Tuesday, May 13, 2014

MCPS Improves Sex-Ed Curriculum

Ten years ago, Montgomery County Public Schools decided to update their health curriculum, specifically the sex-ed part of it. The Board adopted a new framework right after the election that put GW Bush into office for a second term, when the radical right was feeling they had a mandate to reshape the United States in their image. The new curriculum mentioned homosexuality, and the religious right freaked out and organized to stop it.

Teach the Facts formed, nearly ten years ago, to defend the curriculum from this attack. In the following years there was a lot of publicity, a lot of back and forth, as the school district tried to avoid controversy but hold their ground. One curriculum was thrown out and another was developed and adopted, but it had some very strange stuff in it. Like, teachers were not allowed to say "Homosexuality is not an illness," unless they were asked directly by a student. There were statements by the major medical and mental health associations that discussed the facts about sexual orientation and gender identity, and they were not included in the curriculum. Strangest of all, teachers were not allowed to ad lib the lessons, they had to follow a script verbatim.

Today the school board voted unanimously on some final improvements to the curriculum. Here, let the Washington Post tell you:
Montgomery County school officials could take a major step Tuesday toward updating the district’s teaching of sexual orientation, with proposals calling for introduction of the topic a year earlier in middle school and an end to scripted lessons with required phrasing.

Lessons on sexual orientation are one of just a few topics in the health curriculum — or any Montgomery curriculum — that have faced such careful teaching constraints. Officials said Monday that only a condom demonstration came with similar teaching scripts, and that too would change.

The Montgomery school board is slated to discuss the changes Tuesday as part of a broader review of the health curriculum for secondary students. After the board’s discussion, a 30-day public comment period is expected to begin, with a final board vote set for June 17. Students could see the changes in their classrooms this fall.

Health courses in Montgomery’s secondary schools include such topics as drug abuse, dating violence, the use of social media and stress management. But the topic of sexual orientation has been highly controversial, drawing vocal critics and legal actions.

Scripted lessons arose arose amid efforts to create a new sex-education curriculum after a federal judge in 2005 halted the school system’s lessons because the judge said they seemed to offer only one perspective on homosexuality and dismissed religions that consider it a sin. Many educators found the scripted lessons artificial and unengaging, officials said Monday.

“We’re trying to teach critical thinking skills, and reading from a script doesn’t do that,” said Marty Creel, director of curriculum and instruction, who said he has heard a positive response from department heads. “They see it as a change that’s been long overdue.”

In 2008, a state court judge upheld Montgomery’s sex education lessons, turning down a challenge from religious conservatives who said elected officials violated state law with teaching that sexual orientation is innate.

Years later, it is unclear how much controversy will resurface. Social attitudes have shifted in recent years, with a same-sex marriage law taking effect in Maryland last year. Sexual orientation lessons could change in Montgomery
There is more, including a quote from David Fishback, who has been relentless in seeing this through.

It is incredible to see how far our society has come in ten years. A decade ago it was actually a "controversy," the Nutty Ones insisted that homosexuality was a choice and that if you just didn't tell kids about it they wouldn't choose to be gay. They were loud about it, too, with threats -- remember the message board they tried to hide, but somebody leaked it to us? -- and crazy statements from a bizarre cast of characters.

The school district had to take them seriously, given the state of our society at the time. There was no question that the complainers were right, everything they said went against the known facts, but just their insistence on saying it repeatedly and loudly made it into a controversy. I remember seeing the TV cameras after a school board meeting, all in a big circle pointed at one person who had been complaining about the new curriculum.

All that will fade now into the warm glow of common sense. Kids will go to school and learn some facts about health and human behavior. Maybe some of it will make them kinder, maybe some of it will help them understand why they feel "different." Change always meets resistance, this as much as any other thing, but as David is fond of saying, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Middle School Trash Talk Disguised As Policy Analysis

It is not nice to make fun of bigoted people and call them "nuts" and stuff, but there is absolutely no point in humoring them or pretending that there is a "debate" or anything serious to talk about. If two people love one another it is simply none of your business. If someone believes that they are really a man or really a woman, though they were raised the other way, again, it is simply none of your business. You don't understand it and it doesn't hurt you and it is simply not your place to even suggest that the other person should meet your uninformed expectations.

