Saturday, April 30, 2005

They Need A Better Comparison Group

This web site,, is here to provide support for the new sex-education curriculum in the Montgomery County public schools. Some people have attacked it, but we think it's really pretty good, certainly nothing to get in a tizzy about. The Family Life and Human Sexuality curriculum is one part of a comprehensive health curriculum that includes all sorts of other things, from personal hygiene to mental health. Kids come to school, and this is one of their classes. For less than an hour a day for several weeks they sit through a class, learning about sex in its many aspects, bam-bam-bam, one thing after another, and then on to the next class.

A couple of posts down I mentioned a Washington Times article about a program that resulted in fantastically high abstinence rates among the girls who participated in it: Abstinence program shows results. I didn't really talk about the program, but about some things that were said about us. It's time to talk about the program.

The program referred to in the Times, called Best Friends (the girls' component is called Diamond Girls), is not like our sex-ed curriculum. It's not what we'd call an "abstinence program" in the usual sense of the word -- it's not part of a health class, but an all-absorbing lifestyle-monopolizing course that we would call, if we lived in the South, "finishing school." Here's what the girls do (from their web site):

What Is Best Friends?
Best Friends is a school based character-building program for girls that begins in the sixth grade and continues until high school graduation. Best Friends provides a developmentally sound curriculum in an educational setting which promotes fun, companionship, and caring. When Best Friends girls reach ninth grade, they enter the Diamond Girls Leadership program designed to keep girls interested, involved, and committed to abstinence through high school and until marriage. All Diamond Girls participate in the Diamond Girls Jazz Choir or Performance Dance Troupe which fosters discipline as well as the social and presentation skills important for future success. Our goal is for all Diamond Girls to graduate from high school with specific college, vocational, or career plans.

Best Friends provides a character-building curriculum with an abstinence-only philosophy, an intensive peer support structure, and long-term adult involvement. Each year, Best Friends girls receive at least 110 hours of instruction, mentoring, and group activities.

The Best Friends Curriculum includes:

Group Discussion
Girls discuss and receive guidance on the topics of friendship, love and dating, self-respect, decision-making, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, physical fitness and nutrition, AIDS and STDs. Group discussion sessions are conducted during the school day at least once a month.

Role Model Presentation
At least twice a year distinguished women from the community meet with the girls to discuss their own lives and families and the important decisions they made when they were young.

Mentor Meetings
Each Best Friends girl has a mentor, a member of her school faculty, who meets with her for 30 to 45 minutes each week. Girls select their own mentors from a list of teachers who have agreed to participate.

Fitness and Nutrition Classes
Best Friends girls participate in a weekly fitness/dance class.

Community Service
Girls are required to participate in at least one community service project each year such as Race for the Cure, clothing drives to benefit the homeless, adopting a community day care center, and reading to children.

"Make Music Not Madness"
This is our new all-school outreach effort designed to deliver the messages of abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex to the entire student body. Our goal is to utilize Best Friends and Best Men as role models for their fellow students, helping them say "no" to risk behavior and "yes" to positive music and positive choices.

Cultural Enrichment Activities
We provide opportunities for the girls to attend uplifting cultural events, including theater and dance performances, concerts, and exhibits.

Annual Family and School Recognition Ceremony
At the end of the school year, the Best Friends girls, Diamond Girls, mentors, and parents are honored. The ceremony is held to showcase the Best Friends girls and Diamond Girls and their commitment to the Best Friends messages through music, dance, and public speaking. Girls are recognized by their family, school, community, and national leaders. College scholarships, awards, and prizes for outstanding essays are presented. What Is Best Friends?

The Times reported on a study that compared the Diamond Girls to ordinary high-school students:
The Diamond Girls were more than 100 times less likely to engage in premarital sex than high school girls who were not in the program, study author Robert Lerner said yesterday.
The Lerner study compared several years of data on Best Friends girls in the District with data from girls of the same age and in school districts that were part of the federal Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS).

Mr. Lerner found that Best Friends girls were eight times less likely than YRBS girls to use drugs and more than six times less likely to have premarital sex -- both strong outcomes.

Best Friends girls were more than twice as likely to not smoke and almost twice as likely to not drink alcohol as YRBS girls. More than 2,700 girls were involved in this comparison.

The paper is not available online, but I'm sure that Dr. Lerner partitioned his variance in such as way as to account for the differences between girls who choose to join the program and those who did not, sampling bias, that is. (Especially since he is probably best known for a paper criticizing other studies for their methodology, including sampling error.)

But is the general population a proper comparison group? Ordinary kids have time during the day to do things, like date and socialize and hang out, things that sometimes lead them into situations where they have to make hard decisions. These girls, it sounds like, were kept busy, singing jazz songs, attending enriching events, serving their communities ... not a fair comparison.

I think it would have been more appropriate to compare abstinence and drug use between the Diamond Girls and a group of Catholic girls who have chosen to become nuns and are living in a convent. Because if abstinence rates are a hundred times higher for the Diamond Girls, I'd bet they're thousands of times higher for teenage nuns. I'll bet you could go a long time before you even found a teenage nun who used drugs at all, and I think -- I hope -- that very nearly all of them are virgins.

Look, if you want your daughter spending all her time doing community service, attending enrishing events, meeting with mentors, and being a role model for ... the kids who have lives ... then you can be pretty sure to keep that hymen intact until she leaves high school, at least.

The public schools are not going to provide that through the health curriculum. All the health curriculum does is teach health. And as it is proposed, it is doing a really good job of that.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Moral Relativism: A Quick Comment

"OMFSerge" at Imago Dei has promised to respond to my comments on his statements about our web site, the MCPS curriculum, and moral relativism. Really, he was too easy to criticize, because he didn't make a case at all. He made an assumption that "moral relativism" is some terrible philosophical conundrum, and then tried to twist the curriculum's wording to show that MCPS is ... morally relativistic.

But this idea of moral relativism is kind of interesting. The phrase is an accusatory one that people of faith use to describe people who seem to believe that right and wrong are different for different people. Their faith tells them that there is only one source of the distinction between good and evil, and that source just happens to be the god that they believe in. As they argue, if everybody gets to make up their own version of morality, then right and wrong don't really exist, they are meaningless concepts.

Now, we could argue, I'm sure, till doomsday about the details of good and evil, right and wrong, and morality and human values in general. I don't think anybody's going to win that argument.

Here's the way out of the conundrum -- and yes, it is a conundrum, just not a philosophical one, it is a practical one.

An example. Before the United States attacked Iraq, George W. Bush and Pat Robertson were sitting together in a room, praying and talking. And Pat says, "Mr. President, you better prepare the American people for casualties." Because, as he said later, "The Lord told me it was going to be, A, a disaster and, B, messy." But according to Pat Robertson, Bush said, "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties." (Bush Predicted No Iraq Casualties, Robertson Says.)

So, there you have two men who listen to God, and God is telling each of them something different. You have to note that these are two guys who worship the same god, in very similar ways. Now imagine how it would have been if, say, the Dalai Lama were in the room. Or the Ayatollah Khomeini. What would God have said to Mahatma Ghandi, or Mother Theresa? I know he was telling the Rev. Jesse Jackson something else again.

For the sake of argument, let's say that right-and-wrong do come directly from God. The next question is going to be -- whose god does it come from?

Here's the answer we're getting from the religious right these days: it's the majority's god.

How do ya think Jesus would have felt about that? Did he say something like, Blessed are the numerous, for they shall outshout softer voices? No, of course it's absurd to think that God's will is determined by popular vote. Yet religious groups are up to here in American politics, influencing votes and even corporate decision-making in an effort to implement "God's will" across the land.

At this time, in Montgomery County especially, we have a society with very many points of view, and a public school system that teaches all of them. Even if the only judge of good and evil is God, we don't have any way of deciding whose god will be the official one. Is it the one who says that homosexuality is an abomination, or the one who says that we should judge not? Is it the one who urges war on sin, or the one who soothes and urges detachment, saying that all mortal life is an illusion?

There's one other thing about this moral relativism business. It does not seem reasonable to me that an all-knowing God would want His people to go around being disrespectful of the rest of the human race. They may pity them, but I don't really think He wants His believers to think of the rest as fools. The moral relativistic argument presumes that unbelievers are incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, unable to make moral choices. Yet there are very many people who do not worship the Evangelistic Protestant Christian God but are very concerned about morality, about issues of right and wrong, good and evil. Among these are people who make very fine distinctions, who spend most of their time considering the morality of behaviors, who have very well-considered and self-consistent structures and processes for the interpretation of morality. Are these people simply wasting their time?

I don't think so.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Going Over This Again (... and again ... and again...)

Ex-Recall is jeering at us about a new study that demonstrates an abstinence program that seems to work. Well, the author of the study is a friend of mine, and he's an excellent methodologist, and the article is not available online, so I'm not going to comment on it. I was going to write to him and his co-researcher wife for a copy of the paper, but didn't think that would be very nice to ask for a favor and then criticize the article. And anyway, if somebody does have a way to keep teenagers from going wild, I'm eager to hear it -- I've got two of my own.

What I want to comment on is stuff like this:
Oh, I can hear our opponents jeering and screeching now, because of course, they can't abide by any program that actually encourages young teens to abstain.

And this:
They think it is every teenager's God-given right (oops -- maybe not, sorry TTF!) to engage in sexual activity if they want to -- that is why all the fuss about opposing our efforts to make sure teens get all the facts about the dangers of early sexual experimentation -- what it can do to them physically, emotionally and yes, spiritually.

Let's go over this again.

There are plenty of good reasons for a teenager to abstain from sex. The two obvious ones, that nobody disagrees about, are the risk of unwanted pregnancy and the risk of infection. We don't need to go over those again. There are lots of other good reasons. Many of them are included in the new MCPS sex-education curriculum.

For instance,
  • The curriculum talks about how being sexual active can lower your self-esteem. Remember? Ex-Recall was horrified by that
  • Sexual activity for teens can lead to disappointment. Yes, that's what the school will be teaching eighth-graders
  • Being sexually active in your teen years can lead to depression and even suicide -- this is what they're taught in eighth grade
  • You might lose your friends -- the schools will be teaching them this fact
  • Kids will be taught that promises made before sex are often forgotten afterwards
  • Being sexually active can damage your self-concept: MCPS is going to teach that
  • They will be taught that the "negative results" of sexual activity for teens "far outweight the positive"
  • Abstinence, they will be taught, enables you to preserve your self-esteem, and is the best choice "before marriage and for teens" -- this is what MCPS is going to teach eighth-grade students
  • Tenth graders will be taught about date/acquaintance rape, statutory rape, sexual harassment and sexual assault -- good stuff to know about, don't you think?
  • They will be taught that abstinence "permits relationship to develop without sexual pressures" -- a good thing
  • Students will learn a lot about the responsibilities and lifestyle changes that accompany pregnancy and parenthood, and they do not look sweet for unwed teens
  • Tenth graders will be encouraged to make a "commitment to chastity"

This is a program that supports.

As long as I'm bulleting items, here's something else to think about:
  • DOES NOT support any program that brings the teachings of any particular religion into the classroom
  • We DO NOT hate gay or transgendered people or find them abnormal or diseased, and do not approve of the school teaching prejudicial non-truths about them
  • We certainly DO NOT think that teenagers should experiment with sex, though we are not so naive as to expect all or even most of them to wait until marriage
  • We DO believe that students should be given all the facts about reproduction and contraception, as they will someday be adults and will almost certainly engage in sexual intercourse at some time in their lives

One last strange thing they get into over there:
These activists want our kids to believe that everything that used to be wrong is right, that everything that was considered abnormal is normal and that MCPS has the right to teach our kids these things whether we like it or not.

I am sympathetic, but for reasons you might not understand. It does appear that someone wants us to believe that "everything that used to be wrong is right." I'm thinking about such things as violence, war, greed, intolerance, lying, hatred ... I know that's not what you meant, though. I guess we're just all getting old, wishing for the good old days.

Look, it is perfectly appropriate for you to teach your children what you think is and is not appropriate behavior. There have always been differences between people, and between societies, as far as what they consider proper and acceptable behavior, sexual and otherwise. It is not appropriate to take your particular group's norms -- which, don't get me wrong, are fine for you to apply to yourself -- and force other people to live by them. This is America, and we have this thing called "liberty," and we live in the belief that people are free to express themselves as they wish, to be what they feel they really are, within the bounds of a law that secures our liberty. If you want to be conservative in your personal beliefs and behavior, well, cool, I hope you're happy. Others may choose otherwise, and again, cool, be happy. Obey the law and mind your own business and we'll all be fine.

And it really is wrong, it really is despicable, to put words in other people's mouths that they have never said and would never agree with, in order to make yourself look better. If you consider yourself "moral" by ordinary standards, you know that's wrong.

Bible Study in Texas Public Schools

In Odessa, Texas, kids are going to study the Bible in the public school.
Students in a West Texas town will have the opportunity to take a class not offered in most public high schools — Bible studies.

Tuesday night was not a usual Odessa school board meeting. There was full house, as more than 300 people rallied to voice their support for the proposed Bible class. Outside, the scene was more like a church service than a public meeting as supporters sang and prayed.

All but a few people who showed up at the meeting supported the measure, and in the end the Ector County School Board put its stamp of approval on the idea with a unanimous vote. The decision was met with a standing ovation and cheers. Texas public school bringing Bible to classroom: School board votes for elective high school class
Well, that's a nice compromise. Teach religion in the schools, and call it ... religion. Teach the Bible, and call it "Bible study."

They hoo-hah outside the building, and give a standing ovation, because the school's going to teach a Bible study course. Can't they see, this is the way it makes sense?

You might remember earlier this month, when I quoted the editor of Science saying, "Some of us who worry about the separation of church and state will accept tablets that display the Ten Commandments on state premises, because they fail to cross a threshold of urgency."

I think that some people fail to see what the problem is. There wouldn't be any big deal if the public school taught ancient Greek literature. There would be a problem if they went into an Earth Sciences class and started teaching kids that the earth is flat and rests on the back of an elephant who stands on a tortoise. Or is it a tortoise on the back of an elephant?

I don't think most people care if there is an elective class on the Bible. Actually, it sounds interesting, the Bible has a lot of fascinating stuff in it, it is one of the central documents of our culture, it's great literature on a grand scale.
That hasn't been an issue in another West Texas town. In Big Spring, Texas, about 50 miles from Odessa, the public high school has offered elective Bible studies classes for more than six decades.

"In the 19 years of my employment with Big Spring Independent School District, I don’t remember any resistance or controversy at all with Bible curriculum being taught to our high school students," said Big Spring High School Principal Mike Ritchey. "I hope Humanities will be offered for another 65 years," he said referring to the Bible class.
If people have a rich Christian culture and want that culture brought into the classroom, even a public school classroom, then it should be brought in undisguised, not as "science" but as religion, which is what it is. There is still a Constitutional issue to haggle out, whether it's appropriate to commit taxpayer's funds to such a thing, but that can be managed. It says here that in Big Spring the class is funded by churches and businesses, so the tax thing is not even an issue.

