Friday, March 06, 2009

MCPS Overrules Citizens Committee: Video With Black Actors Banned

In February the Montgomery County Public Schools' Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development reviewed a video called "The Choices We Make," which showed a vignette about a teen couple who have sex and then deal with the girl's resulting pregnancy. Committee members were very impressed with the video and voted 7-3 to adopt it, with votes opposed coming from the two members representing court-appointed conservative groups and one other committee member. This week MCPS received complaints from one of those groups, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), and overruled the committee's recommendation, announcing that they would not allow teachers to use the video.

The characters in the video were normal, intelligent teenagers who chose to have sex and then had to consider the consequences of that. The video was banned by MCPS because the actors are black.

An email to the committee -- which I am a member of -- from Betsy Brown, who is Director of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said in part:
... As you may recall, the committee reviewed a DVD, The Choices We Make, for Grade 10 family life and human development. The vote to support its use was For (7), Opposed (3), and Abstain (0), and comments reflected mixed opinions, including concerns about racial stereotypes. In light of these concerns, staff reviewed the DVD again and ascertained the issue of racial stereotyping is significant. As a result, MCPS has decided not to go forward with the use of this DVD.

It is important for you to know the district has been engaged in an extensive initiative for at least two years to ensure that student achievement cannot be predicted by race. Staff members have dedicated much time and effort to learn about and discuss race in our schools and offices. We have confronted potential biases in ourselves and each other and we have challenged assumptions we may make intentionally or unintentionally, including our expectations about academic potential and lifestyle. Staff agreed the DVD counters this initiative.

Two members of the committee are there because the district is required by law to have them. One represents the CRC and the other represents Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays And Gays (PFOX-GAG). They are on the committee as part of a 2005 settlement agreement that was negotiated when CRC sued MCPS and won a temporary restraining order. These two members vote consistently against curriculum materials giving instruction on condoms, sexual orientation, gender identity ... that's why they're there, to represent the extreme conservative viewpoint. They are not representative of our community's values and when they try to push their rightwing agenda they are always outvoted by the rest of the committee. It turns out though that while following the MCPS curriculum development process does not work for them, threatening the school district is very effective.

The two of them voted against the video, plus one other committee member, who as I recall did not make a comment on the video but only voted against it. The committee engaged in a long and thought-provoking discussion of many aspects of the video -- the minutes of the meeting use forty-two bullet points to summarize the discussion (of which four have a racial aspect). This kind of vote is not unusual and the discussion certainly did not provide grounds for MCPS to say "In light of these concerns, staff reviewed the DVD again." Yes, there was a lot to talk about and the group wanted to be careful in its decision-making, but committee members were enthusiastically, overwhelmingly supportive of the video.

The vote was not unusually close and though there was more discussion than usual, almost all members except for the CRC and PFOX members thought it was an exceptionally good resource. MCPS didn't overrule the committee because of the discussion or because there was a close vote. MCPS banned the DVD because they got some letters that subtly threatened to create bad publicity for the district and hinted at suing again.

The district says that the video counters their initiative to close the racial gap in student achievement, but it does not say what this video has to do with that. I would think it would be encouraging to black students to see that they are portrayed in classroom materials as normal teens. A video of a white teen doing something would never be considered stereotyping, but if a black teen is shown, everything they do is presumed to reflect on their racial group. Such an attitude cannot be good for minority students, and MCPS is not doing them any favors with this kind of decision.

The assumption is that white kids can be ordinary teenagers and black teenagers are either stereotypical or exceptions to the stereotype. This is simply a racist trap.

The video follows a teenage couple who have sex when the girl's mother is out of the house working a double shift. The girl, Maria, gets pregnant and they have to decide what to do. It is an excellent story for stimulating discussion, it depicts realistic teenagers in a realistic situation, reacting realistically. Several members of the citizens advisory committee have expressed the opinion that this is the best material we have ever reviewed.

MCPS and Dr. Weast received a letter from the CRC alleging that "All the black students in the video are portrayed as ignorant, ill informed, and ill educated. Black students are depicted using incorrect grammar and spelling. This is pure racial stereotyping." The letter also says the video "could be characterized as soft porn." If you are curious you can review the video at this link:


As for ill-educated and ignorant characters, when the boyfriend, Tramell, goes to Maria's house he stops to read a teacher's note on the refrigerator door that says, "Student shows great potential; has a strong grasp of subject; works with great enthusiasm; student's work is outstanding; Maria is an insightful student -- she is going places." And as far as the video being "soft porn," there is a sex scene where we see Maria's bra strap for half a second and Tramell's bare chest and back for several seconds. There is also some heavy breathing and whispered love-talk. This scene could easily be shown on prime-time network television.