You may think people who are different from you are funny, you may not be able to understand them, they might even frighten you, but that is not a reason for them to change -- it is a reason for you to change.

The State of Maryland has passed a law guaranteeing certain equal rights to transgender people. And predictably, the nuts are up in arms about it.

Yesterday's Washington Post editorial captured the essence of the situation very well:
MARYLAND THIS year joined 16 states in extending protection to transgender people in housing, lending, employment, public accommodations and other areas. Now a conservative group, including some of the Republicans who opposed the legislation, is trying to force the issue onto the state ballot this fall, in the hopes that voters will reject it. If it manages to get the proposal on the ballot, it’s not likely to prevail if recent history is any guide. Nor should it.

Incredibly, the conservatives’ main line of attack is that the law will turn women’s restrooms into fertile ground for peeping toms disguised in dresses and wigs, even for similarly attired rapists. This is middle school trash talk disguised as policy analysis. There is no evidence that this is a statistically detectable problem in other states that have banned discrimination against transgender people, nor in Maryland localities, such as Montgomery County, that have had similar statutes on the books for years.

For one thing, the law’s rigorous definition of a transgender person — someone whose core identity is expressed by consistent and uniform expression — does not extend to men who might get their kicks wearing dresses to spy on women. For another, transgender people generally already use restrooms consistent with their gender identity, according to their advocates.

More broadly, opponents of the legislation tend to miss its central point, which is to ban the blatant discrimination that transgender people report is pervasive. In a 2011 survey conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 71 percent of transgender people in Maryland said they had experienced harassment or mistreatment at work and 18 percent said they had lost a job or been denied a promotion as a result of their gender identification. Seventeen percent reported having been denied housing. Shocking numbers of students in public schools report harassment (81 percent) and assaults (38 percent). Maryland conservatives’ quixotic fight against transgender protections
I love that: "middle school trash talk disguised as policy analysis." If men were going to dress up as women and lurk in women's restrooms then they would have done that already in one of the more than 190 cities and counties that already ban gender-identity discrimination. And they haven't. It just doesn't happen. This is not really an argument against equal rights for transgender people, it is ... just ... stupid.

It is against the law to leer at someone in a public restroom or shower, or to touch them, peek at them, it doesn't matter what gender either person is. That doesn't change. And nobody does this, anyway, men don't dress up as women to lurk in the ladies room for kicks.

The Post:
In seeking to rally support for overturning the law at referendum, Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) has focused on the supposed risks it may pose in public restrooms. But Mr. Parrott opposed the anti-discrimination legislation several years ago when it did not even include public accommodations.

Republican legislators opposed the legislation en masse, much as they opposed extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants two years ago. In the case of the tuition issue, Maryland voters demonstrated that they were more tolerant than opponents predicted; when Republicans forced that legislation onto the state ballot in 2012, voters upheld it at referendum by a wide margin.

Mr. Parrott and his allies need to gather more than 55,000 petition signatures to compel a vote on the anti-discrimination bill. If they accomplish that, Maryland voters will again have a chance to demonstrate their preference for tolerance.
In Montgomery County they collected a good number of signatures, but so many were fraudulent and fake that the courts threw the petitions out. This guy Parrott has his own web site for these kinds of petitions, and maybe he has checked with a lawyer to figure out how to get legal signers, but I have the feeling he will have a bunch of fakes again.

Part of the reason is that the Nutty Ones are afraid to show their faces. If they sign a legal petition, their name becomes public knowledge. I remember looking through the list last time, and seeing one of my neighbors had signed it. People like to hate but they don't like to own up to it. So I don't think a lot of people are going to put their real names on the petition, just like last time in MoCo.