I say, if it's religion, call it religion. The Constitution talks about "separation" of church and state, it doesn't talk about elimination of either one of them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Too Rich, We Had to Mention It

I shouldn't, I know, but I was looking at the Ex-Recall blog. You know, "a group of parents and taxpayers who want the Montgomery County, MD Board of Education to be responsible in their sex education curriculum." Well, today they're going crazy over this book, Alice on the Outside. Listen to this:
Mental Molestation By 'Educators'

Montgomery County is setting for offensive children's "fiction"

From the sick minds of 'educators' comes this book in the Alice series, whose sole purpose is to destroy the innocence of children disguised as education. Hiding behind the label 'educator', these people should be more rightly called mental molestors.

Sex/Sexuality "Education" Book in Elementary and Middle Schools

Alice on the Outside is the 11th book in the "Alice" book series. Alice is now a 13-year old and in 8th grade. This book is mainly focused on sex and boys but has two other significant subplots. One is about a lesbian friend and homosexual advocacy/acceptance in general. The other subplot is about a "Consciousness-Raising Week" training session in school...

For weeks, maybe months, I've been thinking it's funny that the Ex-Recall people say they don't want to recall the school board, but they keep saying things, like calling them "mental molestors" and so on. Like, in the post before this one, they say, "We are here to stay, and we can’t wait until election day." Mmm, that's a darkly veiled threat, eh?

But then I started reading this, and I realized -- it isn't even our school district that has this book. All these schools they mention are in Fairfax County, Virginia!

The big scandal is that the book is set in Montgomery County!

Can you imagine that? They want to go through other counties' school libraries, complaining about books that mention Montgomery County in an unpuritanical way!

Oh, this is rich.

Sextravaganza Update

Well, they had the Sextravaganza at George Mason. Sounds like everyone had a good time, nothing got out of hand, everybody learned something.

Here's how NBC4 put it:
FAIRFAX, Va. -- A controversial health fair called Sextravaganza was held Monday at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va.

Organizers hoped the one-day event sponsored by the Pro-Choice Patriots student group would raise awareness about such issues as safe sex, date rape and sexual health.

"I was definitely a little nervous because after all the publicity there were high expectations," student organizer Amanda Agan said.

The extra publicity came from Virginia State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, who questioned the appropriateness of a health fair called Sextravaganza being organized by pro-choice students.

"They're selling their product," he said. "They are selling abortions."

The event included 15 booths with information on abstinence, condoms and self-help exams, as well as sexual orientation. But for every one opinion, there was opposition just a few steps away, News4 reported.

GMU student Shannon Smith said it was an opportunity to learn about female condoms.

"I've never seen them before in my life and here they are sitting on the table so I thought I'd ask because any form of birth control is great," she said.

For Tdisho Doe, it was a lesson in pro-life views.

"I was surprised when she said you have your heart beating at 18 days," she said. "I didn't know that."

University officials said the health fair was a success despite a letter Monday morning from six members of the Virginia House of Delegates saying, "We are concerned that the frivolous manner in which human sexuality is being treated here with the GMU approval is counter-productive to the best interests of Virginia's citizens." GMU Officials Call Sextravaganza A SuccessM

You wonder about these puritans who always have to blow everything out of proportion -- are they ever embarrassed? Do they blush in the privacy of their offices, when they learn that kids go to school and learn about sex and don't run out and do everything they learned about, or that somebody taught them about gay people and they didn't turn gay? Does it embarrass them? Or are they already busy, trying to stop somebody else from doing some harmless thing?

I mean, I can't imagine what that's like, always having to control everybody else.

Phobes Phinest Sneak Preview

The Ex-Recall town hall meeting last month, I am realizing, actually did us a service. Yes, it turns out the Ex-Recall concert featured up-and-coming artists who would have some of the biggest hits on the Maryland Homophobe Top Ten. Artists like Tres Kerns, whose "Cant' Get Enuff (of that Gay Porn Stuff)" has rocked the house all over the state, and Peter Sprigg -- who would've guessed his "Everybody Was Wrong About the Gay Boys" would be such a monster hit in the Phobe crew countdown?

I'd have to say Don Dwyer actually made his name at the Ex-Recall gig, bringing the place down, baby, down, with his remake of "Baby, I Bring You All My Hate and Fear." And, though it wasn't exactly new, we were all glad to hear the smooth, familiar sound of Bobby Knight's "People Dig It, I Ain't No Bigot."

Some of these artists are teaming up again in a concert in Annapolis: Petition-alooza.
ANNAPOLIS (AP) -- Conservative and Christian groups are mounting a wide effort against bills passed in the recent General Assembly session that they say promote a homosexual agenda.

The legislation would add homosexuals to the categories of people protected under Maryland's hate-crime laws, allow unmarried couples to make property transfers without paying state or local transfer taxes, and require schools to report bullying incidents.

Tres Kerns, executive director of and Take Back Maryland, filed petition requests last week with the Maryland State Board of Elections to repeal the bills through voter referendums.

Mr. Kerns' groups, with the Christian Coalition of Maryland, Defend Maryland Marriage and the Family Protection Lobby, also support petition efforts by Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., Anne Arundel Republican, to repeal a bill that would give unmarried couples medical decision-making rights. Groups target bills on gay rights

Oh, yes, each one of them is a-true-Looza, fer real, man.

And did you catch Peter Sprigg singing "The CRC Say It (So It Must Be So)" on MSNBC the other day? He wowed the audience by bringing back the old James Brown "cape" routine -- shouting "Wait! Wait! Let me interject something!" and returning to the stage, still alive but pitiable. (Some people say he looks just like Elton John, what do you think?)

And Concerned Woman Bobby Knight has been stirring things up, too. Inspired by the USGA's decision to allow transgender athletes to compete in their golf tournaments, Knight wrote what may be his most powerful piece yet, "Can't Swing The Lady's Club (If You Were Ever a Man)." Here are some lyrics to that one, which I believe will be his biggest evah -- evah, baby:
"The USGA has now surrendered to the decadence and political correctness that is sweeping over Europe. One would have thought that the USGA would have had more backbone. The women's golf tour should be about women, not castrated males." USGA to allow Transgender Athletes

Oh yeah! Just seeing the words written down -- jus' layin' there, if you know what I mean -- makes ya want to git up and shake it! Oh yeah: Decadence and political correctness! I can get wid dat.

A big shout-out and tHaNkZ to Ex-Recall for assembling some of the Phobes' Phinest for a sneak preview of the HomoHaterHits of 2005. Now when we read the news, we feel like we've actually been there.

Monday, April 25, 2005

We Get Mail

I'll tell ya, you don't realize what we're up against here. received this important message:
I just wante dto inform you that, youre site has a link section or resource section. The section for minorities, have links to pro gay and pro abortion groups. And after emailing these groups I think they also support there aganeda. The latin group has come out with a book dealing with latino same sex, issues.
Just wanted to alert you, I am a minortiy and amember of P-FOX, and would encourage you to add a link for those seeking help from homosexuality.
Jxxxx [name deleted]

OK, OK, I'm convinced, I'm switching sides -- where do I sign up?

Sextravaganza Today

George Mason University today is holding an event called "Sextravaganza," a campus-wide sex and health fair. Of course, certain holier-than-thou types are outraged ... we'll get to that.

From the campus newspaper, Broadside:
Sex is a subject that many college students avoid really talking about. Creating a dialogue about sex and the many issues that go along with it is a goal of Pro-Choice Patriots. Pro-Choice Patriots is a group often associated with abortion issues, but as Sextravaganza proves, the organization is about more than one issue.

Sextravaganza will be held on April 25 from 12-5 p.m. in Dewberry Hall. It is a day to raise awareness on the George Mason University campus about the many pleasures and pains that come along with sex.

Different groups from Mason and the metro area will have tables set up with information for students. Groups who will be involved from Mason are the PRIDE alliance and Sexual Assault Services. Groups from Fairfax and the surrounding area that are scheduled to be present are Men Can Stop Rape, D.C. Advocates for Youth, Falls Church Healthcare Clinic and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Falls Church Healthcare Clinic will be offering private, 15-minute consultations with a resident medical student for free.

Other highlights of the event will be emergency contraception, which can be received on campus, sexuality jeopardy and free condoms. There will also be a table set up where students can sample aphrodisiacs and Northern Virginia Aids Ministry will be giving free oral AIDS tests.

Pro-Choice Patriots president Amanda Agan said, "What we're trying to do is show all different aspects of the issue." She believes that having groups such as Catholic Campus Ministry in Sextravaganza will "give these students an outlet and everyone can come to the event without being uncomfortable."

The ultimate purpose of Sextravaganza is to create a dialogue. For more information about the event, contact Amanda Agan at Making Sex Fun, Making Sex Safe: A Dialogue

Now, you can see that this is sort of designed to upset a few people. But why not?

This may be off the topic, but here's what I wonder: how many of the people who advocate abstinence until marriage were actually abstinent until they were married?

I heard a Family Research Council guy saying that the other day, "We think sex outside of a lifelong committed marriage between a man and a woman is a bad thing to do as well." And I really wanted to ask him -- were you a virgin when you got married?

Somebody actually asked Ann Coulter that last week, when she was blabbing about abstinence. Somebody from the audience asked her (she is unmarried) if she is a virgin. She refused to answer.

Now, your first thought is, this is a personal question, and nobody should have to answer it. BBBBRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!! Wrong.

There are two answers to this question, when asked of a public figure who goes around promoting abstinence until marriage. The first answer is, "Yes, I was a virgin when I married, and I am very proud of that fact." The other answer is, "Mmm, I guess I ought to stop talking about this, shouldn't I?"

The answer you'd expect -- "That's a private matter and it's none of your business" -- should make you wonder why they can talk about other people's sex lives, but other people can't talk about theirs. Excuse me, your hypocrisy's showing.

So these students in Virginia are having their Sextravaganza today, on campus. The Post says:
"I'm absolutely disgusted that GMU would be permitting that kind of thing to go on," Del. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) said of Monday's event. "They're going to ruin their reputation as a first-class university if they don't put a stop to this." Lawmaker Decries GMU Health Fair, 'Moral Depravity'

Well, who's surprised?

More from The Post:
Organizer Amanda Agan, 21, a global affairs major from Fairfax County, said groups from a variety of perspectives had been invited to participate, including the Feminist Majority Foundation and the campus's Catholic ministry.

"We're not trying to have a political agenda. We'll have all sides at this event, so everybody can feel comfortable coming," Agan said.

[State Sen. Ken] Cuccinelli disputed that.

"This whole thing is really just designed to push sex and sexual libertine behavior as far, fast and furiously as possible," he said.

Once again, the fear of Talking About It. The assumption that talking about sex is going to make everybody revert to their basest animal nature, rutting and orgying in the mud, as if orgy were a verb.

This event is going to have sessions on topics like date rape, contraception, abstinence, and sexual health. But these politicians want to paint it to be a licentious wild time. We've seen this here in Montgomery County, where the holier-than-thou crowd was unable to distinguish between a health class and porn. They have been a minor but persistent irritation here, and it looks like they also failed to stop Sextravaganza at George Mason University.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Times on the Changes

I'll tell ya, this thing just gets interestinger and interestinger. A real study in human behavior.

In case you haven't been following the situation as closely as we have here at, let me back up. The source of information for the new Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum has been a school board report from November of last year. The report contained only the sections that had been changed (so, for instance, it didn't include the "abstinence" section, because it stayed the same), and it contained tons of historical detail about the development process, recommended lots of teachers' resources, etc.

Well, some people in the community had an agenda. They were against homosexuals, in favor of abstinence-till-marriage, and would like to have their religious values taught in the public school classroom. And this new curriculum didn't advance their agenda very well, so they attacked it. They took two approaches. First of all, they looked at all the teachers' resources, that is, readings recommended for teachers to learn about these topics, but not for use in the classroom, and they took quotes from those resources and told people this was being taught in the classroom. So, for instance, if a resource said "Use inclusive language," they would say "Never say husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend as this may alienate a boy or girl in class," as if this was what the teachers would have to do. Or even better, they would take a resource, and look at another publication by the same organization, and act as if that was being taught to students.

But the main thing they did was to take phrases from the board's report and twist them. Where it said, for instance, where the curriculum outline said "As we study human sexuality we will discuss how you develop your individual sexual identity," they twisted this to mean that the school was encouraging children to have sex. In time, as real criticisms of the curriculum turned out to be ridiculous, opponents of it depended more and more on these word-twisting tactis. At last month's "town hall" hate-fest, Ex-Recall president Michelle Turner gave a talk that was entirely based on misinterpretation and taking things out of context, and most of the other speakers only talked about how evil homosexuals are.

Last week the Teacher's Editions of the MCPS sex-ed curriculum were published on the web, and, as we pointed out several posts below this one, a few things were changed. Nothing of content, but wording had been changed in several places to make it a little harder to twist things around. This from The Times today:
The Montgomery County public school system has changed parts of its new sex education curriculum after parents criticized it as favoring a homosexual agenda and encouraging promiscuity.

'It's a teeny little step in the right direction,' said Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for Responsible Curriculum.

Educators have removed a sentence in the curriculum that said: 'Sex play with friends of the same gender is not uncommon during early adolescence.'

In addition, the school system has removed a statement that said students would 'discuss how you develop your sexual identity.'

Curriculum coordinator Russell Henke, who reports to the school board, is responsible for the changes. He did not return phone calls seeking comment on why the changes were made.

'We think [the school system] has realized that their wording was misleading and that it needed to be corrected, and we are hoping that they will continue to realize that there are pieces of the revised health curriculum that will cause some real health issues for students,' said Mrs. Turner, a mother of six.

Her group -- Citizens for Responsible Curriculum -- formed in December to protest and oppose the new curriculum after the board approved it unanimously in November. Montgomery schools revise sex ed course after backlash

Really, what are they gonna do now? Yesterday I heard a big monkey-monk from the Family Research Council refer to this as a "pro-homosexual" curriculum. But what're they going to do, if the district keeps changing the wording so they can't twist it to mean whatever they want it to mean? Because, as is obvious to anyone who reads the outlines, there is nothing remotely "pro-homosexual" about it.
David Fishback, who heads the citizen advisory committee that crafted and recommended the curriculum to the school board, approved of the changes as well.

'It made eminent sense,' he said.

The phrases about sex play and developing a sexual identity 'turned out to be pretty misleading and created a lot of confusion and there was a lot of distortion,' Mr. Fishback said.

'It is interesting that the two phrases that have been administratively adjusted are the very phrases that the CRC has used to try and create misrepresentations about what the curriculum is,' he said. 'They don't have those two quotes anymore.'

The controversy over the county's sex education course has drawn attention from across the country, in large part because of its teachings about homosexuality and the county's reputation as a national education leader.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Letter From the Editor -- Great!

Hey, this is great. The Sentinel is a local newspaper, you have to pay to see it online, so I'm including this whole letter to -- and from -- the editor.

