Friday, February 27, 2009

CRW Complains About Video

The Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development advises the Montgomery County School District on health curriculum materials. I am on the committee, we review materials and vote on whether the schools should use them. We approve the vast majority of things that are shown to us. My own position is that there may be something I don't especially like, but if there is not incorrect or patently offensive information in it I will trust that the health teachers will use the resource wisely. These are things to use in the classroom, posters, videos, books, things like that.

Earlier this month the committee met and looked at some slides and a sixteen minute video. The video was quite interesting. It was a vignette about a young couple. The girl's mother was working a double shift so her boyfriend came over and they ended up having sex on the couch. The dialogue is very realistic, the characters are believable. Predictably, the girl gets pregnant. There is some very good discussion between the couple, between them and their mothers, with their friends. In the end, the girl goes to an abortion clinic but you never know if she terminates the pregnancy or not. This is not an instructional video, it never gives you vocabulary terms or tells you what you should do in this or that case or how anything works. You simply follow this couple as they make some choices and then follow through with the consequences.

The couple and their mothers are black. They are very believable characters, not stereotypical but they don't pretend to be white. The acting is great, in fact the entire production is very well done. You will see that the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever will want to say that it is racist to have black people in a video who talk like black people. I am eager to see how they back that up.

At the end of the video the committee sat silent for a minute and then a very good discussion followed. Committee members' opinions were all over the board. I was somewhat concerned about the racial aspect, others were concerned that the steamy opening scene might be too much, but all in all the committee members felt that the video would really stimulate good discussion. We nodded in agreement with one member's statement that this was the one really good video we have seen, in several years of reviewing materials.

The committee's vote was close, I don't remember the exact vote but the video was accepted for use in the tenth grade.

Now the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever (Ruth Jacobs is the president of one or the other of their groups) wants to whine raise a stink over this one. The CRW of course opposes abortion, but they are also going to try to look like they oppose this video because it is racist.

Michelle Turner of the CR ... C sent a letter to the school superintendent last week, which I decided not to post because it looked like the whole controversy might just dry up and blow away. But now Ruth Jacobs, who is a committee member, has sent a second letter, so I think it's time to air this.

You can see the video they're talking about HERE. You'll see, it's not like the movies you saw in school, you might be shocked at first but give it a chance.
Board Certified Internal Medicine
Board Certified Allergy and Immunology
Board Certified Infectious Disease
15001 Shady Grove Road, Ste. 110
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 315-9515
February 26, 2009

Dr. Jerry D. Weast,
Superintendent of Schools
850 Hungerford Drive
Room 122
Rockville 20850

Dear Dr. Weast and Board of Education,

This letter concerns a video, “The Choices We Make”, which was just approved by the Citizens Advisory Committee for Health Education (CAC).

I am writing to add my comments to those raised by Citizens for Responsible Curriculum. Montgomery County Public Schools should show that they protect more than one minority group. Unfortunately, CAC, by their vote affirming the film, gave exactly the opposite message.

The film was filled with racial stereotypes. While the CAC has strongly opposed homosexual labeling, it did not show the same protection for African Americans or sexually conservative students and their parents.

Our only African American student member reported that she was afraid her white Damascus schoolmates would judge all African Americans based on what was in the film. When the committee did not accept her concerns that the student pursued them no further.

Parents can choose what movies their children see. They can't choose whether or not to send their kids to school. In the past few years, MCPS restricted the movies that MCPS teachers could show the students. They did this to protect student’s rights to not be uncomfortable or embarrassed.

The video has a steamy soft porn introduction which sexually conservative parents would not allow their children to watch, if they were warned, for this very reason. Even members of the committee who didn’t vote against the film reported being made to feel uncomfortable by the video.

Regrettably, the certain committee members shrugged off any concerns with comments suggesting “students could leave the class or close their eyes.” Students cannot leave High School classrooms in the middle of an explicit video without invoking shame, ridicule, and comments by teachers and fellow students.

The MCPS health class framework does not provide for a discussion about abortion. Making a proviso for discussing abortion was specifically discussed and turned down by the CAC when it helped formulate the framework. When does life begin? What is the effect of an abortion on mental health?

Does MCPS want to enter on a full-blown discussion of this? Does MCPS want to be viewed as promoting taking away life? Adoption was not presented in the video as a realistic option.

If abortion is discussed contrary to the framework, the risks of abortion should also be shown.

