw hanging out, a girl who watches TV with her mom. And the two of them have these interacting vocal parts that are just hypnotic somehow, their melodies weave in and out and they finish lines for each other and if you stop paying attention for a second you miss something. Sometimes you have to watch just to figure out which one is singing; kind of like Sonny and Cher, sometimes she gets the low parts and he gets the high ones. Well, it's not very much like Sonny and Cher, except for that.
The songs are bouncy, light, with an acoustic guitar on most of them but sometimes weird instruments, like, she plays a pitch-pipe on one, and the band rocks at times but you wouldn't go hear them to dance. You go because of the songs. The melodies and dynamics are unpredictable to a point near absurdity at times. But really, I think it's the lyrics that get you. You just ... don't ... know ... what ... they're ... going ... to ... say ... next. So you have to listen, and it's worth it. The songs are funny, personal, wise, political, vulnerable, ridiculous.
I nursed that dark, six-dollar Guiness for about forty five minutes, and then had to get back across town before the subway shut down. But it was interesting and cool to watch, the kids on the dancefloor watched and listened, and then you saw some dancing around a little bit, and then a little bit more. While I was there it didn't exactly turn into a Teen Dance Party, but there were ripples of enthusiasm and you could tell the audience was really appreciating the band. I did notice that the bartenders were, uh, not busy. Like, nobody was spending any money. That's a good thing in one sense, it means the kids aren't drinking much (you had to be eighteen to get into the club). But you wonder how the place stays open. Fifty people, they might have taken in two hundred fifty pounds at the door to pay four bands, two bartenders, a bouncer, a ticket person. And maybe sold ten three-pound beers, call it two hundred eighty. Less than six hundred dollars to pay for all that.
So here's the weird moment. I was standing there at the back of the bar watching all of this, an old guy in a young world, been there etcetera. And I was watching these kids and seeing how dorky they were, and seeing how eager they were to enjoy this band, and how intensely good and focused the band was, and seeing how, I don't know, how old-fashioned it all was, I had this thought: the kids are all right
I wasn't thinking about the Who. I was just thinking about the kids, and the music, well really I was thinking about kids and music, in general. It's just good, young people full of life reacting to the world in their dorky, inexperienced, unjaded way. And the band giving them something back to react to, and the band reacting to the kids, and after I thought that, standing there I was reminded of an interview with Pete Townshend many years ago, where he talked about the Who playing gigs for the mods in the sixties, and the crowd would try to copy the band's clothes and dance moves, and the band would try to copy the audience's clothes and dance moves, and the whole thing sort of took off on its own. My thought, the kids are all right, was identical to Pete Townshend's thought, probably in a club exactly like this, in the very same city, looking out from the stage of some local dive all those years ago.
And so I'm standing in the back of a little place in Kilburn, North London, watching this band interact with this audience, and I'm thinking the kids are all right, and they are, the whole thing is all right. I don't know, it was just a funny moment.
"This Child Deserves a Response"
The video of the June 12th school board meeting hasn't worked for us. It turns out you have to have upgraded to the latest version of Windows Media Player to see the video, and of course I hadn't done that. But having figured that out, we now have some of it transcribed.
There was a great blow-up at the June 12th school board meeting over the fact that Dr. Weast amended the sex-ed curriculum just the day before the board was going to vote on it. The superintendent's office added a condition that if a teacher was asked, "Is homosexuality a sickness?" they would be able to say, "No, it's not, according to the American Psychiatric Association." Yeah, you're right, it's not much, but in this tense environment it was a big deal. Board member Steve Abrams got quite upset and challenged Weast, who defended his decision in grand style.
I'm skipping the main part of the discussion, as various board members spoke about the curriculum -- I hope to have more of that on the blog over the next few days -- but towards the end the dialogue comes back to Abrams and Weast.
This is kind of fascinating. Abrams thinks there's been something funny going on.
Abrams: Miss Navarro I appreciate your comments and I certainly respect the decision that others are making. You need to understand what I feel strongly about. And its something that I'm not glossing over, is that I don't mind getting beat on an issue. I don't appreciate games, or the perception of games being played to keep information from me. That's the first thing. I have no understanding from a scientific standpoint of new information that was discovered, what changed from the time that I was briefed on this issue to when the memorandum came out. But I do know that, and I think the terms you used were "upon reflection" and I'm just amazed at that consideration. That consideration hadn't taken place well before the briefing to members of the Board.