This is classic. The materials that are mentioned in Regina Griggs' letter are teacher resources, yet she wants readers to think they are being used in the class. Teachers can read whatever they need to, to get up to speed on issues that they may have little knowledge of. The school board recommended some reading. These things don't go into the classroom, but a teacher might very well wonder, how do you talk to a gay student? How do you treat them?

The best part of this is the editor's response at the end. Beautiful.
LETTERS To the editor;

In Brian J. Karem's editorial (Extreme distortion compounded by a bed of lies), Mr. Karem says that the Montgomery County public schools are not pressing a pro-homosexual agenda. We beg to differ. As a member of the Committee which drafted the new sex education curriculum for approval by the MC Board of Education, we can confirm that both the Committee and Board approved as school resources literature published by gay activist groups while censoring ex-gay materials and other points of view.

One approved resource, published by the gay activist organization Triangle Foundation, defines "ex-gay" by claiming that “few say their homosexual attraction has changed." There are no footnotes accompanying this statement, so it is a biased opinion of ex-gays voiced by a gay advocacy group. Yet the Board refused to approve our definition of ex-gay even though we were appointed to the Committee to represent the Montgomery County ex-gay community!

One pamphlet approved by the Board encourages confused and impressionable youth to immediately self-identify as homosexual. Students and teachers are instructed on how to facilitate this transition by changing the school environment to explicitly discuss sexual behaviors, use language such as "partner" instead of spouse, post safe zone stickers for gay youth, invite gay speakers to address students, etc.

Another approved resource recommends that schools establish unisex bathrooms for transgender students. And yet another approved pamphlet urges teachers to refer students to specified gay-friendly religions. No alternate theology is presented.

The Board refuses to explain why it approved these materials as school resources while rejecting materials with other points of view. We urge the Board to present all of the facts on sexual orientation in a fair and balanced manner.

Regina Griggs
Executive Director
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays

Editor’s note;

So, run for the school board. As Harry Truman said, any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a lot more effort to build one. Tolerance for others is a hard lesson to learn for some, and for a group purporting to be friendly, you certainly sound angry. That anger aside, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. But, it would be nice if those who often claim to be Christian were more Christian in their attitudes toward others. Turn the other cheek comes to mind.

The Quack is Back

Thanks to Bianca for pointing this out in our comments.

BALTIMORE -- A Pennsylvania psychologist who counsels people who want to change their homosexual orientation has been asked to return to an advisory board for the nation's largest managed-care behavioral health company, the psychologist said Wednesday.

Grove City College psychology professor Dr. Warren Throckmorton was removed earlier this year from the National Professional Advisory Council for Magellan Health Services, a Farmington, Conn.-based company that has offices in Columbia, Md.

Throckmorton said the company offered him a seat on the board Tuesday and he planned to accept.

Magellan spokeswoman Erin Somers said Wednesday that the company had "retracted" its invitation to Throckmorton to serve on the board and now had "re-invited him."

"The reaction to our decision to rescind the invitation made it appear that we are taking sides in an overall debate in homosexuality, which we are not," Somers said.

Throckmorton had his own theory.

"My understanding of the reason for bringing me back is they felt by dismissing me, they created an impression they were not an inclusive company, and in bringing me back they wanted to correct that misperception," Throckmorton said.

"I think it's a good move. I think it does help to correct the viewpoint that Magellan had out there that they were intolerant. I think it's the right move for them to make."

Throckmorton criticized the company after he was removed from the board, saying its action demonstrated an "insensitivity" to counselors like him and their patients. Throckmorton said at the time that he believes people have the "right to pursue heterosexual-affirming therapy."

Somers said after the dismissal that Throckmorton was removed from the board because controversy surrounding his views would be a distraction. Somers said the decision did not affect care provided by the company, but Magellan was concerned his views might cause controversy that would distract from the work of the council.

The council has representatives from the major behavioral health disciplines and advises the company on treatment issues. Counselor for gays invited back onto advisory panel

Very interesting. No telling what led to that crazy decision. As far as we can tell, this shrink specializes in one thing, which is unethical by any book. Why would they want him advising them?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

New Changes to the Sex-Ed Curricula

Recently, the BOE published revised documents for teachers of the 8th and 10th grade Health curricula. These changes are very interesting.

Some, but not many, are corrections: for instance, menopause is not part of puberty. Some were disambiguations of concepts that had been taken wrong. In most cases these were taken wrong on purpose, that is, people opposed to the curriculum liked to say things about it that were not true, but required only a slight twist of wording.

And some of the changes were just to dumb-down the document for public consumption. Teachers know what "teachers' resources" are for, but some people were reading these and telling the world that information in the teachers' resources would be taught to students. So some of the explanatory text added to the documents simply reflects the fact that people who know nothing about education are trying to interpret these outlines which are part of a teacher's professional package.

Below I have gone through the two documents, looking for any changes I could find between these and the Board's November report. I have blockquoted new text that has been added and old text that was removed.

8th Grade Curriculum
(Please Note: the sources for the definitions are listed below for teacher use only. The definitions are to be presented to students as stated below – no additional information, interpretation or examples are to be provided by the teacher.)

In the previous version, it was assumed that the reader knew this -- well, a teacher would understand, but it turned out that the public was scrutinizing this document without understanding what they were looking at. The definitions are to be used, but the sources of the definitions are not part of the course.

They removed this:
As we study human sexuality we will discuss how you develop your individual sexual identity.

I suppose this was taken out because certain people were twisting this and using it to say -- and I am not exaggerating here -- that the school was encouraging children to decide at an early age whether they were gay or not.

Again, at the start of the "Teachers' Reference" section, they say:
(The information in the shaded area is not to be shared with students.)

... which an intelligent reader or professional educator would understand, but some people were confused.

Under Examples of Stereotyping and Generalizations, they added:
(Teachers are to clarify for students that the following stereotypes are not true, and these are only examples.)

Because, well, some people might not understand what a "stereotype" is, I guess.

After Factors That Influence Stereotyping
(These are examples and not the only factors.)

It's amazing what needs to be spelled out when you put your documents on the Internet for everyone to read.

They took a section titled III. Examine Myths and Facts About Human Sexuality, which was originally ninth, and moved it up, saying:
(The following are examples and teachers need to make sure that students understand that myths are false, and facts are true.)

Imagine: they felt they had to add that.

And they changed one of the myths. The original said
3. Myth: You're a homosexual if you've had sex with, or even had a "sexy dream" about someone of the same gender.
Fact: Sex play with friends of the same gender is not uncommon during early adolescence and does not prove long-term sexual orientation.

and the new one says:
Myth: A person is a homosexual if he or she has ever been sexually attracted to, or ever had sexual contact with someone of the same gender.
Fact: Fleeting attraction or contact does not prove long-term sexual orientation.

So it says the same thing, just the reference to playing doctor is a little more subtle. You remember how the critics went crazy with this? They said MCPS was saying that it was OK for children to engage in homosexual behavior, and stuff. I imagine they'll still think "fleeting attraction or contact" is bizarre and sinful. We'll have to watch to see.

Under Possible Effects of Cultural Factors, they added:
(The following are examples of how cultural and/or family beliefs may affect relationships.)

After Examples of Problems Created by Contrasting Values/Beliefs they wrote:
(The following are examples of what may happen.)

I mean, wow, they really dumbed this down.

They fixed something. The earlier version had Menopause listed under "Hormonal changes in females at puberty." They took it out.

Three whole new sections are included here that are not in the November 2004 BOE report. They are:
  • XI. Review How Family Values, Culture, Religious Views and Other Factors May Influence Family Planning
  • XII. Abstinence, and
  • XIII. Identify and Describe Methods of Pregnancy Prevention

They have been in the curriculum all along, and weren't mentioned in the BOE report because nothing in them changed.

Tenth Grade
In the Introduction to Unit they added:
(the teacher should read or summarize the following statement at the start of the unit to alert students to what will be studied in this unit)

After Describe Factors Contributing to Sexual Identity as Part of Personal Identity they wrote:
(Please Note: the sources for the definitions are listed below for teacher use only. The definitions are to be presented to students as stated below – no additional information, interpretation or examples are to be provided by the teacher or solicited from students.)

Oddly, they removed a line from the intro to sexual identity:
Together, these pieces of sexual identity affect how each person sees herself or himself and each piece is important:

I don't get that one.

They beefed up the sources of some definitions, giving article titles instead of just the web URL.

One section has been changed a whole lot. It is now called For Teacher Reference Only, with the warning (The information in the shaded area is not to be shared with students.) Here it says:
Questioning refers to people who are uncertain as to their sexual orientation. (No source)
Transgender refers to someone whose gender identity or expression differs from conventional expectations for their physical sex. This term includes transsexual and transvestite.
(Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Vol. 92, No. 4 (Oct. 1993), pp. 631-634)
Coming Out refers to the process in which a person identifies himself or herself as homosexual or bisexual to family, friends and other significant people in his or her life.
(Source: American Psychiatric Association Fact Sheet: Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues (May 2000)).
Intersexed refers to people who are born with anatomy or physiology (ambiguous genitalia) that differs from cultural and/or medical ideals of male and female. (School Resource)

Note that Questioning and Transgender were included in the earlier report, but Coming Out and Intersexed appear to have been added to the 10th grade curriculum. All were and are mentioned in the 8th grade curriculum teachers' resources.

Under types of families, where it lists Same sex parents family, they added this little CYA:
(this should not be interpreted as same sex marriage)

There may be other changes. I have only gone through the Family Life and Human Sexuality sections here. I did see a change in the Mental Health section, something regarding the mention of sexual identity -- there may be others, I don't know.

How to interpret these changes? Some criticisms were made. A couple of things could be improved, and were. A lot of things could be taken wrong, and were, and were changed in order to clarify the meaning so anyone could understand them.

There were no changes in the content of the curriculum.

Magellan Fires Quack: Quack Whines

This is a strange story, and I don't know exactly how to tell it.

Warren Throckmorton, Ph.D., is an ... unusual ... psychologist. He is an assistant professor at a unique Christian college, and his specialty is a kind of therapy that tries to cause gay people to become straight. He also picks up a pretty penny talking to right-wing religious groups about it; the publicity seems to keep him very busy. The treatment of homosexuality as a disease is considered unethical by all professional psychotherapy and counseling organizations; further, the success rate for that kind of therapy is extremely low. For certain intolerant groups, though, it is important to believe that sexual orientation is a choice (it would mean gay people don't deserve civil rights guarantees, protection under hate speech statutes, the right to marry, etc.), and so someone like Throckmorton finds an eager market for bigotry blessed by a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Throckmorton and a friend wrote a rather long "evaluation" of the new MCPS curriculum, and of course found that it was not sufficiently conservative. The evaluation is featured prominently on the Ex-Recall group's web site. Interestingly, the paper is dated December 3rd, 2004 -- so this appeared before the first Recall organizational meeting, and less than a month after the MCPS Board of Education signed off on the curriculum. It is a very curious thing -- Throckmorton says he was not paid for the work, but he sure didn't waste any time getting around to it! I wonder what the IRS estimates is the value of Throckmorton and Blakeslee's donation to the Ex-Recall group back in 2004?

Throckmorton has also written things that were posted on their blog. He's sort of their pet shrink, you might say, because he says things they like for free.

For some reason, and now we're getting into the strange stuff, this Throckmorton was a member of Magellan Health Services' National Provider Advisory Committee. As far as I can tell, the board advises Magellan on the latest trends in medicine and occasionally advises them on terminology, methods, etc. So the first question is, why was this guy on a board like this in the first place? News reports say he joined it in 1999.

News reports also said, last month that he was kicked off the board. Here's how AP played it:
BALTIMORE -- A Pennsylvania psychologist, who counsels people who want to change their homosexual orientation, has been removed from an advisory board for the nation's largest managed-care behavioral health company.

Grove City College psychology professor Dr. Warren Throckmorton said Thursday that he would like to be reinstated to the National Provider Advisory Council for Magellan Health Services, a Farmington, Conn.-based company that has offices in Columbia, Md.

Throckmorton, who served on the council from 1999 until earlier this year, said the company's action demonstrates an "insensitivity" to counselors such as him and their patients.

"I believe people have the right to pursue heterosexual affirming therapy if they want to do that," Throckmorton said.

Magellan spokeswoman Erin Somers said Throckmorton was removed from the board because controversy surrounding his views would be a distraction.

Somers said the company supports Throckmorton's "right to express his views and we hope he supports our right to make a business decision that is in the best interest of our organization."

Somers said the decision did not affect care provided by the company. Psychologist who helps people change homosexual orientation removed from advisory panel

Well, the headline writer seems to approve of Throckmorton -- just about every rightwing web site that carried this story used that same headline. Of course there is a question about whether this guy has "helped" anybody, never mind whether anybody's sexual orientation has been changed -- this headline doesn't pass the smell test.

According to the Dobson funded Family News In Focus,
"The American Association of Christian Counselors has vowed to pressure Magellan until it reinstates Throckmorton.... 'Certainly, we are constantly being challenged by a militant gay minority who hates the appearance of any idea that change is possible,'" said AACC spokesperson George Ohlschlager.
And according to the Cybercast News Service News, Throckmorton himself thinks he was fired because "of political pressure applied by homosexual advocacy groups who felt threatened by his 2004 film 'I Do Exist,' which documented the stories of several 'ex-gays.'"

Got that? Christian counselors will fight for Throckmorton to be reinstated at Magellan and Throckmorton blames "homosexual advocacy groups" for his dismissal. The truth is that Throckmorton insists on employing reparative therapy with gays even though such therapy is dangerous and unethical and even though homosexuality has not been considered a disease for over 25 years. The CNS story said,
"In a May 2000 'Fact Sheet,' the APA stated that 'efforts to repathologize homosexuality ... are often not guided by rigorous scientific or psychiatric research.' It also recommended that 'ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation.'"
So Throckmorton persists in trying to "change individuals' sexual orientation" and then wonders why his services are no longer desired by a medical company?

The second weird thing about this story is Throckmorton's presentation of it on his web site.

First thing he does is write a letter to the company, asking them why they'd "retracted their invitation" for him to serve on the board, and asking them to reinstate him. Apparently they'd told him on the phone that his views on homosexuality were too controversial.

OK, when you get fired, do you normally post your letter begging for another chance on the Internet? And then, he's got a whole web page of links to news stories about him being fired, with the full text of a Washington Times article about it. Do you do that? I think he liked The Times story because it gave him a chance to be quoted defending himself.

What's wrong with this picture? First of all, try this out. Let's say you're a shrink, and a guy comes in and says he's gay and he doesn't want to be. His church rejects homosexuality, and he would rather change than leave the church. He wants to know, can you please help him learn to be interested in girls, and stop acting so ... gay. What do you do? Well, ethically you can't treat his homosexuality as a sickness, but on the other hand you might feel an obligation to help the guy, and maybe his idea will work. So it is possible that you work with him, help take the sway out of his walk, help him develop a taste for Miller Lite, show him how to pull a treble hook out of a largemouth's lip, you know, stuff like that. (Of course I'm being facetious, but if you read about these therapies, they're worse than that.)

