Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Besen Writes the School Board

The "ex-gay" phenomenon is a strange bird. Because some passages in the Bible can be interpreted as saying that homosexuality is a sin or worse, some religious groups make it a major focus of their mission to see that gay people stay in the closet. Or if they're already out, they try to make them go back. This puts people who subscribe to those religions in a bad place, torn between their feelings -- the way they are, really -- and their religious beliefs.

We can only imagine how it is to grow up in a very religious environment and learn that God doesn't love you, that you need to pretend to be somebody else in order to earn His blessing. Some people in that position simply choose a different church, and of course there are lots of Christian churches that have no problem at all with whatever your sexual orientation or gender identity might be. For some other people, though, the only choice they can see is to try to stop being gay.

And so there are organizations out there with guys giving speeches claiming that they have become straight. There are a lot more who used to say they had become straight, but now are gay again, and I suppose that reveals the real issue, which is that sexual orientation really doesn't change. Oh, there might have been a couple of people sometime who found they had changed, or found they weren't what they thought they were, but you can't change who you're attracted to through prayer or therapy. God and/or nature put those feelings there, and you can't wish them away. Some people assert that you can, as a kind of "what if" argument without the "what if," but everybody knows what's going on: you don't choose to be straight, and you don't choose to be gay.

So the problem is that at their base, these organizations that promote changing from homosexual to heterosexual are fraudulent. The product they sell is hope for something that will never happen.

There are a couple of groups that keep an eye on the "ex-gay" movement, monitoring their claims and their excesses. Ex-Gay Watch is one such group, and I recommend that you read the thoughtful and careful comments they post on their blog, it is really a good site. Another, newer group, is Truth Wins Out, formed by activist Wayne Besen, who has been in the face of the ex-gay leaders who exaggerate and manipulate for a long time.

Besen recently sent a letter to the Montgomery County Public Schools' Board of Education regarding the fact that the "ex-gay" advocacy group PFOX has been sending home flyers in MCPS students' backpacks. It's a pretty long letter, but I'm going to post the whole thing, just to get it on the record here:
January 26, 2007

Montgomery County Public Schools
Board of Education
Attn: Ms. Nancy Navarro, President

Dear Ms. Navarro:

As the founder of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that monitors “ex-gay” ministries, and as the author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, I have studied Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) for many years. I am deeply concerned about the deceptive PFOX flyer going home with students on Feb. 1. If you look beneath the surface, PFOX is a dangerous group that puts children at risk and has ties to a group that recently justified slavery.

Before I further discuss PFOX’s troubling record, I want to thank you and the board for instituting a curriculum that works towards greater understanding and tolerance. In the face of organized pressure, you have stood firm and taken steps towards reducing harassment and making life better on campus for GLBT students. This is why I think it is essential that the Board of Education have the full story regarding PFOX.

While PFOX has presented an ostensibly innocuous handout for MCPS, their goal is to drive impressionable students to their website. Once there, students will receive misinformation or be referred to the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). This fringe organization made national news in 2006 after an article was published on its website by Dr. Gerald Schoenewolf, a key member of NARTH’s “Scientific Advisory Committee.” His offending essay included the following: (I have attached the full essay)

“There is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America,” writes Schoenewolf. “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle…Life there was savage… and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.”

The National Black Justice Coalition and the Southern Poverty Law Center swiftly condemned the article, and the Los Angeles Times covered the scandal on Oct. 15, 2006.

NARTH has also shown great insensitivity to gender variant schoolchildren. Last year, Dr. Joseph Berger, also on the “Scientific Advisory Committee,” published an article on NARTH’s website that said these children should be “ridiculed” into conforming. After a public outcry, NARTH removed the article. (Berger article is attached)

While these episodes are deeply troubling, it is equally troubling that much of PFOX’s information regarding homosexuality comes from NARTH. Unfortunately, PFOX’s ties to NARTH are not peripheral. PFOX’s former Board President Richard Cohen has long had an intimate relationship with the group, even serving as a featured conference trainer at their 2000 annual meeting in Washington.