Throughout the sixteen-minute video both characters speak perfectly standard white-American English, they rarely even drop a terminal g, with the following exceptions. At one point Maria says, "But I ain't never heard nothin' like that before." One time Tramell says "I knew dat," rather than the more Caucasian-sounding "that," and he says "ax" instead of "ask" two times, but not always. Tramell's mother uses a double negative in one sentence. These nuances seem realistic and bring the characters to life. Black students in our county's schools will be relieved to see characters like themselves for once -- or they would have been relieved, if the school district had not backed down under unjustified attacks by the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever.

Neither teen seems to have a father, and in one scene Tramell wears a hoodie, these features may be the "racial stereotyping" that the CRC and MCPS object to. They seem to live in a city, which is perhaps also stereotypical. In one part of the video we watch Maria write in her notebook. The entries are spelled perfectly; in fact all the spelling in the video is perfect, as is all the grammar except for the few colloquial usages noted above.

"The Choices We Make" was written by Tiara Bennett, who was a student at Clara Barton High School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, when she wrote this script. She says, "I just wanted to switch things up because I do not believe people should be put into categories according to their gender…I’m excited to have this story contribute to the conversation on teen pregnancy and fatherhood in my community."

Little did she realize that realistic depictions of her racial community would be banned by a suburban Maryland school district, that the movie she wrote could not be shown in MCPS classrooms because the characters are black.

Our group,, formed in December, 2004, to support the school district in implementing a sensible curriculum in the face of reactionary attacks by the CRC and similar rightwing groups, and we felt that, though the gains were very modest, the new curriculum was an encouraging improvement over the previous one. It is heartbreaking to see that MCPS still runs scared from threats by the same tiny handful of extremists.

Sometimes you have to stand up for something that is good, even when there is some controversy. Our county's school administrators didn't even try to resist, they received a couple of letters and said, we can't show this video, it's got black people in it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Betsy Brown:

"staff reviewed the DVD again and ascertained the issue of racial stereotyping is significant"

Jim Kennedy:

"Our county's school administrators didn't even try to resist, they received a couple of letters and said, we can't show this video, it's got black people in it."

March 06, 2009 7:15 AM  
Blogger Tish said...

Wearing a hoodie is a racial stereotype? My blue-eyed blond Irish American brother-in-law and my blue-eyed blond Irish American teen sons do not know this.

Unless there is a hidden bias against Irish Americans, cleverly hidden by the use of African American actors?

One thing that is missing from this discussion is how many non-black students will identify with the situation - a girl with realistic ambitions for a college education now faced with a choice that has no good resolution. The more time I spend with teens, the more impressed I am with their indifference to race.

Recast the the play with blond and red-haired actors. Change the names to Maeve, Tim, and Siobhan. Keep the older, working-class neighborhood, the working parents, and the hoodies. Everything about the script still works.

March 06, 2009 8:58 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Recast the the play with blond and red-haired actors. Change the names to Maeve, Tim, and Siobhan. Keep the older, working-class neighborhood, the working parents, and the hoodies. Everything about the script still works.

Exactly, Tish -- plus, MCPS would allow it in classrooms.


March 06, 2009 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny, Obama does not talk like those depicted in the video. Does that mean he is not black? Oh, I get it Obama is only half black. Shouldn’t students strive to a higher goal no matter what race they are? MCPS seems to get it.

March 06, 2009 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

President Obama has nothing to do with this. The actors in the video talk like typical teenagers.

The actors should not need to be white for this movie to be allowed in MCPS.

The MCPS BOE should remember the Carver building their offices are housed in was built as the MCPS high school for African American students. Black kids were bussed long distances from all over the county, passing other high schools much closer to home en route, to keep other MCPS high schools lily white. Carver wasn't closed until 1960, 6 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

We've come a long way since then and now we coexist, but MCPS is banning a movie featuring black teenagers because of the CRC's penchant to file legal challenges. This is a good film and will foster important discussions for our teenagers. I agree with Tish, teens are indifferent to race -- they won't misconstrue this film like Ruth and Michelle, and apparently now MCPS have.

I expect Ruth and Michelle to over react, but I'm extremely disappointed MCPS has too.

March 06, 2009 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Derrick said...

I´m not worried about the video one bit. I think the CRC has just made it obvious that one of their flaws is that they see another person´s skin color instead of their true being. Once a bigot organization, always a bigot organization.

I think we should use this organization:

We watched these videos when I was in high school and they are not only entertaining, but very informative and to-the-point.

I donate to these people yearly.

March 06, 2009 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

I bet this isn't the last thing we've heard on this.


March 06, 2009 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

get over it, jim and gang.
it was a bad choice dvd from the git go.
finally mcps is using some sense.

March 06, 2009 8:09 PM  
Anonymous svelte_brunette said...

It has been my own personal experience that the best measure of whether or not something is offensive to a minority group is to ask someone from that minority. So the question I have is "Was there any African American input on the decisions for this video?" Or was it just a bunch of old white folks sitting around trying to figure this out?