All right, so that's not completely out of bounds, is it? A patient comes in and you try to help them.

Now, let's imagine you're a shrink and a hundred guys come in saying they're gay and they want to change. Now what are you? You're a specialist. They're seeking you out because they've heard you will do this kind of therapy. You're the shrink-equivalent of a back-alley abortionist. And now guess what: you're violating the ethics of the American Psychological Association (of which Throckmorton is not even a member) and every other mental health organization in the country. And be clear: these groups have determined that homosexuality is not a disease; gay people think just as well as straight people, their lives are just as fulfilling and rewarding, they contribute to society just as much as straight people -- these were not political decisions, there just wasn't any reason to call it a disease.

Still shaky, is it? I mean, it could just be that word gets around.

OK, so say you go on TV, and you go to Christian rallies, you start a web page, you go to the newspapers, and you write reports for local activist groups, you travel around the country, and you tell everybody, "Sexual orientation can be changed, we see it all the time."

Now what are you?

Now you're an unethical quack. And Magellan doesn't want you any more. Montgomery County never did.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Details of the New Curricula

MCPS has posted the revised teachers' editions of the 8th and 10th grade curricula on the Health Education web site. Anyone who wishes to praise, discuss, or criticize the new health curriculum should use these as references, as some things have been clarified, and some things have been changed.

The link to the health page is here:

The 8th Grade curriculum is here: Grade 8 Curriculum Revisions - Teacher's Edition (234K PDF). The curriculum document to be used by Grade 8 health education teachers in the three middle schools participating in the field test during spring 2005.

The 10th Grade curriculum: Grade 10 Curriculum Revisions - Teacher's Edition (293K PDF). The curriculum document to be used by Grade 10 health education teachers in the three high schools participating in the field test during spring 2005.

No -- The War Against Hypocrisy

The Washington Times this morning has one of those forgettable editorials that ... you just have to comment on.

I'll quote some of it so you see what's up:
Yearly, more than 3 million teenagers contract a sexually transmitted disease. In addition to the risk of disease and pregnancy, sexually active teens are 3 times likelier than the sexually inactive to become depressed and attempt suicide.

Clearly, it's in society's interest to discourage teen sex. Teens themselves realize this: According to a Zogby poll, more than 90 percent of teens say society should teach kids to abstain from sex until they have, at least, finished high school. Parents want a stronger message: Almost 9 in 10 want schools to teach youth to abstain from sex until they're married or in an adult relationship that is close to marriage.

Given the almost universal popularity of abstinence education, it seems strange Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, soon will introduce legislation that would effectively abolish federal abstinence education programs. These programs supply nearly all the governmental support for teaching abstinence... The war against abstinence

OK, that's enough, if you've read one of these things, you've read 'em all. Their bright idea is "universally popular," while people who believe differently from them only want all children to become gay prostitutes and have abortions and stuff.

One little comment near the end caught my eye.
If contraception is already taught in nearly every school, and condom promotion gets nearly all the government funds, why the push to kill the limited funds for abstinence?

The answer lies with certain interest groups that often heavily influence decisions of key lawmakers. The two main groups leading the crusade for the Baucus plan and against abstinence are Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. (SIECUS).

Now this rings a bell. Only a couple of weeks ago, a reporter who had been talking with some Ex-Recall members (the CRC people opposing the MCPS sex ed curriculum) very seriously asked me to comment on these very two groups. There was something about a link to to Kinsey or something, and some far-out beliefs Kinsey had, and didn't Kinsey start all this?

And I was at a loss for words.

I had looked at the Advocates for Youth web site last year, when the conservative minority members of the citizens advisory committee -- the group that later evolved into the Recall group and now Ex-Recall -- said some things about them in a letter to the school board. I looked around the site a little bit and saw that the Advocates for Youth are nothing like these guys said they are. I sure didn't see anything weird or radical.

I have also seen SIECUS' web site. I can't remember what was there, but I remember thinking that I mostly agreed with what I saw there.

But the thing is, putting together the reporter's questions and these comments in The Times, it looks like the, I don't know, what do you call them? It looks like the "conservatives," the ones who think government should control every detail of our personal lives, think that Advocates for Youth and SIECUS are behind the opposition to abstinence education.

Or, if this is like other things, they just want the public to believe that's who's behind it. I can never tell, do these guys believe their conspiracy theories, or do they just try to get other people to believe them (it's the old "fools or liars" question again, isn't it?).

Listen, I'm just one guy, but let me say -- almost all parents want their teenagers to remain abstinent through their teen years. And they have good reasons for it. Besides the pregnancy-and-disease worries, they want them to experience the profoundness of sexual communion with someone they love, when they are mature enough to appreciate it. They don't want them to feel used, to treat their innocence, their spirituality, like a playing-field to be trampled on. Love is a tough game, and we don't want our innocent ones to be hurt for life.

But, see, most of us think it would be best if they were really abstinent. Not this anal-sex, oral-sex stuff that the born-again kids are doing. We want our kids to understand why it makes sense to be abstinent. We want them to know what sex is about, so they'll understand how to deal with rude strangers and pushy boyfriends, peer pressure and influences from music, movies, magazines. We want our kids to have the facts so they can make good decisions, so they'll know what they're getting into.

And that's another thing. Nearly everybody ends up having sexual intercourse eventually, and it looks like about ninety-nine percent of Americans (less, if like our pledge-signing "abstinent" youth, you don't count anal and oral sex as "sex") do it before they get married. And so, y'know what? We don't want our daughters to live lives they didn't choose as single mothers, we don't want our sons paying child support to some woman they dated years ago. We don't want them suffering from diseases that are spread sexually.

So we want them to know what to do. We want the schools to teach them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Teach them about contraception --- when they're ready, they'll make a decision and they'll know what the choices are. Teach them about homosexuality -- when they meet gay people, or if they find they are gay themselves, they need to understand what's happening. We haven't been recruited by Advocates for Youth, SIECUS didn't have anything to do with it, this is just common sense to most of us, at least here in Montgomery County.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Do You Think This Way?

The human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. Happily, vaccines against it have been developed which will soon be available.

Listen to New Scientist tell the story:
DEATHS from cervical cancer could jump fourfold to a million a year by 2050, mainly in developing countries. This could be prevented by soon-to-be-approved vaccines against the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer - but there are signs that opposition to the vaccines might lead to many preventable deaths.

The trouble is that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is sexually transmitted. So to prevent infection, girls will have to be vaccinated before they become sexually active, which could be a problem in many countries.

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus. Will cancer vaccine get to all women?

This Family Research Council -- hey, didn't the CRC invite Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council to speak at their meeting to oppose the new MCPS sex-ed curriculum? Didn't Robert Knight, another featured speaker at the same meeting, used to be a member of the Family Research Council?

  • HPV causes cancer in women
  • HPV is spread sexually
  • There are new vaccines to prevent it
  • The Family Research Council opposes the vaccines because young women "may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex"
  • If they succeed in blocking its use, millions of women will die

This reasoning comes from a bunch of people who claim to have "moral values," people who claim to represent a "culture of life." These are people who would rather see millions die than do anything that could be interpreted as "a license to engage in premarital sex."

Do you agree with that thinking? Are these the kinds of principles you like to see guiding the county school board, as it develops its health curriculum?

The new curriculum is under attack from individuals who are aligned with organizations including Family Research Council who believe that America should be governed according to Christian principles. Their opposition to the curriculum could not be based on actual critical objections to the course content, because the curriculum itself is laughably innocuous. Their opposition is based on their desire to "take back" the school district, to make it an institution that represents their religious ideals.

Do you agree with that thinking?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Tune Up Your Hate-dar

If you've raised little children, you know there's a point where they think bad guys are always ugly. And you realize as a parent, it's not the ugly bad guys you have to watch out for, it's the nice ones, the smiling ones. Because kids, including us big kids, are easily fooled by a smiling face.

A case in point is the talk given by CRC spokesman Peter Sprigg at their town hall meeting. You can listen to his speech, which is warm and friendly, erudite-sounding, delivered well: HERE. As you listen, go beyond the tone of his voice. Listen to what he's saying. Listen for the assumptions he makes.

The first thing Sprigg does is to make fun of an email I sent to a school listserve, describing the speakers at CRC's town hall as "out-of-towners." He got me there -- Sprigg is the one speaker on the platform who is from Montgomery County. This got him a warm round of applause, especially when he said he votes here.

He introduces his talk by saying "What I offered to talk about today though, based on the research that I have done in my position at the Family Research Council, is the subject of myths about homosexuality." Mentioning "research" twice in that sentence could lead a gullible person to think that Peter Sprigg is a researcher. That is not the case. He's an opinion-expresser. A speaker. Here's the bio that goes with his book:
Peter S. Sprigg was appointed as the first director of FRC's Center for Marriage and Family Studies in April 2003, having served as senior director of Culture Studies for two years. His opinion pieces have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Time, the Washington Times, the Christian Research Journal, and Brill's Content. Sprigg has been interviewed or participated in debates on a number of major television programs, including NBC's Nightly News and Today show, ABC World News Tonight, CNN's Talk Back Live and Crossfire and FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, Hannity and Colmes, and The O'Reilly Factor.

This is not an academic curriculum vitae.

The theme of Sprigg's talk is to debunk myths that are held by our society. Here's what he says.

First, the myth that people are born gay -- oh, and here he asks his audience to "please bear with some of this scholarly language," again implying that he is quoting "research." Sprigg points out that if people were born gay, it would support the kinds of special conditions that apply to race, for instance gays would be protected from discrimination, etc.

Myth #2 is that ten percent of the population is gay. This would support the idea that homosexuality was "commonplace, normal, and nothing to fear," he says. But, he says, less than three percent of people identify themselves as homosexual. Sprigg cites a brief submitted in a lawsuit.

The next myth is that homosexuals are seriously disadvantaged by discrimination in our society. He argues that gays have "significantly higher levels of educational attainment than the general public, while the findings on homosexual incomes are, at worst, mixed." He quotes some studies of this. It turns out there is no discrimination against gays. They must be making it all up.

Next myth: homosexuality is harmless. And he explains why this is important to him: "If this were true it would support the notion that government has no reason to penalize or otherwise disadvantage people who engage in homosexual behavior." He explains that homosexual behavior "and lifestyle" is "associated with serious threats to the physical and mental health of those who engage in them, and by extension, to public health." He quotes another journal showing that gay men have a shorter life expectancy.

I need to break away for a second on this one, it's too interesting. The authors of the article Sprigg mentions, from the International Journal of Epidemiology, wrote a letter to the editor of that journal, saying:
... it appears that our research is being used by select groups in US and Finland to suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others. These homophobic groups appear more interested in restricting the human rights of gay and bisexuals rather than promoting their health and well being.

The aim of our research was never to spread more homophobia, but to demonstrate to an international audience how the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men can be estimated from limited vital statistics data.


Overall, we do not condone the use of our research in a manner that restricts the political or human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group.

I get the feeling they were talking about Peter Sprigg and his colleagues, don't you?

The next myth is that "children raised by homosexuals suffer no harm." Sprigg notes that if this were true, "the family and marriage itself should be open to homosexuals on an equal basis." Then Sprigg says, "However, it is not true. The research shows clearly that children do best when raised by a married mother and father, and that the homosexual lifestyle is unstable." Then he quotes an article from an Australian journal called Children Australia, stating that children of married couples do better than those of cohabitating "heterosexual and homosexual" couples in school and socially. It's not about being gay at all, of course, but he uses it.

(There's a widely circulated paper by Lerner and Nagai that shows that research supporting childrearing by gay couples is flawed. The funny thing is, those same flaws mean there's no support for their side, either. Nobody knows how children of homosexual parents come out.)

The last is "the myth that homosexuals are no more likely to molest children than heterosexuals are." He goes on to say, "If this were true, it would support the notion that homosexuals should be allowed to work with children as schoolteachers, boy scout leaders, and big brothers and big sisters." Here he quotes a study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior, that looked at 229 convicted child molesters. This study found that 86 per cent of offenders against males described themselves as homosexual or bisexual.

Look, do I have to point out how silly that conclusion is? I mean, wouldn't you think that a big majority of men who molest boys would describe themselves as homosexuals? I'm wondering what the other fourteen percent were. To get an idea how complicated this question really is, look at the University of California, Davis' Psychology Department paper: Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation.

Interestingly, Sprigg backs up here to explain that he is "not saying that all homosexuals molest children, I am not saying that the majority of homosexuals molest children, but I am saying that the rate is much higher than it is among heterosexuals." But he doesn't happen to cite any research on that point.

Then Sprigg went off script to address "the myth that people cannot change their sexual orientation." This is great. He says, "In fact, we have thousands -- tens of thousands of former homosexuals around this country who will testify to the possibility of change." To which I say, dude, why didn't you say there were millions of 'em? Cuz million's an even bigger number. Since you're making this stuff up, why don't you say there are billions of people who have stopped being gay? I think the way it works is, the bigger the number, the more impressed people will be, y'know?

Reader: have you ever met a person who "used to be" gay?

Sprigg starts winding down his speech by saying that there are actually three aspects to sexual orientation: sexual attraction, which is psychological and not chosen, sexual behavior, which people do choose, and should be held accountable for, and sexual self-identification, e.g., do you identify yourself as gay? Now he's building up: "People who experience same-sex attraction neither have a right to engage in same-sex sexual behavior, nor are they incapable of resisting the temptation to engage in same-sex sexual behavior." And then he winds up and delivers the big punch line: "We are sometimes accused of degrading the integrity of gay and lesbian people as individuals by suggesting that they contain their sexual behavior. I think that it degrades them as individuals to suggest that a person cannot contain and control their own sexual behaviors."

Now, I'll give Peter Sprigg this: he speaks in complete, well-formed, and even complex sentences. He sounds like a real smart guy, lots of vocabulary, references to scientific journals, and so on.

But listen to what he's saying! With nearly every "myth," he points out the form of discrimination that is involved, and then explains why the myth is inaccurate. The point is clear -- he's not even trying to hide it -- that he and his audience believe that it is right and proper to discriminate against gay people, to penalize them, to keep them out of certain jobs. He makes no bones about it -- he's here to justify discrimination against homosexuals. He doesn't think they should be included in our society, and here are his intelligent-sounding reasons why.

His final statement is revealing for what it doesn't say. It does not say why it would be better for homosexuals to "contain and control their own sexual behavior." The assumption that it's wrong runs so deep that Sprigg is incapable of questioning it. OK, he admits, some people are attracted to their own sex, and it's not a choice. Seems to me, two things can happen: they can date and fall in love with someone they're actually attracted to, or they can feel damned and sinful and try to deny themselves the love that everyone else is permitted to have. No one is hurt, no one is inconvenienced, no harm is done. But for a guy like Peter Sprigg, the second choice is unacceptable.