Truth Wins Out is concerned that the PFOX flyer would essentially be providing a referral service for “therapist” Richard Cohen and his anti-gay activism. It is important to note that Cohen was expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002 for malpractice. Yet, he is the chief referral on the PFOX site and seemingly the only therapist PFOX recommends in the state of Maryland. While the MCPS has an obligation to represent diverse viewpoints, there should be great trepidation that the PFOX flyer might hand deliver students to a man who was severely rebuked and barred by his colleagues for unethical therapy.

Some of Cohen’s methods are quite bizarre and should be strongly considered by the MCPS as they consider future input from PFOX. A few of his scientifically questionable methods that won’t be found in PFOX’s flier include:

Spiritual Warfare: Cohen has suggested in his book, Coming Out Straight, that avenging spirits from dead relatives are one potential cause of homosexuality. This strange idea could surely influence the way some students view their gay peers, leading to increased alienation or harassment.

Touch Therapy: This is where Cohen gets clients to sit on his lap (or the lap of another man) while the client is softly petted – supposedly in a nonsexual way. Cohen’s technique likely came from his time living on Vashon Island with the Wesleyan Christian Community Church, a cult that news reports say practiced nude therapy in church.

Intrauterine Memory Recovery: Cohen believes that if a mother had bad experiences during pregnancy, such as fights with her husband, this could traumatize the fetus and lead to homosexuality. Cohen promotes the idea that through therapy, a client can retrieve memories from the womb, which could help him or her become heterosexual.

Bioenergetics: This is where Cohen tries to induce flashbacks in clients so they can remember when they became gay. To generate these supposedly repressed memories, Cohen has clients bang a tennis racket against a pillow, while yelling the name of his or her parents. Clients are also encouraged to unfairly blame parents for causing their homosexuality. This often divides families, causing an unnecessary rift between parents and children.

Aversion: Cohen tries to create an aversion to homosexuality by chronically demeaning homosexuals and dehumanizing them. For example, in his book, Coming Out Straight, he says, without supporting evidence, that, “A man with same-sex attractions may have a chameleon-like nature” or suffer from “impatience or lack of discipline.”

In light of glaring statistics showing GLBT students are more likely to commit suicide as a result societal rejection, the MCPS should have great apprehension about PFOX’s divisive and discriminatory rhetoric being introduced to students. While PFOX has a right to free speech, there is no inherent right to false speech that seeks to ridicule and demonize GLBT Americans.

Additionally, there is also the concern that students are receiving incorrect information on homosexuality that flies in the face of every respected medical and mental health organization in America. In August 2006, the American Psychological Association clearly said that ex-gay therapy was scientifically unsound and could promote discrimination. According to the APA:

“For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA’s concern about the position’s espoused by NARTH and so-called conversion therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

The American Psychiatric Association says that ex-gay therapy can lead to “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.” This is a major reason why the American Medical Association specifically opposes “the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” (AMA Policy Number H-160.991).

As harmful as the experts consider ex-gay therapy, the way it is administered by PFOX exponentially raises the possibility of harm to students. The distribution of PFOX’s flyers is clearly the equivalent of the smoking industry handing out “informational” materials on campus touting the health benefits of cigarettes. The experts have spoken and I hope that these learned opinions and medical standards would be reflected and incorporated in MCPS curriculum.

Truth Wins Out requests that you thoroughly investigate PFOX, Cohen’s troubling record and the dubious groups PFOX is associated with before considering their positions on homosexuality. I would be more than happy to provide my book, Anything But Straight, to school board members and meet with you to further discuss this matter.

There is no doubt in my mind that you want what is best for students and are concerned about their health and well-being. That is why I urge you to review the full array of facts before students are subjected to disinformation that could cause them psychological or physical harm. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.


Wayne Besen
Executive Director
Truth Wins Out
Letter To Montgomery County School Board President From TWO

I should point out that it now appears that Richard Cohen is no longer President of PFOX, as he was for years, even long after being expelled for life from the American Counseling Association.