There is no new science and no new facts that occurred to change that reflection. The only thing that could have changed, and this is simply my assessment of it, is pressure having been placed on -- by some group or individuals to reignite the issue. I don't believe good decisions are made hastily. I believe that we had set out a process very thoroughly to test it, and I thought we were going to continue that process on the full roll out. That's why I feel strongly about the change. And I will submit to you that what I would tell my own daughters probably is more consistent with the curriculum so it's not the information that I'm objecting to but it just strikes me that if in fact, what we're trying to use this for is a lesson in tolerance, the process that led to it, you know, just strikes me as being somewhat intolerant on the vetting of a good information flow.
In discussion later in the hallway of Carver, and it came out that when Mr. Abrams said "some group or individuals," what he meant was the citizens advisory committee. He felt that the CAC had pressured the superintendent somehow to make the change.
I also find it interesting that someone would vote against a choice because of the process by which it was proposed, even though they say they agree with the content of it. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
Oh, and as a member of that committee, I can say, if passing a resolution by majority vote is "pressure," then he is correct. The committee did vote to ask again that the wording be included. I don't think that's especially untoward, myself, and don't really think of it as "political pressure," except in the sense that the vote did reflect the committee's feelings on this subject and was intended to make the Superintendent think twice. Which apparently it did. It was all straight-ahead Robert's Rules.
Navarro: Thank you Mr. Abrams. Dr. Weast?
Weast: Again, I don't want you to pick on almost Dr. Brown. <laughter>
This was a running joke from earlier in the discussion, when Dr. Weast referred to Betsy Brown as "Doctor Brown," though she does not have a doctorate. A little, y'know, academic humor.
Brown: I'll take it.
Weast: No, I don't want you to take it. I take the full responsibility. My staff had quite a bit of debate on this. The call's mine though.
Abrams: Well Jerry, you and I had quite a bit of a debate on it, in fact we were together during this period. I got no impression from you that you were changing your view on that so I'm glad you decided to join in this because you and I had this conversation as late as last Thursday at DAR.
Here was the striking part. Weast turned his chair to face Abrams, and spoke with his finger crooked, pointing over at him. He sat tall in his chair, his voice rose, and everyone in the room sort of stopped breathing. It was a great moment by any account.
Weast: Absolutely and I told you exactly when I decided it. Now whether you like where I decided it or how I decided it is your own personal opinion. But I can tell you it didn't come from pressure, it didn't come from any of these Board members, it didn't come from any groups. It came from long thought on my part. I'm a teacher. I've been a teacher for 38 years Mr. Abrams. And when a kid, a student, a valuable member of a community asks me a simple question, "Am I mentally ill? Am I sick?" I felt the need. When my staff asked me that question, this child deserves a response if there is a response. And what we found was a response that I felt fit the extension and was appropriate, and has been thoroughly thought through by a national organization.
Abrams: Dr. Weast I appreciate that and I appreciate you calling me Mr. Abrams so I'll call you Dr. Weast.
Weast: Thank you.
Abrams: And Dr. Weast I'm glad to hear you state that as passionately and forcefully. I wish you had done that a long time ago on this issue, I can't believe that catharsis came to you between last Thursday and last Friday.
Weast: Believe it Steve.
Abrams: I don't believe it, Dr. Weast.
Weast: All right.
Navarro: This is going to -- I just want to mention, of course Mr. Abrams as you know, you will be able to cast a vote and that's how you will express whether you support Dr. Weast's cathartic moment and you can...
Weast: It wasn't a cathartic moment. I have debated this for many many months.
Now that we've figured out how to get the video running, we'll be posting more of the transcripts in the next few days. That was a pivotal meeting, some people expressed their points of view very clearly.
There is still some ongoing controversy about the curriculum, I guess we'll see if the Black Knight, er, CRC decides to bite the county's legs off in yet another lawsuit. Whatever, check back, we'll keep you posted.
This little piece of dialogue was a defining moment in the sex-ed controversy, where Steve Abrams and Jerry Weast dug in and clearly expressed their positions on this issue. Weast added some meat-n-potatoes to the curriculum, thinking about what happens when a student asks "am I mentally ill?" Abrams voted against the curriculum because he didn't approve of the process that had generated the addition to the curriculum, though, as he says, he actually agreed with the statement itself.