Big words, long sentences, malicious opinions. This is hate speech, as clear as there is. This is who the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum choose to speak for them.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Extreme distortion compounded by a bed of lies

You have to pay to visit the online site for The Sentinel, a local newspaper, so, well, I hope they don't mind that I am re-printing their editorial here in its entirety.
April 14, 2005

Montgomery Sentinel

Extreme distortion compounded by a bed of lies
Editor's Notebook
By Brian J. Karem

You really have to tip your hat to those who can sell you blarney with a straight face. My father had the gift. The saying about him in my family was he could tell you to go to Hell in such a way that you not only looked forward to the trip, but would send a postcard from Hades thanking my dad for the travel plans.

Once a fellow reporter asked me during a trial what it is my father did for a living. She already knew my two uncles were lawyers. I told her that my dear old dad sold cars for a living. "So, your dad sells cars, you're a reporter and your uncles are lawyers and state senators, is that right?" She asked.


"Couldn't anyone in your family find an honest way to make a living?" She asked.

My daily experience dealing with baloney, blarney and various degrees of fluff from politicians and other assorted scam artists has made me very wary of those professing to be the light and torch of anything.

So, forgive me if you will for wondering who the heck the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum believe they are fooling.

Not me.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC)Web site, which can be found at www.mcpscurriculum. com, says the group's objective is to provide a "mainstream voice for fairness and scientific accuracy promoting tolerance and fact-based education."

If by science they mean the science of the Middle Ages, well, perhaps the CRC is telling the truth, but otherwise they're spreading nothing more than what goes best on the ground to fertilize my tomatoes.

The CRC, mind you, is the cute little group that wasn't above spreading "hate and fear," their words not mine, to prevent what they called a "homosexual agenda" in our public school system.

First, as a father of three children in the public school system from elementary to middle and even high school let me be the first to say that I can't fathom any agenda in the public school system - with the exception of testing and not leaving any children behind.

The idea that the public schools are pressing a pro-homosexual agenda is not only laughable, but ludicrous to anyone with an ounce of common sense.

Second, and perhaps even more important, the ends do not justify the means and never have. If you're pretending to be on the side of the Lord, then preaching "hate and fear" is contrary to your stated objectives and I, for one, find it hard to believe in the righteousness of any cause supporting "hate and fear" as a means to an end.

Not that there isn't plenty wrong with public schools.

The Maryland State Board of Education's policy on family involvement, for example says that "parents and family members will be expected to cooperate with teachers and school administrators in matters relating to their child's education."

Well, as a parent let me just say that it is the family, not the state that is the final arbiter of what is right, so I demand not expect the school board to cooperate with me.

And for starters I demand that the school board tell these people in the CRC who are trying to influence the school board to cease and desist.

Several years ago while covering the state legislature in Kentucky, I ran across a similar group who presented to the statehouse a list of movies they wanted banned - claiming they were pornographic and promoted a homosexual agenda.

When asked how the group determined that assertion, with a straight face a group member said, "well the executive committee got together and watched all the questionable movies."

So, why can't I?

And why should I listen to anything the CRC says?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

CRC Submits Signatures

The Ex-Recall group got a little publicity yesterday when they brought petitions with 3,500 signatures to the Board of Education meeting. As The Times put it:
The signatures "represent a growing concern over your recent decisions to introduce materials and topics to our schoolchildren that many families find objectionable, with no reasonable or acceptable alternative," said Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (CRC).

She said many signatures were collected at Catholic and evangelical Christian churches and that the group also is working with area Hindus and Muslims. Petition opposes sex-ed program.

I was imagining how that happens. You're at church. A nice lady gets a chance to speak. She says, "MCPS wants to put a new sex education curriculum in place. It encourages sexual experimentation among minors, it encourages students, beginning in 8th grade, to "develop your individual sexual identity," it's an invitation for students to begin sexual exploration. Why, this curriculum suggests to adolescents as young as 13 that a sex life is necessary for a good self-image, virtually inviting them to engage in premature sexual behavior!

"Brothers and sisters, this curriculum normalizes homosexuality and presents it as morally equivalent to heterosexuality! It is designed to impress on teens that homosexuality is normal, healthy, and inborn! Under this curriculum, students and teachers are taught how to change the school environment to affirm homosexuality by explicitly discussing sexual behaviors, prohibiting any talk of abstinence until marriage, posting "safe zone" stickers for gay youth, and inviting homosexual speakers to address students.

"It violates the moral and religious convictions of many families -- in effect, it leads students to play Russian roulette with sexual practices that dramatically increase the likelihood of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases..."

Yeah, man, who wouldn't jump up and sign one of those petitions? I sure wouldn't want something like that in my schools! By the way, those were all direct quotes of Ex-Recall president Michelle Turner, this is actually what they do tell people this curriculum is about. I very much doubt they actually pass out the scool district's materials, which can be found HERE. Because ... it would be very much harder to get signatures of people who find the actual curriculum offensive.

So Tuesday they brought in petition signatures gathered all over the state, not just in our county, at churches and mosques. Those petitions show that the Ex-Recall group was able to find a number of people equalling four tenths of one percent of the population of Montgomery County who felt strongly enough about this curriculum to sign a petition at church.

For that, they earn a great big tally-mark on the scoreboard next to their name. As David Letterman always says, "Good job, kids."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Religious Leader Opposes Sex Education

There is a strange sameness to it, a religious leader opposed to sex education. Strangely similar arguments. Strangely similar responses.
A religious newspaper reported on Wednesday that Shaikh Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi, the head of al-Azhar institution, said sex education should be taught "in a way that doesn't stir instincts, or offend public morality".

According to Al-Liwa al-Islami, or The Islamic Banner, al-Tantawi said this was "better than teaching sex to school students and permitting the so-called safe abortion and calling for equality between man and woman through gender culture".

The comments come amid attempts to revive plans to revamp reproductive health education in schools.

Reproductive health issues are already included in science classes, but some teachers simply do not teach them because they are shy, Abd al-Qadir said.

Al-Tantawi said Islam recognises only one way of making a family - through marriage between a man and a woman.

The Islamic cleric said this avoids the need to discuss issues of premarital sex, or the need to provide contraceptives to young people or the issue of abortion.

Last month, Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gumaa rejected any courses that teach children safe sex and how to avoid pregnancy and disease on the grounds that they would promote sexual activity. Al-Jazeera: Egypt cleric cautions on sex tuition

Funny thing, religion. I mean, you take two groups who have inside knowledge of God's will, but He's telling them different things all the time, about how to worship, what foods to eat, what behaviors are OK and what ones aren't...
... Abd al-Qadir, whose centre has held seminars on reproductive health in high schools, said young girls and boys have a lot of appetite for knowledge about such issues.

"It is their families that don't want them to know," she said.

"The girls and boys wanted to know. They had a lot of questions."

And some things are always the same.

Is this what we want here? Religious control of our public institutions? Some Grand Mufti telling the schools what to teach your kids?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Crossing the Threshold of Urgency

The sex education class in Montgomery County really is a kind of silly thing to fight about. They're going to teach kids how to use a condom, OK, that's passed, that's happening already. They're going to tell students that some people are gay, OK, how shocking, what's next?

So why bother to fight about it?

Here's why. The attack on the MCPS health curriculum is part of a larger attack on American values generally. The threat is not only that kids will get pregnant, but that reasoned thinking is being replaced by superstition in the American mind.

I am a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and receive every week the journal Science. It is the leading scientific journal in the United States, though those of us who get it probably agree it's too much to read every week. This week's editorial is an important one, a call for scientists to work to save the progress that has been made since the historic revolution in thought known as The Enlightenment, when people learned to apply reason to the organization of their lives. The American Declaration of Independence and Constitution are artifacts of The Enlightenment, and its principles of reasoned, skeptical, independent thinking have been our strength for these two hundred years. But today we see those ideals falling.

So at the risk of some kind of copyright violation, I reproduce the entire editorial here:
Twilight for the Enlightenment?
Donald Kennedy

For much of their existence over the past two centuries, Europe and the United States have been societies of questioners: nations in which skepticism has been accepted and even welcomed, and where the culture has been characterized by confidence in science and in rational methods of thought. We owe this tradition in part to the birth of the Scottish Enlightenment of the early 18th century, when the practice of executing religious heretics ended, to be gradually replaced by a developing conviction that substituted faith in experiment for reliance on inherited dogma.

That new tradition, prominently represented by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, supplied important roots for the growth of modernity, and it has served U.S. society well, as it has Europe's. The results of serious, careful experimentation and analysis became a standard for the entry of a discovery or theory into the common culture of citizens and the policies of their governments. Thus, scientific determinations of the age of Earth and the theories of gravity, biological evolution, and the conservation of matter and energy became meaningful scientific anchors of our common understanding.

In the United States, that understanding is now undergoing some dissolution, as some school boards eliminate the teaching of evolution or require that religious versions of creation be represented as "scientific" alternatives. "Intelligent design," a recent replacement for straight-up creationism, essentially asserts that a sufficient quantity of complexity and beauty is by itself evidence of divine origin--a retrogression to the pre-Darwinian zoologist William Paley, who saw in the elegant construction of a beetle's antenna the work of a Creator.

In 1998, I helped the National Academies produce a book entitled Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. At the press conference announcing its publication, I was asked if I knew that most U.S. citizens did not believe that humans descended from other forms. I said I did, but expressed a hope that things might change. Well, things changed in the wrong direction: Alternatives to the teaching of biological evolution are now being debated in no fewer than 40 states. Worse, evolution is not the only science under such challenge. In several school districts, geology materials are being rewritten because their dates for Earth's age are inconsistent with scripture (too old).

Meanwhile, President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief policies recommend "evidence-based" risk-reduction strategies: abstinence for youth, fidelity for married couples, and condoms recommended only for infected or high-risk individuals, such as sex workers. Failure rates for condoms are commonly quoted, apparently to discourage their use by young people for risk prevention. Mysteriously, the policy doesn't seem able to cite a failure rate for abstinence.

Finally, certain kinds of science are now proscribed on what amount to religious grounds. Stem cell research is said by its opponents to pose a "moral dilemma." Yet this well-advertised dilemma does not arise from a confrontation between science and ethical universals. Instead, the objections arise from a particular belief about what constitutes a human life: a belief held by certain religions but not by others. Some researchers, eager to resolve the problem, seek to derive stem cells by techniques that might finesse the controversy. But the claim that the stem cell "dilemma" rests on universal values is a false claim, and for society to accept it to obtain transitory political relief would bring church and state another step closer.

The present wave of evangelical Christianity, uniquely American in its level of participation, would be nothing to worry about were it a matter restricted to individual conviction and to the expressions of groups gathering to worship. It's all right that in the best-selling novels about the "rapture," the true believers ascend and the rest of us perish painfully. But U.S. society is now experiencing a convergence between religious conviction and partisan loyalty, readily detectable in the statistics of the 2004 election. Some of us who worry about the separation of church and state will accept tablets that display the Ten Commandments on state premises, because they fail to cross a threshold of urgency. But when the religious/political convergence leads to managing the nation's research agenda, its foreign assistance programs, or the high-school curriculum, that marks a really important change in our national life. Twilight for the Enlightenment? Not yet. But as its beneficiaries, we should also be its stewards.

Which Is It?

The Ex-Recall blog seems to be trying to say something about the fact that we signed a letter with 140+ other groups, complaining about a government web site that gives biased information to parents who need to talk to their teens about sex, an abstinence-only web site put up by the United States government to keep people from discussing contraception with their children.

You're damn right we're against that. We're, and we are absolutely opposed to the propagation of ignorance by the government, through non-informational websites or through the public schools.

We oppose it, actively.

And we're not the only ones who are drawn into this battle.

Scientists are drawn into the battle (more on that later, if I have time), pro-choice groups are drawn into the battle, gay advocacy groups are drawn into it, health educators are drawn into it. Something very bad is happening in America -- the imposition of narrow religious beliefs on our free way of life -- and lots of people are getting involved to stop it. These guys put together a long list of signatures in one day to oppose the HHS web site, and we were proud to sign it.

There isn't much informational content in Ex-Recall's message, it looks like they're just continuing to "spread hate and fear," as their spokesman bragged of doing. They make some mention of "pro abortion groups," but I don't believe anybody who signed that letter was "pro abortion" (any more than groups who opposed Prohibition in the 1930s were "pro alcoholism"). Listen to this:
No, the only agenda is the one that the pro abortion groups want to instill in every young teenager -- that sex for kids is ok, in fact its to be encouraged and that for backup -- after that condom fails ... the abortion and STD clinics at Planned Parenthood are right down the street.

Now, I do have a question here. I really wish I could be a fly on the wall and hear these guys talking about this. I wonder: are they so ignorant that they think that we, or any of the groups signing that letter, really believe "that sex for kids is ok, in fact its to be encouraged," or are they flat-out lying?

Ignorant, or liars, which is it?

I would love to have heard the conversation. Maybe at their Ex-Recall meeting, somebody said "Duh, hey, looky here, some o' these groups are them-there baby-killers, I betcha them TeachTheFacts fellers is baby-killers, too." Or was it, "Okay everybody, here's the strategy -- let's say that TeachTheFacts and those other people that signed that letter really want kids to have sex, OK? Hey, no, even better -- yeah, that's the ticket -- let's tell everybody that TeachTheFacts thinks kids should be encouraged to have sex, and then the children can just go down the street and get abortions if they get pregnant. You think people will buy that?"

I really wonder which one it is. Is Montgomery County under attack by fools, or liars?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Blair Seems To Be With Us

Hey, this is fun. I gotta say, Montgomery Blair High School has the nicest on-line newspaper. They call it the Silver Chips Online. I don't know why they call it that, but it's first-rate. Technically, they drive everything off php scripts, with beautifully designed, aesthetically appealing stylesheets, so the presentation is very consistent, and the content of the stories is way beyond what we had when I was in high school, when they had to carve all the news into clay tablets with a pointy stick.

Last week, they did a kind of ... well, it's not a survey, but they asked people on campus what they thought about the new sex curriculum. Specifically, they asked people What do you think about the inclusion of condom and homosexuality education in health classes?

Some random quotes from the story -- I'm going to leave people's names off, but you can go there and read it all:
High school students have children at the age of 16, much before they are ready. If use of birth control is taught, these unwanted pregnancies may be avoided.

People are much more likely to intolerant toward things they do not understand. However, whatever students believe homosexuality is acceptable or not, it is the educators' responsibility o teach students how their fellow citizens live."

I think the addition of condom and homosexuality is good for the Health Curriculum. Students should know about these topics and be open to talk about them. Many teenagers chose to have sex and yet know nothing about how to be safe.

I think including condom and homosexuality education in health classes is a great idea. It would prepare students to be able to view the world around them with open minds. Believe it or not, we encounter subjects like these every day already. There's no use in being naive about it.

It's unrealistic to think that students wont have sexual relations so you might as well teach them how to do it safely. Second of all, i am glad to see that homosexuality education has been added to the health curriculum.

I am glad to see the inclusion of condom and homosexuality education in health classes.

I am glad to see the inclusion of condom and homosexuality education in health classes.

In learning about homosexuality, students will be able to formulate their own opinions about them instead of agreeing with some homophobic friends.