The school district was told by the court that they had no discretion over what could be sent home with students, unless a document contained hate speech. They could decide not to allow any flyers from outside the school to go home, making life difficult for extracurricular groups with a legitimate need to communicate to students; the alternative was to let everybody send flyers home, at least any nonprofit organization, and this is what they decided to do. The resulting policy is posted HERE. Schools can send extracurricular materials home four times a year, and they have to have a disclaimer on them.

This is a tough one. The schools should not be actively promoting an evil group like PFOX, whose message is not only the opposite of our community's values regarding right and wrong, but also contradicts what students will be taught in Health class. Common sense says that the schools should have control over the materials that are given to students, but as long as PFOX is careful not to cross the line (which is not very far away) into "hate speech," it appears that our public schools will be delivering their message for them.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Prefers Terrorism to "Left-Leaning Crazies"

Wikipedia says this about this writer: Mike Gallagher (born in Dayton, Ohio on April 7, 1960) is a popular conservative American radio talk show host. He is, according to Talkers Magazine estimates, the 6th most listened-to radio talk show host in the United States [[NewsMax. Magazine's "Top 25 Talk Radio Host" list selected Gallagher as the eleventh most influential host in the nation.

So this isn't just some guy flapping his jaw. A lot of people listen to this nut.

Here's what he's written in TownHall today (h/t Atrios), about the anti-war march this weekend, which Jane Fonda spoke at:
Seeing Jane Fonda Saturday was enough to make me wish the unthinkable: it will take another terror attack on American soil in order to render these left-leaning crazies irrelevant again. Remember how quiet they were after 9/11? No one dared take them seriously. It was the United States against the terrorist world, just like it should be.

It's time to stand tall, speak loudly and defend America against these enemies like Hanoi Jane. Hanoi Jane makes me sick..literally

Man, I'll tell you ... I'll just leave that to speak for itself.

Two MoCo Girls Missing: Web Site

Two Montgomery County girls have been missing for nearly two weeks, and their families are asking anyone who has seen them to please let them know.

The disappearance of two Montgomery County teenagers has prompted a nationwide search amid fears about the meaning behind a note left by one of the young women about her desire to "stay with my true love, buried next to her."
Rachel Crites, 18, of Gaithersburg and Rachel Smith, 16, of North Potomac both called their parents Friday afternoon to say they were in Georgetown and planning to see a movie.

But cell phone records showed the call was placed from Charles Town, W.Va., a small town south of Frederick best known for its horseracing track.

That was the last their parents heard from them. Now the Montgomery County Police have issued a nationwide search for the teens and for Crites’ dark blue 1997 Subaru Outback station wagon. Nationwide search launched for missing teens

Maryam Balbed has set up a web site with information, phone numbers to call, and a flyer: CLICK HERE.

If you have any information about these girls, please get in touch with police or families, and let's get them back where they're safe.

The Media, Revealed

I probably shouldn't yell at the newspapers when they make stuff up and report non-facts, but I have come to realize that that's really at the core of our current crisis. When this sad era of American history is ended, the story will not be about George W. Bush, who is after all just a regular doofus who got in over his head. The lesson of history will be about the symbiotic relationship between corporate media and political power.

So it has been just fascinating this past week to read the testimony from the Scooter Libby trial, where White House insiders tell about how they work with the press. From the online Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- A smorgasbord of Washington insider details emerged during the perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff.

No one served up spicier morsels than Cathie Martin, Vice President Dick Cheney's former top press assistant . Martin described the craft of media manipulation -- under oath and in blunter terms than politicians like to hear in public.

Most of the techniques were candidly described: the uses of leaks and exclusives, when to hide in anonymity, which news medium was seen as more susceptible to control, and what timing was most propitious.