The video gave no presentation of the pregnant teen having professional and informed counseling about the risks of abortion. This is possibly typical of America where one woman has said “I received better informed consent counseling when my dog had surgery compared to what I received before my abortion,” however MCPS should not have this perspective.

In 2002, the deaths of nine women were reported as a result of legally induced abortions in the United States. One article suggests immediate minor complication rates (infection, laceration, incomplete abortion) of 1 to 5 percent, and major complications rates of 0.1 to 2 percent. Women who have abortions are more likely to have premature infants. Abortions can result in an incompetent cervix and difficulties with future pregnancies.

In summary, this video shows a disrespect for African Americans who are stereotyped by the film; disrespect for parents and students who have no desire to be assaulted by explicit sexual video images and disrespect for the health of the mother and life of the unborn by portraying abortion as a trivial procedure, just another form of birth control, without even giving the option of adoption.

We believe that your review of this video will show that “The Choices We Make” is not a good choice for Montgomery County public schools.

Ruth M. Jacobs, M.D.

If you follow the link above you will see that the opening sex scene is a little intense. The boy has his shirt off for some of it, and there is some heavy breathing and, as I recall, a few oh-babies in there. Porn? Maybe Ruth Jacobs has never seen any porn. This could easily be shown on network television. I was surprised when I first saw it and had to think about it because it is so different from what we saw when we were in school, it is different from other school materials. But the fact is, if you're talking about sex in sex-ed class, this is what it's going to look like. Sex doesn't actually look like a sperm cell passing through the vas deferens to the ... Fallopian tubes ... whatever. This video is about choices you have to make, and the production is something that will engage students in a personal way. Students will understand exactly what is going on here and they will relate to it.

In fact, it is noteworthy that these teenagers are not drunk when they have sex, there is no social pressure, the boy does not force the girl into it or trick her, as in most of the videos we have seen. These are two kids who do seem to care about one another -- this is a very realistic portrayal of a situation that many teens might find themselves in.

Did you know students have a right not to be uncomfortable or embarrassed? Man, I wish they'd had that when I was in high school! I was either uncomfortable or embarrassed all the time. Sometimes both.

The CRW is going to back themselves into a corner if they try to present themselves as champions of racial equality. The characters in this video are black but there is no stereotyping, they simply act like people. Black people. Neither of the main characters seems to have a father. The girl's mother is working double shifts. There are no pillars around the front door, no circular staircase leading up to sprawling suites of upstairs bedrooms with a butler waiting to take your hat -- the boy watches sports on TV for a while, then the girl comes in and does a little dance for him, and it goes from there, very realistic. I can't speak for black people, but I think they would appreciate that these characters are not compromised, they talk the way they talk, the music is the music these actual characters would listen to, the things that happen are things that would happen to real people who look like this. By the way, the script was written by a teenager.

There is some question about how this video would be understood in a school, like Damascus, that has very few black students, and my feeling is that maybe health teachers there will choose to show something else. At Einstein everybody will relate to these two kids, they're just like kids that are in your classes. Maybe students at Damascus will miss the point, they might think this is a video about black people, since they see so few of them. This is where I trust health teachers to select materials that are appropriate for the topic and for the audience. Not all classes can handle this, but it is not a mandatory video, it is just something that will be made available. I respect the health teachers enough to trust them to decide whether this is right for their class.

She says the committee has "strongly opposed homosexual labeling." This is nonsense, the committee has taken no position on "homosexual labeling" -- whatever that is! In her mind, because the characters are black and do not talk like her, this must be some terrible form of racist stereotyping. No, sorry, these are some regular black kids, they talk like this. Really. Not every single one, of course, that's silly, this is not a stereotype or a caricature, it's what you would call a group norm. These are normal kids who are black.

Abortion. Of course the CRW is against abortion. That's fine, I don't agree with them but they have an opinion and I have no problem with that, but they don't have much of a point here. This video does not teach about abortion or recommend abortion. A central question for sex education of an adolescent audience has to be this: what do you do when you find you are pregnant? A single teen living with her mom, going to school, has to make a choice. Not everybody will make Bristol Palin's choice, but even Bristol Palin appreciates that she has a choice. In the end of this video you don't know if the pregnancy was terminated or not, the couple share a big emotional hug but you don't know which way it came out.

Oh, and she says nine women died from legal abortions in 2002. According to the National Right to Life web site, there were 1,269,000 abortions performed in 2002. At that rate, I'm guessing abortion is safer than stopping a nosebleed with Kleenex, safer than eating with a sharp fork, safer than walking under a tree in a rainstorm (I'd better stop, this is getting fun). I'm not an expert, but 9/1,269,000 sounds like a small fraction to me.