Discrimination is based upon ignorance, and today many people are misinformed that being 'straight' is the only natural sexual orientation. This discrimination encourages homosexuals to try to remain 'in the closet' for an extended period time, which is not healthy for them.

Also condoms is a way to help the community prevent unneeded abortions.

Homosexuality and condom education should be included in health classes, because it is not effective to keep kids ignorant and hope that this will keep them straight and abstinent.

I do not see any issue with the inclusion of condom and homosexuality education is health classes. These things are part of life, and by high school we should be as prepared as ever to deal with them.

School must keep up with the changing needs of our society, so condom and homosexuality education should be included in health classes.

Students need to be taught about reality, not about an idealist world for conservatives.

It is absolutely necessary that in a free and secular society that we accept different lifestyles, including homosexuality.

There is so much ignorance and propaganda about both of these subjects. With the AIDs epidemic, condoms are more important now than ever. With homosexuality the high emotions about this topic can only lead to miseducation. To prevent ignorance and promote awareness, lessons on condoms and homosexuality should be included in health class.
Great, bright bunch of kids. Every single one was positive, even enthusiastic about the changes that are being introduced.

What can you say? Whether their parents like it or not, these kids are learning to think for themselves.

The Accusation Of Moral Relativism

So it seems Imago Dei blog has decided to throw a punch at us. They don't do a very good job of it, but since they took the trouble to call us out, I suppose we oughta slap 'em back to where they came from.

They say, you know, the same old stuff:
TTF is an organization that was formed to protect the "condom on a cucumber" film that will be displayed to Montgomery County, Maryland teens (posted previously here.) In naming the organization Teach the Facts, the implication is that those who oppose having their children view an attractive teacher placing a condom on a cucumber are interested in forcing non-factual values on the malleable brains of these teens.
Then they cut and paste a section of the 8th grade curriculum, the part titled Peer Pressure and Other Factors That Can Influence Decisions Regarding Sexual Behavior. Under section C. Sifting through all the influences there is a line that says:
only you can decide what is best for you
Ooh! That's all these guys need! They're off:
This curriculum asserts that there is no standard of morality outside of "deciding what is right for you". This is moral relativism, and is a particular view of morality which is even rejected by some of the most strident atheists.

Teaching moral relativism as a fact absolutely undermines the ability of parents to eductate their children on the presence of an objective moral code. The present way that sex education is taught to our chidren gives them the impression that they are the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong. The influence and teachings of their family and faith are presented as potential influences to their ethical thinking (along with the media and peers), but a responsible and moral decision is ultimately one that is best for them.

This is dictating values. This is forcing non-factual information on students. This is undermining the parents right and responsibility to teach their children regarding important life and death issues.
OK, deep breath. Here are two statements:
  • only you can decide what is best for you
  • there is no standard of morality outside of "deciding what is right for you"
Would you say the second sentence accurately interprets the first one?

Did the Board of Education really mean to say "there is no standard of morality outside of 'deciding what is right for you?'"

If you believe the answer to that question is yes, then you'll probably buy the rest of it, too. Because you have to make the first error in order to move on to the others, like "This is moral relativism."

I suppose saying "there is no standard of morality outside of 'deciding what is right for you'" could be criticized, if somebody cared to, by saying This is moral relativism. If only somebody had actually said that, the conversation could reasonably proceed by discussing whether they were expressing a position of "moral relativism" or not. But nobody said it, so the reasonable discussion never gets to that moderately interesting question.

Further -- if somebody had said "there is no standard of morality outside of 'deciding what is right for you'," we could discuss whether This is dictating values or not. But ... nobody said it, so the argument that the proposition dictates values is vacuous. The actual statement does not seem to dictate any values, on the face of it.

If someone had said "there is no standard of morality outside of 'deciding what is right for you'," well, it might make for an interesting philosophical discussion to dissect whether this was literally or figuratively teaching moral relativism as a fact, and what the implications of that would be for families raising children.

Is someone had said, "there is no standard of morality outside of 'deciding what is right for you'," it would be reasonable to discuss whether This is forcing non-factual information on students. Because, I would have agreed, a statement about standards of morality would be technically "non-factual," since there is no way of proving that it is true or false.

But ... still, sadly for these bright fellows who have this important weblog, nobody said that, so the content of their discussion is entirely self-referential.

But what a case they might have made! How they would have triumphed over the forces of weakness and darkness, if the school board report had indeed said that "there is no standard of morality outside of 'deciding what is right for you'." If MCPS had said that, the battle could commence for the forces of Right to vanquish the weakness and foolishness of Evil, amid the clashing of clever slogans and brilliant sound-bites, with epithets, insinuations, and innuendo ringing loud through the purple mountains majesty.

But, since nobody said that, these guys just look like buffoons, stating a proposition and then refuting it themselves.

Mmm, I see the CRC blog is trying to make an issue out of this, too, quoting the Pope about morality. So let me add a word here. Most religions believe that their God has created moral categories: right and wrong. The complaint about "moral relativism" comes from an assumption, by members of one religion, that their particular God, their particular right and wrong, must be the only ones -- there can be no other truth.

The problem of course, is that there are many different religions, and even people who don't participate in an organized religion at all. And people of all sorts -- atheists, Mormons, Moslems, Christians, Jews, pagans, Hindus -- do, in fact, distinguish right from wrong, and do make moral choices, even if they do not agree on the origin of the system of distinctions they use to make those choices.

It is appropriate for any religious person to believe that their tradition is the correct one -- I can't think of any religion that considers itself one of many that are equally good. But life is rich and diverse, and even the most devout person must realize that some people do not share their beliefs. If such a person feels obligated to believe that only members of their particular group can make valid moral choices, then they are simply missing the point -- in fact, such a prejudice, such a lack of respect for one's fellow man, should be considered immoral by an affirming ethical system.

A person making a decision about their sexual behavior will refer to whatever is appropriate in their own life, which may be scripture or some other criterion. No group has a monopoly on morality. The comment in the MCPS curriculum outline reflects this fact.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Dumb Plan Backfires

Susan Jamison is a lady who knows what's right for everybody, whether she's got the facts or not. She sent a long letter to families of students at several Montgomery County schools, telling them about the new MCPS sex education curriculum. Things like how it promotes homosexuality and encourages students "toward sexual self-identification into homosexuality" and other things. She said Is MCPS going to pay the medical bills for the students who are vulnerable enough to be influenced by this Health Class, adopt a gay life style and contract HIV before they can even graduate from high school?

You get the picture, we've seen this kind of garbage before. She goes on for several pages.

Jamison describes herself as the Director of "Parents Against X-Rated Curriculum in MCPS," or MD-PAX, a group which did have a representative on the citizens committee that proposed the new curriculum. This letter was sent out with two stamped postcards, one addressed to the Montgomery County Board of Education, and one addressed to Russ Henke, the coordinator for the health programs for MCPS. The postcards were for people to send in, to protest this evil curriculum. It looks like she somehow got the directories for some schools and sent this to every address. Figure a stamp to send it, and two more stamps for return postage, that'd be more than a dollar per student. Anyway, her plan isn't really working out that well.

This morning's Gazette reports:
Misdirect marketing

A mail-in campaign designed to generate opposition toward the Montgomery County school system's new sex education curriculum may be backfiring.

Since March 21, the county school board has received 60 postcards. Parents at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School forward most of those. B-CC is one of six schools selected to pilot a discussion of homosexuality and sexual identity this spring.

The catch? The postcards are running more than 3 to 1 in favor of the new curriculum. By Thursday, 45 parents had crossed out the printed message that reads "I am requesting that you reverse your decision to put this curriculum in MCPS schools and immediately reverse the decision to use my child's school as a trial school," replacing it with messages such as "I support the new curriculum."

The postcards appear to have sent to families whose children attend B-CC or Poolesville High, as well as Thomas Pyle Middle and Walt Whitman High in Bethesda.

Two postcards -- one addressed to the board, the other to Russ Henke, the school system's health education coordinator -- are arriving pre-stamped in mailboxes. A letter explaining to parents that their child's school has been selected as a "trial" school for the new curriculum is also included.

The letter is signed by Susan Jamison, a Poolesville attorney and parent with children in the county school system, and the director of the group Parents Against X-Rated Curriculum in MCPS. She did not return calls.

Henke said he had received 82 postcards as of Thursday.

"The one being sent to me is for parents asking to have their child opted out of the health curriculum at the high school level," the health education coordinator said. "... Of the 82, on 51 of those, people have crossed out the message on the card and said they support what we're doing."

By Thursday, the board had received 14 postcards in opposition to the new curriculum. (One postcard appeared to take "no position" -- it was left blank.)

Board President Pat O'Neill said she and her husband received the postcards and letter in their mailbox two weeks ago.

"Clearly my name must've been taken out of the Walt Whitman High School PTSA telephone directory," she said. "... It's kind of ironic that I'm being asked to protest myself."

-- Sean R. Sedam (Gazette) Misdirect Marketing (Scroll down for this story)

Susan, if you're reading this, here's some advice to you: move to Alabama. People here in Montgomery County, Maryland, are not falling for it. We're diverse, we're educated, we're tolerant, and we're able to think for ourselves.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Concerned Parents Get Informed

Last night Einstein High School's Health teachers had a question-and-answer session for the sex education section of the Health curriculum. This semester they're using the newly approved condom video, otherwise it's the same thing they've taught for more than a decade. Besides me, two other parents showed up.

It was very interesting. Both parents who were there (a mother and a father) were concerned about the curriculum, and had lots of questions and comments. The father, it seemed to me, just wanted to know what his kid would be exposed to. He may be rather conservative, but mainly he just wanted to see for himself, to decide whether his child should attend the class.

The mother who came to the meeting was a very conservative, very concerned. She wants her daughter to remain a virgin until she's married, she wants to be sure that her daughter is not encouraged to consider having an abortion. She had very strong feelings about the emotional nature of sex, and the potential for a girl to be taken advantage of, and mistreated. As she said, "There is no condom for your heart."

I found her questions to be very sincere, and completely sympathized with her. It is terrifying raising children, knowing how painful and wonderful love can be, and how temptation can lead them into situations that will hurt them for life.

We watched the famous video (afterwards, the Health teacher said I was going to have to narrate it next time -- I have seen it quite a few times now). I wondered how this conservative mother was going to take it. She was very quiet through the video, and afterwards talked about the fact that her daughter is going to hear about these things in the hallways, anyway.

To me, this was perfect. This was a perfect opportunity for parents to make an informed decision. Concerned parents should find out the details, and they should get them from the teachers themselves, not from some third party with an agenda.

After the meeting, I saw this mother outside the school building. I asked her if she was going to let her daughter take the class. She said yes.

I was glad that those with an agenda stayed away from this meeting. There was no one there to tell this poor, worried lady that the health teachers were going to "instruct her child in anal sex," or any of those other things they say. She got the facts, she made a decision, cool.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Theocrats Making Their Move in Our County

Now the Center for Reclaiming America is getting into the act. They just sent a letter to the school board, the County Executive, and a bunch of other Montgomery County and Maryland officials, complaining about the new health curriculum, which they do not seem to have read yet. Said things like:
We've just learned that Montgomery County's new sex-education curriculum--set to be implemented next school year--is an outrageous attempt to desensitize our children or grandchildren into embracing homosexuality.

We live in Montgomery County, and we are concerned about the direction of Maryland's schools, please read on and take action.

Here is what our school board has prepared for our children:

++Redefine family to include "same-sex parents."
++Soft-pedal homosexuality as being the normal and natural equivalent to heterosexual sex.
++Encourage "sex play" with friends of the same sex.
++Eliminate words like "marriage," "wife," "husband," and substituting the word "partner."

Essentially, this new sex education curriculum plans to aggressively reshape and redefine traditional roles.

And it gets worse.

The school is brazenly ignoring a parent's right to opt their child out of the 10th grade Mental Health Unit that contains this new sexual orientation material.

In other words, if our child or loved one is a tenth grader next year in the Montgomery County public schools, the students are defenseless against their being indoctrinated into a homosexual lifestyle!

... and so it goes.

It's not like we haven't heard this kind of ... stuff (I'm being nice now) already, but we haven't heard it from the Center for Reclaiming America.

And, you ask, just what might the Center for Reclaiming America be? At the bottom of this letter it explains a little bit:
The Center for Reclaiming America, established by Dr. D. James Kennedy, is an outreach of Coral Ridge Ministries to inform the American public and motivate Christians to defend and implement the biblical principles on which our country was founded. The Center, led by Executive Director Dr. Gary Cass, provides non-partisan, non-denominational information, training, and support to all those interested in impacting the culture and renewing the vision set forth by our Founding Fathers.

In other words, it is an organization dedicated to establishing theocracy in America.

Don't laugh. These guys have managed to pull off a lot of stuff in the past couple of years.

Let's look at their web site, at On their "About Us" page, they say:
As a means to accomplish this mission, the CENTER focuses on five key fronts of the modern-day culture war: (1) Religious Liberties, (2) the Sanctity of Life, (3) the Homosexual Agenda, (4) Pornography, and (5) Promoting Creationism.

They have a page linking to "news" stories, as well. Top story, I see that the Center for Reclaiming America is a member of the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters. They want their judges to win, y'know, without a lot of complaining by any minority party, especially when that would be the Democrats. Oh, here's a headline: Court: Texas Can Bar Funding of Abortion Mills. Wow, abortion mills, I never heard that one before. And another story: Mississippi House Votes to Display Religious Texts. This is the kind of stuff they stand for, the complete interweaving of church and state.

You might have heard these kinds of people argue that America is a Christian country, the founding fathers intended it that way, and it's being run down by atheists and other immoral types.

So here's the plan. Conservative Christians are going to "take back" America. They will eradicate evil and make sure that all Americans live according to the Gospel. You won't have to let Jesus into your heart, exactly, but you will be "expected" to act like you have. You will dress modestly, abstain from liquor, cigarettes, dancing. Your daughters will learn about sex from their husbands when they marry. (And where do the husbands learn it? I don't know, maybe they travel abroad.) You will obey the scriptural laws of the country, and will attend services, of course.

I wonder what that would be like?

Scientific American's Shame

This is too good. Scientific American's April Fools editorial. I'm going to paste the whole thing in here.
Okay, We Give Up
We feel so ashamed

By The Editors

There's no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don't mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there's no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.
In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.

Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that's a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That's what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn't get bogged down in details.

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.
Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can't work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers' dollars and imperil national security, you won't hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration's antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that's not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either-so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools' Day. Okay, We Give Up

I read recently:There are ten kinds of people in the world, people who understand binary and people who don't. I have the nagging feeling that there are people who won't get what's funny about this editorial, and never the ten shall meet.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Great Web Page

I didn't know this web page existed until just today. It's the Montgomery County Public Schools "Health Education" site. A nice, clean site with links to nine documents that explain the Health curriculum, including the new parts of Family Life and Human Development. It has documents explaining the citizens committee and how that works, facts about the curriculum, and laws pertaining to it.