Even the rating of certain journalists as friends to favor and critics to shun -- a faint echo of the enemies list drawn up in Richard Nixon's White House more than 30 years ago. Libby case witness details art of media manipulation

I'm sure some of this was embarrassing for some news people -- well, it should be. Tim Russert took an especially direct hit when one of Martin's notes had the word "control" next to mention of Russert's Meet the Press show. She explained that her note meant the Vice President's office knew they could control the message on Russert's show.

The testimony goes on to explain why George Tenet took the blame for the Bush lie misstatement about Iraq trying to buy uranium in the 2003 State of the Union Address, and other insider topics that everybody had speculated about and never really knew.

If you want to keep track of the trial, Firedog Lake has live-bloggers in the courthouse, pounding their laptops to capture everything that is said and everything that happens. Yesterday they even had somebody in the courtroom itself, though laptops aren't allowed there. These reports are long, don't figure you'll get any work done if you start reading this, but it is amazingly fascinating, watching the maneuvering and lawyering in progress, and finding out about the previously-secret details of how the White House uses the media to get their not-necessarily-accurate story to the public.

The Libby trial might make us pause for a moment and think about the State of the Union address from 2003 compared to the one last week. This trial is about the President fibbing a little bit about whether Iraq was buying uranium from Niger, and then the administration getting revenge on a guy who blew the whistle on them, by revealing that his wife was a CIA agent.

In 2003 people expected the President to tell the truth. It was actually controversial four years ago for someone in the media to point out that something he'd said was not correct.

Look at this year. Do you remember in last week's address when he listed off all the successes he's had in his "war on terror?" Here, a web site has a list of them, you will remember hearing them all:
1.-"We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast."

2.-"We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America."

3.-"Just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean."

4.-"We broke up a Southeast Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States."

Bush's Four Anti-Terror Successes All Fictional

If you watched his speech, think back to how you reacted when he said these things. Did you believe him? Of course not. You rolled your eyes and waited to see what he would do next. took the time to look into each of these statements, and of course, as their headline says, they are all fictional.

But do you turn on the TV news and see people discussing this? Of course not. Do you think there will be any questions in the press about why the President said these things, and what he was referring to, and whether the statements were accurate or not? No, that happened in 2003 when he said Iraq was trying to buy uranium, but it won't happen now. Because now everybody knows he makes this stuff up, nobody takes it seriously any more, nobody thinks it's even supposed to be true.

One method of influencing the media used by conservatives has been to constantly assert that the media have a liberal bias. The effect of this is to push the news more and more toward the conservative point of view as they try to compensate, dragging public opinion with them, until you reach the point where Barry Goldwater would be a liberal by modern standards. There is a new push by Democrats to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC rule abandoned during the Reagan administration, that said that television and radio licensees had to give equal time to both parties.

I'll tell you what, Google for that term, "fairness doctrine," and you tell me if every site you see isn't a rightwinger raving about what a bad idea this is. They feel very threatened by the return of the Fairness Doctrine, but why should they? --If the media have such a liberal bias, then the Fairness Doctrine could only benefit conservatives, right? The Democrats should be against it, Republicans should be for it.

Raw Story had a piece on this last week:
Media reform is the most important issue confronting our democratic republic and the people of our country," Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) said at the Free Press National Media Reform Conference held in Memphis, Tennessee last weekend. "This is a critical moment in history that may determine the future of our country…maybe forever."
Hinchey added, “There is a definite role for the public. The American people have got to understand how important this is. Five corporations control ninety percent of radio and TV. They are trying to change the rules of access to let them control the newspapers as well.”

In an op-ed published at a website run by the right-wing think tank Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the owner of the web-based news journal, Daley Times-Post, argues that Democratic efforts to exhume the fairness doctrine reveal "just how far to the left their party has slid over the years."
Asked whether the Congressman believes there is now an attempt at a fascist takeover of the U.S., a Hinchey staffer noted that Rep. Hinchey’s legislation arose from his concern about increasing concentration of media ownership into the hands of a few individuals and corporations. “Whether or not there is a purpose that includes fascism, we could wind up in a fascist situation if corporations end up controlling information without the government providing some balancing mechanism, such as the Fairness Doctrine,” said the staffer, who spoke on background only and did not wish to be named. “He would also say that the FCC’s recent efforts to weaken media ownership rules in order to enable corporations to own more and more outlets plays into that as well.” Rep. believes Democratic media reform bill may prevent possible 'fascist' takeover of US media

I have confidence in America to pull itself upright again. We definitely lost balance over the past half-dozen years or so, but people are smart enough to see what's going on. We're seeing it everywhere these days.

