Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wisdom From Jon Stewart

Yesterday Jon Stewart announced that he will be retiring soon -- it will be a different world without him behind his desk. I wanted to go back to a beautiful statement he made a few years ago, which I felt was a most eloquent and optimistic summary of the American situation.

In 2010 Stewart and Stephen Colbert had a rally that was attended by more than 200,000 people. Colbert called it the "March to Keep Fear Alive," in keeping with his role as a conservative pundit, and Stewart called it the "Rally to Restore Sanity."

Addressing the crowd, Jon Stewart pointed to a scene of the Holland Tunnel on the Jumbotron and said:
These cars—that’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car-a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, (referring to the Jumbotron blowing in the wind) swinging, I don’t even know if you can see it—the lady’s in the NRA and she loves Oprah. There’s another car—an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go.

And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.
Sanity: live and let live.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Curriculum Changes: World Does Not End

Well, it's official. I have not been keeping up the blog. formed in 2004 to protect our Montgomery County school district from assault by radical conservatives, and largely that assault has been successfully repelled. For a long time there was breaking news nearly every day as a handful of extremists tried to keep any mention of sexual orientation out of the schools. The press loved them but they had zilch in terms of community support. These days we don't hear much from them. And I have not been very diligent about maintaining this blog.

The curriculum was an improvement but it was not what we wanted. For instance, teachers were not allowed to say that homosexuality is not a disease, unless a student specifically asked that question. And, very weird, teachers were not allowed to "teach," they were required to read scripts discussing sexual orientation and correct condom use. Can you imagine being a kid and trying to figure out what is going on? What happened to my teacher, she was a nice lady and now she is reading this stuff to us.

Last summer the school board proposed improvements to the curriculum -- including "descripting" -- and asked for public comment. Their official wording:
WHEREAS, On February 13, 2001, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved a curriculum policy that guides the development, implementation, and monitoring of curricula throughout the school system; and

WHEREAS, A draft curriculum framework was developed for secondary health education; and

WHEREAS, The draft curriculum framework was shared with stakeholders and additional feedback was received during a public comment period from May 13 to June 13, 2014; and

WHEREAS, Feedback and input from stakeholders and public comments have been used to develop and refine the Secondary Comprehensive Health Education Curriculum Framework; now therefore be it

Resolved, That the Montgomery County Board of Education grants final approval of the Montgomery County Public Schools Secondary Comprehensive Health Education Curriculum Framework, which combines National Health Education Standards skills and Montgomery County Public Schools content standards as the foundation for the development of the Secondary Health Education Curriculum. Board Memorandum
The school district got 61 comments, of which 15 were opposed to the changes. They are summarized in the linked memo, along with documentation of the changes. Nobody can complain that this was a "stealth maneuver" or anything, the anti-gay side heard about it -- even Family Research Council monkey-monk Peter Sprigg spewed spoke to the board. None of this made the newspapers at the time, well there is no reason why it would. Extry extry, health class changes! Read all about it!

Mostly people were supportive, even enthusiastic about the changes. It is kind of fun to read. Even the "aberrant sexual behaviors" comments are colorful and folksy, in their way.

The June 2014 memo says:
In the 2014–2015 school year, MCPS will implement the shift away from scripted lessons on sexual orientation and proper use of a condom. In the 2015–2016 school year, updated courses in Grades 6, 7, and 8 will be implemented. The implementation of the updated high school course will begin in the 2016–2017 school year. Each school will continue to provide parents with the opportunity to review the Family Life and Human Sexuality and Disease Prevention and Control curriculum and resources, and parents will be permitted to decide whether their children will participate in these units.
Sometimes it seems embarrassing when people are afraid to do what's right. When this curriculum was being developed, everyone knew what needed to be done but they were afraid of bad publicity. There might have been as many as a dozen active members in the group opposed to any mention of sexual orientation and condom use, in a county of a million residents. Still, the school district went to extreme lengths to listen to them, to humor them as they ranted about anal sex and every other thing, and in the end they weakened the curriculum to accommodate the hateful views of a radical minority. There are lots of important reasons to inform our young citizens about sexual orientation and gender identity, to teach them how to use a condom correctly, and it is important not to undermine the lessons with pedagogical techniques that imply that the subject is shameful or even controversial.

At the time, we hoped that the small victory would open the door for progress, and it did.