I have set this as a permanent link on the righthand side of this page, under "Great Web Sites."

Our most important recommendation to people who are concerned about what is going on with the sex education controversy in Montgomery County is: read the report. If you see something there that suggests that the school district is going to make your kid want to turn gay, or is going to encourage them to experiment sexually, if you think this curriculum insists that children can't be happy without a "sex life," or it's going to undermine your family values and make a moral relativist out of your kids, or if you think this curriculum "instructs children in anal sex," or any of those bizarre things that you might have heard some people say, then ... I imagine you won't be signing our petition, right?

"You Could Call Them Technically Virgins"

Seems to me this abstinence-only thing is kind of backfiring in a weird way.
...a study released this week in the journal Pediatrics found that one in five high school freshmen had had oral sex, while almost a third said they intended to try it in the next six months. The teens, drawn from two public schools in California, told researchers they considered oral sex to be less risky than intercourse and don't see it as a particularly big deal.

While the study was a small one, with about 580 participants, it echoes the findings of a larger federally funded study the Urban Institute conducted with more than 3,000 boys a few years ago. Two-thirds of 15- to 19-year-old respondents had experienced oral sex, anal intercourse or masturbation with a female.

But few respondents were aware that the first two behaviors put them at risk for such sexually transmitted diseases as herpes, chlamydia, HIV, gonorrhea and syphilis. Most interviewed said that none of these acts actually constituted "sex." Some even told researchers that oral sex qualified as "abstinence," a sign that abstinence-only advocates might want to add the definition of "chastity" to the curriculum. Parents and kids need to talk as teens redefine sex

Ooch! Of course: chastity. How were we going to tiptoe around that one, anyway?

Because that's the point, isn't it, I mean, really? It's not that the holier-than-thou crowd wants teenagers to stop having vaginal sex in particular, they're supposed to stop everything.

But how do you say that in a classroom? Like, is open-mouth kissing okay? How about touching a girl's breast while you're kissing, is that ok? Oral sex? Uh, well, these kids think it's okay. How about playing spin the bottle, where you have to kiss someone at random -- is that okay? How about mooning strangers while you're cruising Central -- okay?

Aw, come on, you know what the answer is. NOTHING IS OKAY!

What we've got here is one of those Pandora's Box, genie-back-in-the-bottle, cat-is-out-of-the-bag situations. If I may be so bold as to say, the problem is that sexual intimacy is a good thing. And no matter how many times you tell teenagers that you shouldn't do it, they're going to find out on their own. Somebody'll give them a kiss, or they'll start daydreaming about a movie star or singer or classmate, and the warmth of it, the immediacy of it, instantly disproves, to their young minds, all the boring blah-blah-blah that grown-ups have been telling them.

I have teenagers, and I don't like thinking about this any more than you do. But I got to adulthood by passing through adolescence, and I have some dim memory of what it was like. And girls were a big part of it.
Though abstinence-only programs now receive $170 million a year in federal funding, they have only been shown to postpone the onset of first sex by about 18 months and to make teens less likely to use contraceptives when they do engage in intercourse.

The newest findings published last month in the Journal of Adolescent Health report that in spite of these programs, most young people aren't waiting for marriage to have sex, regardless of whether they've signed a pledge to do so. In data from the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 88 percent of chastity pledgers ended up having premarital sex, compared to 99 percent of non-pledgers.

Ah, and don't forget, that 88 percent is the percentage who have vaginal sex, strictly defined -- that's what this whole issue's about. So twelve percent of people who take abstinence vows don't have "sex sex," y'know?

I wonder how many people actually do make it to marriage without having had sex, including oral and anal sex, and other things, like, is there a term "manual sex?" It's one percent, they say, of people who don't try to hold out, and ... well, we don't know about the others.
Of the small minority of 18- to 24-year-olds in the study who haven't had intercourse, chastity pledgers were six times more likely to have engaged in oral sex, while male chastity pledgers were four times more likely to have had anal sex than their counterparts.

Says the Yale sociologist who co-authored the study: "You could call them technically virgins."

What does this mean for the MCPS health curriculum? Well, first of all, those people who think the schools should push "abstinence until marriage" harder might want to define their terms a little more precisely. It would just make their case sound a little stronger, if their abstinence role models weren't engaging in ... uh ... alternative sexual behaviors ... at a rate many times that of the non-abstinent kids.

Or, how about this? How about teaching kids what forms of sexual behaviors are out there, what the risks are, and what are known to be the safest methods for practicing those things?

Because it does not look like telling them to wait till they're married is really working like it's supposed to.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The State of the Debate

This post is just a high-level overview of the controversy over the sex-education curriculum for eighth- and tenth-graders in Montgomery County, Maryland, up to this point in time. This web site and the related Yahoo group TeachTheFacts are part of a grassroots movement to support the new changes to the MCPS Family Life and Human Development curriculum. The changes were proposed by a citizens committee that included representatives of conservative groups, and after several years of discussion and revision the changes were adopted unaminously by the board of education in Novermber, 2004. The board's report, including descriptions of all the changes, can be found HERE.

And why do we need to support these changes? We don't normally support changes to a curriculum, for instance, no web site would spring up if there were changes to the precalculus curriculum, do ya think?

We need to support the changes because some people in our county are trying to have them thrown out. These people claim that the changes undermine their religious values, offend them morally, and they also claim that people like them will be "discriminated against" if their children are taught the new things that are in the curriculum.

What are the changes?
There are two basic changes.

First, there is a new video that demonstrates how to use a condom. A lady in the video puts a condom on a cucumber.

It is not clear what it is that the opponents of the curriculum really disagree with here. There was already a video available under the old curriculum since 1992, which showed how to put on a condom, using a computer-generated graphic of an erect penis. That video is outdated, for instance it discusses some contraceptive techniques that are no longer available, and it needed to be replaced. Having seen both, I'd say the new video is less "graphic" than the old one.

The fight over the condom video is really irrelevant. The video was piloted in three schools this past year, students were unoffended, nobody really complained about it, and it has been accepted as part of the program. So when the opponents of the curriculum complain about the condom video, they are really ... just ... complaining.

The second thing is more serious. The new curriculum introduces the topic of sexual orientation. That is, it talks about homosexuality. It talks about it without criticizing it, without calling is sinful, without judging gay people. The curriculum avoids political disputes about "ex-gays" and about controversial therapies designed to make gay people straight. It mentions that some families have gay parents. It mentions that if a kid had engaged in sex play with someone of their own gender when they were younger it doesn't mean they're gay. It does this without encouraging sexual experimentation, without "promoting" anything, it just simply tells students that such things exist.

And this is where we see the opponents of the curriculum go ballistic. They will take a little phrase out of context from the board of education report and twist it, exaggerate it, make it sound like something terrible -- they will claim, for instance, the the new curriculum "instructs children in anal sex," because the video says that a condom should be worn during anal sex (the old video says the exact same thing). They'll tell you the curriculum encourages kids to identify themselves as straight or gay at an early age, and that the curriculum tells students as young as 13 that a sex life is necessary for a good self-image.

These statements are simply lies. The curriculum does no such thing.

Unfortunately, not many people are going to read the report that details the curriculum changes. There is a chance they will hear what these opponents of the changes are saying, and believe that stuff is really part of this health course. So one job for is making sure people can get the correct information.

How we got where we are
Last year a site appeared on the Internet, dedicated to kicking out the entire MCPS school board over this. The site,, was widely regarded as a laughingstock, as the comments that were posted there went overboard to the point of hilarilty. In fact, some blogs began republishing the outlandish things that were being said, for their humorous content. The Recall group finally put a password on the message board to keep the nonbelievers out, and eventually the site seemed to lose steam.

That web site was the location for messages and planning suggestions for a meeting held on December 4th, 2004, to organize against the school board and the new curriculum. Several of us attended that meeting who were not in agreement with those goals, but simply wanted to see what the hubbub was about.

For a guy like me, it was unbelievable.

The people there, one after another, talked about the "sodomites," and the "gay agenda" that was trying to corrupt our youth, and the necessity of imposing Christian morals on the public school system. Those people were adamant that their Crusade was very important, they were highly motivated, and they were organizing like crazy.

None of the core group of Teach the Facts knew each other before that meeting, but we got in touch through email and soon met, just a few of us, to figure out what to do. We started a blog, called "Vigilance," but soon realized we should set up a real web site, with the blog as one part of it. So we pooled our cash, bought a domain name and space on a web server, and went to town.

In the meantime, the Recall group was busy. They were trying -- mostly unsuccessfully -- to meet with local politicians, they were talking in the churches, passing around petitions, they were undermining the curriculum at every point they could think of. But some of the more savvy members realized it wasn't wise to state their goal as recalling the entire school board. So they started calling themselves something more benign-sounding, "Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum," and set up a web site with a blog of their own, and announcements etc.

We usually refer to them as the "Ex-Recall" group. It is clear that they have no love for the school board, and certainly would love to see them, at least most of them, recalled. The joke is, they have given up the goal of recalling the board about as much as most "ex-gays" have given up being gay.

At first, after the new web site started, activity ceased at the original Recall site, but after a while the first guys broke off from the CRC and it started back up again, but very weakly. There isn't much going on there now, it seems. The curriculum's opponents also started another pair of blog sites, one at that is supposed to be serious news about the school district, and another at, which is an embarrassing attempt at satire. Like, they think it's "satire" to refer to school board member Sharon Cox as "Sharon Cocks." Their main gist has to do with changes at Seven Locks school, but they also complain about the sex-ed curriculum.

In the meantime, several newspapers began to get wind of this controversy. The Washington Times, which is of course a conservative paper, published a series of stories, mostly tending toward the conservative view, that the curriculum was radical and wild and ridiculous. But we have noticed that, as The Times gets more knowledgeable about the actual issues, and as they come to see the motivations of the opponents of the curriculum, they have become more and more fair. The Gazette has also published a series of very well-balanced articles, documenting the controversy without taking sides. The Post has hardly covered it, their one story was riddled with errors. Other local papers, including The Examiner and The Sentinel have published stories on this. CNN came out and interviewed some people, as did a major radio network. CNN's story aired immediately, the radio network is developing a more in-depth piece that is taking some time.

The Ex-Recall group had their grand coming-out party on March 19th of this year, with a widely promoted "town hall meeting." A number of us from Teach the Facts felt obligated to attend. We knew it would be bad, but never dreamed how intensely ugly the rhetoric could be.

First of all, you need to realize that Ex-Recall constantly promotes themselves as mainstream. They'll tell you they are just a bunch of concerned parents and taxpayers (they include "and taxpayers" because at least one of their leaders sends his kids to private school, so the MCPS curriculum doesn't affect him at all). But everything they do, from the discussions on their blog to the political chicanery they try, reminds you again and again that they are a fringe group. Sometimes we call them "nuts," though I am trying to be nice in this post, but in fact their goals and their methods are extreme, nothing near the mainstream, even if they try to stay moderate in what they say.

Ex-Recall lined up a series of speakers for their town-hall meeting that reflected the farthest extreme of the religious right. The theme of the day was the threat of homosexuality. For three hours, we listened to one after the other warn us about how gays were infiltrating our society, trying to recruit our children. One speaker "dispelled myths" about gays, giving us any opinion or datum he could find, from any source, that put them in a bad light. Another sad-sack showed us a bunch of gay porn he had collected. Can you imagine? He has to travel all around the state, attending conferences where they have this stuff. And of course the way he stated everything, you woulda thought his gay porn was being shown right in our schools, right in the classroom. Another guy told us that "the threat of homosexuality is a far greater health threat to kids than even smoking. And anybody who is promoting homosexuality to our kids in the name of tolerance is not acting out of compassion -- they've got an agenda," which was followed by sustained, enthusiastic applause. They had a lady who somebody had crowned as "Mother of the Year," who, well, she didn't have much to say, except that a religious person can hardly send their kid to a public school any more. The meeting ended up with old-time preaching by a Maryland state delegate from Anne Arundel County, who shouted and waved his arms around and said he was "spreading hate and fear" of the homosexual agenda, and ... well, by the end I think the media folks there were in shock, many of us who came to observe were beyond shocked, bordering on nausea. Even the leaders of the Ex-Recall group told the press afterwards that they did not agree with the opinions expressed by their speakers.

Anybody can see those speakers' web sites, you see what they always say. They didn't surprise anyone. The leaders of the group know this plays badly in the press, it looks bad for them to be associated with these ... nuts, but these nuts really do express the core of their message. This is no mainstream movement, these are extremists trying to impose their views on a community that really doesn't agree with them.

We understand that Ex-Recall has sent a letter to the school board threatening a lawsuit. The grounds of the lawsuit, besides some made-up stuff about the process, are that if kids learn about homosexuality in school they will more likely turn out gay, and then they will get AIDS or some other horrible disease and die, and it will be the school board's fault. The letter threatens to sue to prevent that.

We know that their kind of viewpoint has support in the White House and the Congress. For instance, abstinence-only sex education curricula get preference for federal funding. We recently saw the new HHS webpage that strips all information about contraception away and just tells parents to teach their kids to say no to sex. American support for African countries fighting the AIDS epidemic is often dependent on their agreeing not to encourage the use of condoms. We see laws passed every week restricting the rights of gay people, and giving more latitude to people who want to impose their values onothers. In many, many ways we understand that the highest levels of American government are against us in this.

But this is not a battle at the highest levels of government. This is local. The people of Montgomery County will have the final say in this, and we are confident in their judgment.

What now?
This is obviously part of a larger battle, sometimes these days called "the culture war." One side, dominated by certain religious groups, wants America to live by its strict code, while the other side -- that's us -- prefers tolerance and acceptance of differences. There does not seem to be any room for compromise. In some places, like Alabama for instance, the "other side" clearly has the advantage. Montgomery County though is a traditionally liberal place, richly diverse, educated, and the puritanical conservatives are a small minority. It is possible though that a small minority makes so much noise that they end up getting their way, if the others don't stop them.

We at may be naively optimistic. We expect that the people of the county will use their heads, will discuss among themselves, and will inevitably understand what's happening here. We want people to look at the board's report, and see what material the schools will actually be teaching. Honestly, look it over and see if there's anything that offends you. There won't be.

If you're interested in this topic, please sign up for our Yahoo group. Come and participate with us -- we need people to carry petitions, to meet with parents' groups, to speak to the school board, and all of the things that need to be done to protect common sense in Montgomery County.

Friday, April 01, 2005

145 Organizations (including us) Protest New HHS Website for Parents

March 31, 2005

Secretary Michael O. Leavitt

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Leavitt,

We the undersigned are writing to express our deep concern with the Department of Health and Human Services' recently launched website: . All of us agree that parents should be the primary sexuality educators of their children. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to make certain that parents receive the accurate information and resources they need to achieve this difficult task. Unfortunately, fails to meet these goals and instead, relies on fear to motivate and contains many errors and biases that undermine its intent of encouraging parent-child communication around sex and sexuality. This website presents biased and inaccurate information as fact and does not address the needs of many youth, including sexually active youth, youth who have been or are being sexually abused, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

The website dictates values to parents rather than helping them to incorporate their own beliefs into discussions regarding sex and sexuality. For example, while discussing what they can do if their child has become sexually active, parents are told how to convince their teens to stop having sex by telling their children that they are "worth it." No resources or suggestions are provided for parents whose teen remains sexually active, implying that these youth are not "worth it." Another example suggests to parents that "always being prepared by having condoms" is a false sense of security, regardless of whether or not their teen is sexually active. Most parents want their young people to use condoms if they are sexually active.