Can you imagine teaching sex-ed to teenagers and not talking about what to do if you get pregnant? The CRW thinks that question is out of line.

The citizens advisory committee approved this video with a special recommendation that the teacher needs to allow sufficient time for a good discussion. You wouldn't just show this and send kids out into the hall, you want to talk about it. Students will have different views about the things that go on in the script. It is an excellent resource -- it's all about making good choices. The school district needs to stand behind this one and not let the threat of lawsuits bully them into making bad choices. The committee reviewed this, voted, the process was followed, let's move on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

These people (CRC, et al.) will never quit - whining and shrieking and hand-wringing, breast-beating, and hair-tearing are their only raison d'etre. Without something to create a furor over they would cease to exist.
Perhaps getting in touch with today's teenagers, (spending a day in school, walking through the halls and hearing the chit chat, sitting in the cafeteria, listening to their conversations, being exposed to their intimate text messages, etc.) rather than relying on dated and questionable "scientific studies", would actually give them the insight they need to deal with the problems that today's teens must confront and resolve.
One wonders how they would counsel, and what they would say to Cristol Palin - who by her own admission would rather not have become pregnant - "I'm so sorry, dear - but you must realize that your pregnancy probably resulted from your exposure to sex education. If you had only waited, as we did when we were your age, this wouldn't have happened to you."?
CRC's day has come and gone. The hope is that the MCPS Citizens' Advisory Committee will continue to work to achieve the objective of giving our youth the information they need to lead healthy and productive lives - without the constant stone-walling tactics of CRC and its publicity-seeking two or three "leaders".

February 27, 2009 10:18 AM  
Anonymous cate said...

A legal, safe abortion is safer than pregnancy, especially for teens who have a higher rate of comnplications than women over the age of 18.

I read this letter as sour grapes. I didn't get my way, so I'm going to make stuff up.

Do the CRC representatives on the Advisory committee even have kids? It sure doesn't seem that way.

February 27, 2009 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched the film. It's appalling on every level.

February 27, 2009 2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim says....

" 9/1,269,000 sounds like a small fraction to me."

Jim -- You're very inconsistent. For instance, the number of transgenders in our population is a "small fraction" compared to the majority, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone here from feeling that the majority should bow to the minority. I heard Dana Beyer on an interview saying that even one person harmed is too many. Uh, what gives here? Why are these nine dead women worthy of a little joke about bleeding noses, but a few transgenders can turn our laws upside down? Also, extrapolate from this -- if nine women are dead, more are mutilated or injured.

Your little joke about nine dead women is gross, which is why I didn't copy that text again.

February 27, 2009 3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim says..."(I'd better stop, this is getting fun)."

I forgot to mention, in my above post, that Jim even said that talking about the rate of deaths of these women is even "FUN." That's truly unbelievable.

February 27, 2009 3:10 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Go for it, Anon, see how far you can get with that. I'm sure everyone will conclude that I take glee in women dying.

I believe the rate of maternal deaths during childbirth is higher than for abortions. What does that do to this argument?


February 27, 2009 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It does nothing to the argument, Jim, unless you speak of their rate of death in a mocking tone, noting at the end, that you better stop talking about their rate of death because you're just having too much FUN!

We get that you don't think that nine deaths is significant. To have ADMITTED fun talking about it is gross.

You wrote it. Not me. Your words stand on their own.

February 27, 2009 4:27 PM  
Blogger BlackTsunami said...

there seems to be a lot of pettiness here. I don't think jim has to lower himself to play games of semantics.

February 27, 2009 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Black Tsunami,

I can't see how this is a semantical argument. His words were clear as a bell.

A proper response from Jim would simply be an apology.

February 27, 2009 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Black Tsunami,

I can't see how this is a semantical argument. His words were clear as a bell.

February 27, 2009 6:47 PM  
Blogger BlackTsunami said...

whatever anonymous

February 27, 2009 10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James Dobson resigned

February 27, 2009 10:46 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, there may be some good arguments for making abortion illegal or for not telling students that they have that option, but the risk of dying during the procedure is not one of them. Nearly everything has a greater than 9/1,200,000 chance of killing you, and I'm not going to apologize for mocking this meaningless argument. It is much more dangerous to give birth than to have an abortion, and that is probably the relevant comparison.