And there's still a market for honest, accurate news. People haven't given up on the truth.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Alexandria's Fake Controversy

Alexandria Virginia is in another state, across the river from us, around the Beltway. Montgomery County folks go down there to listen to music, we have friends and relatives there -- it's not really very far, but ... even though you can just about throw a rock from our county to theirs, their news is not really "local" news to us.

There have been a few stories lately in The Examiner asserting that there is some controversy over their sex-ed curriculum. The problem is ... it's The Examiner, whose news stories do not necessarily bear any relationship to reality. You can't trust that their quotes aren't made up, that they haven't inverted the truth just to make a point. So please, take all this with a grain of salt.

On January 12th, reporter David Francis broke this exciting story:
Alexandria - A transsexual is “a person who has had a medical sex change, male to female or female to male.” A transvestite is “a person who dresses in the clothes of the opposite gender for sexual pleasure (may be of any sexual orientation.)”

This language, found in the guidance given to sex education teachers in Alexandria high school — as well as language about homosexuality and abortion — has a liberal bias and should be excluded from the classroom, according to Kenneth Wolfe. Wolfe is a 10-year member of the Family Life Advisory Committee, the panel charged with reviewing Alexandria’s sex education curriculum.

Wolfe is a political conservative who said other panel members supported the guidance. He argued the definitions and other content in the sexual orientation section, as well as the inclusion of language in the abortion section from pro-choice organization Planned Parenthood, is inappropriate. Concerns raised over Alexandria sex education curriculum guide

Well, first of all, you look through the text and try to figure out what "the guidance given to sex education teachers" means. Are these background notes for health teachers? That wording suggests that this is not something they bring up in class... and anyway, why wouldn't they? Is there a reason that Alexandria teenagers need to be kept in the dark about transgender and transvestites?

(And I should point out, their definitions are all wrong. They need some advice on some of this.)

One suspects this second-rate newspaper is scraping the bottom of the barrel to boost its readership by two or three subscribers.

On January 17th, The Examiner followed up with this shocking news:
Alexandria - A second member of an Alexandria school advisory committee charged with reviewing the school district’s high school sexual education curriculum has come forward with serious concerns and has called for the end of the class.

“Nothing would make me happier than to see this class go away,” said Marie Steinmetz, a family doctor who serves on the Family Life Advisory Committee. “I don’t think it’s the best thing for the students of the school system.”

Two of the Family Life Advisory Committee’s five members have now registered complaints about the sex education program in Alexandria’s high schools.

Steinmetz joins Kenneth Wolfe, a 10-year committee member, who said language on abortion and homosexuality in curriculum guidelines used by teachers have a liberal bias. Alexandria school advisory committee split on sex-ed class

Ah, but this one is transparent.

Look, they say this doctor would like the class to "go away." Then the story tells you stuff, again, about transsexuals, and mentions Planned Parenthood, which they describe as an "abortion rights organization."

But does Dr. Steinmetz object to the content of the curriculum? Even The Examiner can't put those words in her mouth:
Steinmetz said she thought the guidelines lean left, but that was in line with the political leaning of the city. She said she wanted to get rid of the class because it is ineffective and takes away other learning opportunities.

“As a scientist, show me the evidence that [the class] is doing what its expected to do,” she said, noting that Alexandria’s teen pregnancy rates are among the highest in Virginia.