Additionally, the website contains inaccurate information regarding the effectiveness of condoms and the ability of youth to properly use condoms and other forms of contraception. For example, states that it is easier to prevent a teen's first sexual experience rather than to increase contraceptive use, research has shown that programs that include both messages actually effectively do both. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, condom usage among sexually active high school students has gone up almost twenty percent in the past two decades (from 46 percent to 63 percent). Messages to teens should encourage them to delay sexual activity and, when sexually active, to use condoms and other forms of contraception. also contains a distressing lack of information for parents of sexually abused and assaulted youth. While it is commendable that the website includes some of the signs that a young person might have experienced sexual abuse in youth, it lists only one resource for parents, and this resource does not focus specifically on sexual abuse, but rather on all forms of child abuse.

The website also fails to address the unique needs of parents with LGBTQ children. Whenever discusses LGBTQ youth, it uses outdated and alienating language and ideas. For example, it repeatedly uses the terms "alternative lifestyle" and "homosexual." This language assumes that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) is a choice and also reduces LGB people to the mere equivalent of their sexual activity. The website also fails to include any information about transgender youth. Referrals for further information for LGBTQ youth and their parents are conspicuously absent.

The website also contains language that is clearly anti-choice in nature. For example, states that "abortion complications" are one of the major reasons for infertility. In reality, less than 1 percent of women receiving an abortion experience any major. Further, the website omits the more likely causes of infertility, such as blocked fallopian tubes. In three other examples:

• In its definition of menstruation, the website states that "if the egg is fertilized, this lining will nourish and protect the unborn child." "Unborn child" is not medically correct language; embryo or fetus would be accurate.

• The website defines abortion as "ending a pregnancy before a live birth occurs by removing the fetus or unborn baby from the uterus." Again, there is an agenda inherent in the language used.

• It is also extremely disturbing that includes a radical change in the definition of pregnancy. The medically accepted definition, which HHS previously used, states that pregnancy begins at implantation. claims that pregnancy begins much earlier, at fertilization. This departure flies in the face of the medical community, shows a blatant disregard for science, and is a clear attempt to insert anti-choice rhetoric into such straight-forward things as definitions.

Also troubling is that only one non-governmental organization is credited as having worked with HHS to create—the National Physicians Center for Family Resources (NPC). The NPC represents views that are far outside the values of mainstream Americans and the public health community. To begin, the NPC has repeatedly asserted a false connection between abortion and increased risk of breast cancer and has advocated for non-science-based interventions such as abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. They have also said that teaching young people about contraception is a "prescription for continued disaster." These are not messages supported by the public health community. Not surprisingly, the NPC has strong ties to right wing religious organizations, like the California Family Council, Alabama Family Alliance, and Focus on the Family and boasts of alliances with fringe medical associations and doctors such as the Alabama Physician Resource Council, the Physicians Consortium and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. By creating the website with only one organization—and one that has questionable credentials in this area—HHS has dangerously narrowed the information included on and in turn, shortchanged the very parents the site is meant to serve.

We respectfully request that the website be immediately taken down and that a formal review of its content and techniques for communication and behavioral learning be launched. This review should be done by a broadly accepted panel of experts in parent/child communication with well established credentials in this area. We also request any and all information related to whether or not a competitive process was used to choose NPC and the amount of taxpayer money, if any, NPC received for assisting in this effort.

We look forward to a response and to working with you further on creating a website that truly meets the needs of all parents and is based on the best available research.


9to5, National Association of Working Women
ABCD Health Services (Boston, MA)
Abortion Access Project
Advocates for Youth
AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc.
AIDS Action Council
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
AIDS Project Los Angeles
AIDS Resource Alliance, Inc. (Williamsport, PA)
Alan Guttmacher Institute
Alaska Pro Choice Alliance
Alaska Women's Lobby
American Academy of HIV Medicine
American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
American Civil Liberties Union
ACLU Foundation of Southern California
American Counseling Association
American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR)
American Humanist Association
American Medical Student Association
American Social Health Association
Americans for Democratic Action
Berkshire Center for Families and Children (Pittsfield, MA)
Berkshire Coalition to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (Pittsfield, MA)
Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc. (Groton, MA)
Care Bearers (Yakima, WA)
Cascade AIDS Project (Portland, OR)
Center for Health and Gender Equity
Center for HIV Law and Policy
Center for Human Development (Pleasant Hill, CA)
Center for Reproductive Rights
Center for Women Policy Studies
Community Health Partnership of Little Rock, AR
Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)
Department of Community Health (William Paterson University, NJ)
Equal Partners in Faith
Exponents (New York, NY)
Family Planning Advocates of New York State
Family Planning Association of Northeast Ohio, Inc.
Family Planning of the Big Horns (Sheridan, WY)
Family Planning Services of Lorain County, OH
Feminist Majority Foundation
Feminist Women's Health Center (WA)
FutureNet–The Iowa Network for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Parenting, & Sexual Health
The Gay/Lesbian Faculty/Staff Association (Montclair State University, NJ)
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
Gay Men's Health Crisis
Girls Incorporated
Harm Reduction Coalition
Health Access and Privacy Alliance
Health Care of Southeastern Massachusetts, Inc.
Health Department of Ventura High School (Ventura, CA)
Health Initiatives for Youth (San Francisco, CA)
Healthy Teen Network
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Watch
Ibis Reproductive Health (Cambridge, MA)
Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health
Indiana Civil Liberties Union
Indiana Justice Fund
Institute for Reproductive Health Access
Latina Initiative (Denver, CO)
Legal Momentum
Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy
Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP)
Ms. Foundation for Women
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health
National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA-US)
National Coalition of STD Directors
National Council of Jewish Women
National Education Association, Health Information Network
National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
National Organization for Women
National Women's Health Network
National Youth Advocacy Coalition
NARAL Pro-Choice America
NARAL Pro-Choice New Jersey Foundation
NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin
Nashville CARES
Negotiating the Maze (Albany, CA)
New Morning Foundation (SC)
New York AIDS Coalition
Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry
Northwest Women's Law Center
Northwest Wyoming Family Planning
Ohio AIDS Coalition
Okanogan Family Planning (Okanogan, WA)
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California
Planned Parenthood Association of Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Planned Parenthood Health Services of Southwestern Oregon
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
Planned Parenthood Northern Michigan
Planned Parenthood of Alaska
Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, Inc
Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio
Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette (OR)
Planned Parenthood of East Central Illinois
Planned Parenthood of Hawaii
Planned Parenthood of Indiana
Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington
Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, NY
Planned Parenthood of Nebraska & Council Bluffs
Planned Parenthood of New Mexico
Planned Parenthood of Pasadena
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains
Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura & San Luis Obispo Counties (CA)
Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan
Planned Parenthood of South Central New York, Inc.
Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, Inc.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey
Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region
Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania
Population Connection
Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota
Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights (Columbia University, NY)
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Indiana
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice of Massachusetts
Reproductive Health Technologies Project
Republican Majority for Choice (NY Chapter)
Sexuality Education for Life–Minnesota Coalition
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
Six Rivers Planned Parenthood (Eureka, CA)
The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
Sociologists for Women of Society
South Carolina Equality Coalition
Tapestry Health Services (MA) (Montgomery County, MD)
Treatment Access Expansion Project
Tri-State Alliance for Gays & Lesbians (IL, IN, KY)
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Washington County (Hillsboro, OR)
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Urban Youth Development Academy
The Well Project
Women of Reform Judaism
Women's Coalition South Bay (Redondo Beach, CA)
Women's Law Project
Women's Resource Center, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Young Parents' Education Center

Dr. Alma Golden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs
Wade Horn, PhD, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families
Michael J. O'Grady, PhD, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
Dr. Cristina Beato, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health

Bem on the Development of Sexual Orientation

I read something yesterday that surprised me. It was anti-gay psychologist Warren Throckmorton, posting on the Internet, saying: You really should examine the work of Daryl Bem at Cornell University concerning the interaction of environment and biological factors on sexual attractions.

Well, I spent a lot of time in graduate school studying and dissecting Bem's theory of self-perception, an early theoretical challenge to Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory, but I was not familiar with his research on sexual orientation. So I thought, cool, let's see what he says.

I found a very informative paper from Psychological Review, which I admit I subscribe to, and it comes quarterly but I just don't seem to keep up with the journals like I used to. Luckily, Bem had a PDF of this 1996 article on his web site (the APA does not usually let you publish their articles on the net, I suspect this is an act of defiance on his part). This paper summarizes Bem's theory of sexual orientation -- by the way, Psych Review is a very prestigious APA journal that publishes long, in-depth reviews of mature research programs. He begins:
The question "What causes homosexuality?" is both politically suspect and scientifically misconceived. Politically suspect because it is so frequently motivated by an agenda of prevention and cure. Scientifically misconceived because it presumes that heterosexuality is so well understood, so obviously the "natural" evolutionary consequence of reproductive advantage, that only deviations from it are theoretically problematic. Freud himself did not so presume: "[ Heterosexuality ] is also a problem that needs elucidation and is not a self-evident fact based upon an attraction that is ultimately of a chemical nature" (Freud, 1905/1962, pp. I 1-12). Exotic Becomes Erotic: A Developmental Theory of Sexual Orientation

All righty now. Looks like this Bem feller's gonna take us fer a ride, ain't he? "Motivated by an agenda of prevention and cure," he says. Wow, that would be Throckmorton himself, wouldn't it? [Note to the uninitiated: this whole post is steeped in irony. Warren Throckmorton is a psychologist who panders to the religious right, writing and speaking constantly that homosexuality can be treated in psychotherapy, which puts him at odds with the entire profession of counselors and therapists. The fact that he recommends Bem is really just a sign that he knows that those who read his junk-science are too ignorant to check his sources.]

And this is going to get hairy, because Daryl Bem is no small-town huckster trying to simplify a complicated issue into black and white. No, he is going to make this hard, he's going to throw away all his assumptions and look at this topic freshly.
Accordingly, this article proposes a developmental theory of erotic/romantic attraction that provides the same basic account for both opposite-sex and same-sex desire--and for both men and women. In addition to finding such parsimony politically, scientifically, and aesthetically satisfying, I believe that it can also be sustained by the evidence.

The academic discourse on sexual orientation is currently dominated by the biological essentialists--who can point to a corpus of evidence linking sexual orientation to genes, prenatal hormones, and brain neuroanatomy--and the social constructionists- who can point to a corpus of historical and anthropological evidence showing that the very concept of sexual orientation is a culture-bound notion (De Cecco & Elia, 1993). The personality, clinical, and developmental theorists who once dominated the discourse on this topic have fallen conspicuously silent. Some have probably become closet converts to biology because they cannot point to a coherent corpus of evidence that supports an experience-based account of sexual orientation. This would be understandable; experience-based theories have not fared well empirically in recent years.

Bem then reviews some research, pointing out that
The data ... failed to support any of several possible accounts based on mechanisms of learning or conditioning, including the popular layperson's "seduction" theory of homosexuality.

In particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that would presumably serve as the basis for such learning or conditioning typically occurred after, rather than before, the individual experienced the relevant sexual feelings, Gay men and lesbians, for example, had typically not participated in any "advanced" sexual activities with persons of the same sex until about 3 years after they had become aware of same-sex attractions. Moreover, they neither lacked opposite-sex sexual experiences during their childhood and adolescent years nor found them unpleasant.

And finally, there was no support for "labeling" theory, which suggests that individuals might adopt a homosexual orientation as a consequence of being labeled homosexual or sexually different by others as they were growing up. Although gay men and lesbians were, in fact, more likely to report that they had been so labeled, the path analysis revealed the differential labeling to be the result of an emerging homosexual orientation rather than a cause of or even a secondary contributor to it.

I apologize for quoting so extensively from this scholarly paper. But I think it is important for participants in this dialogue to get a feeling for the extent to which these topics have already been studied, and a feel for the tone of the academic discussion.

The idea that a health education class is going to turn kids gay, so that they all catch AIDS and die, and so we'd better sue the schools right now before it happens, is a very primitive one that does not really deserve attention. These are actually interesting and very complex topics, deserving better than parochial slogan-slinging.

Bem agrees that there is a genetic factor in homosexuality, but theorizes that the genetic effect is indirect. I can't go into it entirely in the length of a blog post, and you'd have to understand some stuff about misattribution of arousal and other arcane psychological stuff, but suffice it to say, Bem theorizes that the biological factors affect childhood behavior, which then affects what stimuli the individual will find erotically attractive later in life.

Most interesting, Bem -- whose marriage to Sandra Bem was an exercise in feminist ideals that has been written about extensively -- considers the usual dichotomy of gay/straight to be rather unimportant, from a scientific point of view. It is a relatively recent social construct, he says, but a poor descriptor of human sexuality. Instead, Bem proposes that there are two paths, a homoerotic one and a heteroerotic one. Theoretically these two dimensions are independent:
Empirically, however, the two dimensions are likely to be negatively correlated in a gender-polarizing culture like ours in which most individuals come to be familiar with one sex while being estranged from the other...

Culture thus influences not only the structure and distribution of sexual orientation in a society but also how its natives, including its biological and behavioral scientists, think about sexual orientation. Like the natives of any gender-polarizing culture, we have learned to look at the world through the lenses of gender, to impose the male-female dichotomy on virtually every aspect of life, especially sexuality. Which brings us, finally, to the most deeply embedded cultural assumption of all--that sexual orientation is necessarily based on sex.

Very interesting, Bem suggests that the polarization of sexuality is something learned, something cultural, and that people have a general erotic tendency which could fixate on any kind of partner (his comments about the ducks in this article are great).

Finally, he quotes a statement from his wife and notes that it suggests
... the shape that sexual orientation might assume in a non-gender-polarizing culture, a culture that did not systematically estrange its children from either opposite-sex or same-sex peers. Such children would not grow up to be asexual; rather, their erotic and romantic preferences would simply crystallize around a more diverse and idiosyncratic variety of attributes. Gentlemen might still prefer blonds, but some of those gentlemen (and some ladies) would prefer blonds of any sex.

The Bems chose to raise their own children in a non-gender-polarizing home. Not everyone in our society has the fortitude to swim upstream like that, but they show it can be done.

The MCPS sex education curriculum is extremely conservative, compared to these ideas that Dr. Throckmorton has recommended to us. It depends on old-fashioned assumptions of polarization, and describes sexual orientation in the ways that mainstream Americans think of it. The controversy, of course, is that the curriculum intends to discuss sexual orientation at all. It is clearly an important step toward tolerance and understanding, and an important chunk of education for our children that should not be left out.