For readers who have not seen this happen before, let me explain. CRW members lurk on our blog, reading the comments, watching for something they can take out of context and use to horrify their audiences. We have seen our words quoted in school board public comments, Powerpoint slides, court testimony, newspaper articles, all kinds of places. One time a high school kid in the comments here called somebody a "prick" and the CRW put it on a Powerpoint slide and went out and used it in presentations to show "what kind of people Teach the Facts are."

Likely you will soon see a quote somewhere that JimK thinks it's funny that women die having abortions. I'm not going to try to argue with people who are stupid enough to believe that.


February 28, 2009 12:32 AM  
Blogger Emproph said...

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem to me that abortion is something that appeals to anyone as a solution to an unwanted pregnancy.

As Jim says: “The citizens advisory committee approved this video with a special recommendation that the teacher needs to allow sufficient time for a good discussion.” Which would seem to invalidate much of Ruth Jacobs’ complaint.

The video was only several minutes long, and did mention adoption, delivery, abortion, and even the morning after pill. It would take a much longer film to discuss the intricacies of all those options. And though I agree that further detail is desirable, this video wasn’t designed for that.

I found that the video implies that “the choices we make” will often lead to other more serious choices we will have to make. A message I think it delivered beautifully.

The classroom discussion afterward may not be substantive enough to cover all the issues in detail, but to the extent that the students remember it, the inner dialogue will remain. It will be one extra reminder in their minds to avoid those hard decisions that come with an unwanted pregnancy -- whether that be through contraception or abstinence.

And isn’t that really the point, to avoid having to even make those decisions, especially when it comes to abortion?

February 28, 2009 7:35 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

I watched the newly approved film and think it's a great way to get teens thinking and talking about the real consequences of some pretty typical teen behavior. Is it soft porn? I guess if you get aroused watching teenagers making-out on a couch, then it's porn to you. I think the CAC approved a film that will help some teens make better decisions for themselves.

It reminds me of the films of horrible car accidents they showed us back in my day in driver's ed classes. Those films were shocking, but they got teens attention and showed them that some behaviors can lead to some very serious consequences. Those films didn't show teens car wrecks to encourage them to wreck their cars, but in an effort to warn them of the dangers, and to help them think about how they might avoid danger by making better choices about their own behavior. I think this film will be similarly useful.

February 28, 2009 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Above, Anonymous demonstrates for us the meaning of "internet troll." His behave is typical of anonymoi across the blogosphere. It's a genuine personality type.

February 28, 2009 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Ruth said In 2002, the deaths of nine women were reported as a result of legally induced abortions in the United States.

Jim said . According to the National Right to Life web site, there were 1,269,000 abortions performed in 2002.

9/1,269,000 is approximately 0.7/100,000

The CDC reports the maternal mortality rate in the US in 2002 was 8.9/100,000.

So in 2002, it was a lot riskier to try to deliver a full term baby than to have an abortion.

Why are Ruth's and Michelle's letters complaining about abortion being an unsafe option for teenage girls when in fact it is much safer than childbirth? In the year Ruth chose to highlight, 2002, abortion was more than 11 times safer than childbirth.

February 28, 2009 5:50 PM  
Blogger Tish said...

I am favorable impressed by the video. I will write to the BOE and tell them so. I am even more impressed now that I know that the script was written by a teen.

I'm wondering, in what way are black people portrayed as ignorant? Maria is identified as a top student early in the video when Jemel looks at a report card on her refrigerator and reads the glowing reports from her teachers. The camera moves in for a close-up of the phrase "an excellent student." Maria plans to go to college and her mother supports her. This is ignorance, how?

Maria and Jemel are uninformed about their own sexuality; they believe that there is a portion of the month when they can have unprotected sex without risking pregnancy. Good way to make a point about the dangers of basing your sexuality decisions on urban legends. Comprehensive sex ed can help with that.

The conclusion of the story is a little bit ambiguous. To me it seems clear that Maria has had an abortion, but students could certainly debate that. At the clinic Serenity begs Maria not to go through with it and Maria is clearly conflicted as the nurse calls her name. Jemel demands an answer but gets a look. What is she telling him? I can see a classroom of students having a mix of opinions on this. That's what discussion is all about.

To me the take home message is about how difficult this situation is, no matter what choice Maria makes. Abortion is never portrayed as simply an alternative to birth control. Maria knows, and demonstrates in the journaling sequences, that whatever choice she makes it will change her life.

By the way, in answer to Emproph's question in the comments on the other post about this video, Michelle Turner's youngest child is still in MCPS. Her child and one of my children go to school together.

March 01, 2009 9:19 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home