Steinmetz added that taking the class prevents students from taking other classes, such as band or additional languages. She said sex education should be included in physical education class, and parents should be allowed to opt their children out of individual parts of the class instead of being forced to completely remove their kids. Alexandria school advisory committee split on sex-ed class

Look, this newspaper has no journalist standards. We have seen them flat-out make stuff up. We saw them say things about Montgomery County, Virginia, in a story about Montgomery County, Maryland, hoping you'd never notice. Our school district says they printed a retraction of their last story about our situation, but that story, which is entirely incorrect, is still online.

By putting the complaint that the sex-ed curriculum has stuff about abortion and homosexuality together with the fact that this doctor doesn't think sex-ed is effective, they try to make you think the doctor objects to the new curriculum. Naw, she thinks it's a good fit to the community, she just wonders if sex education is a waste of time. That's a legitimate concern, though it's pretty clear people want it in the schools.

The Examiner is manufacturing this "controversy."

Look, you can see the document they're talking about HERE. It says "**** DRAFT ****" at the top of the pages in question.

There is a section on abortion, which is of course a good idea, but one that Montgomery County chickened out on. It's also still in draft form, but the outline starts like this:
1. State Ground rules:
You may express opinions, beliefs, and values; however, this is neither a debate nor a talk show.
We are not here to argue or “convince” anyone.

You may keep your private position and opinions private. No one will be asked or forced to reveal their personal opinions. (Including the teacher.)

Proper terminology will be taught and then used. Insulting, attacking or prejudicial language will not be tolerated.

This is an information lesson. It will give you the basis for forming or defending your point of view from a position of knowledge. No final conclusions or position will be required.
2. Definition: Abortion is the intentional termination of a pregnancy by medical removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus...

OK, you know you're going to talk about something that people have opinions about. Put it on the table. I think this is exactly the right way to bring up this topic. Where our Montgomery County curriculum puts a lid on discussion, Alexandria is going to make it the central feature of the class. Why would anybody object to that? Kids can say whatever they want, they can express mom and dad's opinions in class, this should be perfect for the ... conservatives. I definitely think it's better than what our county did, which is to ignore the topic altogether for political reasons.

The draft Alexandria lesson discusses the history of abortion law, helps kids understand what the pro-choice--pro-life continuum is about, and rate their opinions on the scale. Man, this makes a lot of sense. Nobody's taking sides, they're just saying, this is what people are talking about. You'll see it in the newspapers, you'll hear about it in church, from your friends, this is what they're talking about.

The Examiner had to push the issue a little further in a January 19th article, also by the same reporter, David Francis:
WASHINGTON - Alexandria public schools are now saying controversial lesson plans on abortion and sexual orientation included in guidance given to high school sex education teachers are drafts and are not being used in classrooms.

“The lesson plans for teaching about abortion and sexual orientation ... are drafts and they are now labeled as drafts,” school spokeswoman Amy Carlini said in an e-mail exchange with The Examiner.

The lesson plans posted as the 2006 Family Life Education Curriculum guide on a public page of the Alexandria schools Web site last week gave no indication the plans were drafts. In a version of the document posted on its Web site Thursday, the abortion and sexual orientation sections are now marked as drafts.

Margaret Walsh, executive director of secondary programs for Alexandria, told The Examiner last week the material did not have to be approved by the panel to be used in schools. Only a curriculum specialist needs to approve the guidance. The panel “is doing exactly what they’re suppose to do,” she said last week, “provide advice on what they think or don’t think of the course.” Schools: Sex-ed lesson plans are drafts

The curriculum outline document says "2006" on the top, and shows no sign of having been edited. Maybe it was, but I'm not buying this story. In any case, it is clear as day now. The rest of this, OK, Alexandria develops a new curriculum, they don't have to ask everybody in the world what they think about it. At some point, you trust the professionals to do their job.

Regarding the committee member who complained, The Examiner quotes a school spokesman:
Carlini said Walsh’s explanation is incorrect. “The curriculum specialist oversees what is taught in classrooms,” she said. “He basically makes sure that what the school board has approved is what is being taught.”

If a majority of advisory committee members have concerns, they work with school staff to make changes. If the issue is unresolved, the school board reviews the matter and makes decisions about changes, she said.