On another note, the whole sticky and offensive abortion issue could have easily been avoided by depicting a young gay or lesbian couple instead.

Have a nice day,


March 07, 2009 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "banning" of this film by MCPS is a testament to their own ineptitude. Staff is supposed to preview materials that are sent to the Citizens' Committee; it is apparent that whoever was responsible for doing this needs to take one of numerous in-service courses to sensitize him/her/them to the issues presented here. Furthermore, they need to get their heads out of the sand up there in the Ivory Tower and gain a realization of the inherent political fall-out of making such errors. Groups like CRC are always waiting to jump on these kind of slip-ups and turn them into major publicity events for their agenda. MCPS staff needs to be cognizant of their role in contributing to the continuing existence of these bogus groups and also be aware of the Damocles sword of law suits that is always hanging over their heads. The staff has done a tremendous disservice to the volunteers who serve on this committee.

March 08, 2009 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Derrick said...

Yet another crazy, hateful conservative kills:

(CNN) -- The pastor of a Maryville, Illinois, church was shot to death during a service Sunday in front of horrified parishioners who then tackled the gunman, state police said.

Fred Winters, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Maryville, was shot and killed during the 8 a.m. service, and the attacker and two parishioners suffered knife wounds in the attack, said Illinois state police spokesman Ralph Timmins.

The gunman walked in during the service and walked up to the pulpit, opening fire when he was met by Winters, Timmins said. A police dispatcher in Maryville, about 10 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri, told CNN the pastor was shot three times.

Timmins said the gunman's .45-caliber pistol jammed after he shot Winters. The shooter then pulled out a knife and turned it on himself before being tackled by some of the roughly 150 worshippers attending the church.

Two of those who went after the attacker suffered non-life-threatening injuries, while the suspect's injuries are "very serious," Timmins said.

Witness Claudia Bohley told CNN affiliate KSDK she was in the church's foyer waiting for the service to begin when she heard "pop, pop, pop. ... We just couldn't imagine what had happened."

She said she ran into the sanctuary and saw what looked like paper scattered on the pulpit. She said she was later told that the bullet hit Winters' Bible.

"It was like confetti. It went everywhere," she said. "People were down on their knees and on the floor, screaming and praying."

She described Winters -- who is pictured on the church's Web site along with his wife and two children -- as "such a pleasant pastor."

St. Louis University Hospital spokeswoman Laura Keller told CNN three males, including the suspect, were brought to the hospital. One was dead on arrival, she said, but the hospital was not releasing names and ages. She said the second was in an operating room and the third was the suspect, whose condition was not immediately available.

Phone calls to the church office from CNN rang unanswered Sunday. A posting on the church's Web site said a prayer vigil would be held at 6 p.m. at Metro Community Church in Edwardsville, Illinois, about six miles north of Maryville.

First Baptist Church is fairly large, with about 1,000 members, KSDK reported. The church holds four Sunday services.

Timmins said many of the people attending the service remained for hours afterward, as police were conducting interviews.

The Illinois shooting is believed to be the nation's first in a church since July, when a 58-year-old man opened fire in a Knoxville, Tennessee, church during a children's play. Two people were killed and six wounded in that shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

In the Tennessee case, Jim Adkisson told police he targeted the church because of its "liberal teachings," according to court papers. Adkisson pleaded guilty last month in a deal that allowed him to avoid the death penalty and will face life in prison without parole, court officials said.

March 08, 2009 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Derrick, where did you get the idea a crazy conservative was the shooter today?

The church was conservative so it was more likely some radical.

Are you stupid or just lying?

March 08, 2009 3:54 PM  
Anonymous Derrick said...


It´s obvious the guy was religious conservative becuase only religious conservatives kill people becuase those people don´t agree with them or live as they want them to.

Iraq, the gays, racial minorities, people of other faiths...How many liberals do you see lashing out on these people??????

I´m just using your logic, is all. I wanted to see what it was like to live in my own little make-believe world for a moment--but, I prefer reality because I am a liberal.

March 08, 2009 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, I think you are both stupid and lying

liberals are often very violent from the Manson Gang to the SDS to the Symbionese Liberation Army to the Unabomber to that terrorist fellow that B Hussein O used to pal around with

March 08, 2009 6:42 PM  
Anonymous Derrick said...

Nice, AnonBigot.


Srsly-- It´s science that conservatives use fear to get votes and brainwash people, look:


--maybe all that fear could be turned into something positive, like helping the homeless or fundraising to eradicate HIV/AIDS.

Did you call your father studpid and a liar?? I think there are some unresolved issues there...maybe that is where all this hate stems from?

March 08, 2009 8:01 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Sour grapes Jim...sour grapes.

March 08, 2009 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


you said that the guy who attacked a conservative church did so because he was conservative

you're both stupid and lying

March 08, 2009 10:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home