So, notice this: The Examiner is pretending there is a controversy in Alexandria, because one guy -- ONE GUY -- complained about something. They have even stopped pretending that the doctor had complained about it:
In response to recent reports, the schools posted on their Web site and sent to PTA presidents a statement attempting to clarify the curriculum. It says nothing new has been added, that the lesson plans in question were not being used, and that students can opt out of the class.

Wolfe is the only member of the five-member panel who raised concerns about the curriculum based on its content. The committee’s review of the curriculum is ongoing.

Then again, on the 25th, the same reporter at the same newspaper has a non-story about PFOX wanting to include "ex-gays" in the Alexandria curriculum:
“Why is there no mention of the ex-gay community in the lesson plan when every other sexual orientation is discussed and supported? Many ex-gays and their families are fine people,” Regina Griggs, executive director of the group, wrote in a Jan. 22 letter [to the school board]. “They do not think something is wrong with them because they decided to fulfill their heterosexual potential.” ‘Ex-gay’ material requested for sex-ed

Oh, this is all so familiar ...

This is very similar to the way things started here in Montgomery County, except for one important factor. The political climate in December 2004 seemed to support an attack by anti-gay, anti-choice radicals. There was some reason, after the 2004 elections, to think you could recall the whole school board as part of the movement away from democracy that had hit its stride at that time. Now ... nobody accepts it. It seemed like a good idea to some people at the time, to force the whole country to be good Christians, but the problems with that quickly became apparent, and people have now realized that the American Way is still the best. Freedom and tolerance work, at least; it may not be pretty all the time, but people simply can't live under Puritan lockdown.

So here, in 2007, you've got one guy in Alexandria, and one newspaper that thinks they can make a name for themselves, trying to start a controversy over ... nothing. Alexandria is not some little Podunk town somewhere, and I doubt that the people there will put up with this any more than people in Montgomery County did.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Lots and Lots of People

The Washington Post and AP are both reporting that "tens of thousands" of people marched in Washington DC today to protest the war. I see that is the phrase of the day across the news reports: "tens of thousands."

No, they're just messin' with you -- this is just something the media like to do.

There were hundreds of thousands of people there.

The crowd was very peaceful, determined, low-key. Previous anti-war protests have been high-energy events, with lots of chanting and singing and skits and costumes and crowds surging this way and that, but this time was different. It's very serious now, people walked along talking. There were some chants. Like, here was a new one:
What do we want?
-- Moderate concessions
When do we want it?
-- In a reasonable time

This was a most interesting crowd. Lots of families, lots of gray hair. Nicely-maintained heiresses and college students and people with babies, vets in uniform and people with dogs on a leash and people with dogs in their arms, teenagers and baby-boomers (lots of baby-boomers) and old, old, wrinkle-faced people hobbling along, all rejecting the President's war and the President's message.

I took a few pictures with my little Canon point-and-shoot while we were there. It was a beautiful day, cool but not chilly like it's been.

In the usual course of things, an event like this -- a quarter-million or more people gathered in one place to make a statement that resonates throughout the country -- will be ignored by the media. I expect this one will be, too. You won't get this from your television or newspaper. You had to be there to know.

Things "We" Do

This looks pretty bad. The United States "arrested" a Canadian citizen who was passing through the US, grabbed him while he was changing planes in an airport, and sent him to Syria to be held in solitary confinement and tortured for ten and a half months.

Canada conducted an investigation and found the man completely innocent. The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, formally apologized to the man this past week, and Canada is awarding him a multimillion dollar payment as compensation for his ordeal.
Maher Arar said his innocence has been confirmed by the formal apology Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued to him on Friday.

"This means the world to me," Arar said during a one-hour press conference in Ottawa on Friday afternoon.

Earlier Friday, Harper apologized and offered a $10.5 million [Canadian, about $9 Million USD] compensation package to Arar and his family, along with money for legal fees, for the "terrible ordeal" they suffered after Arar spent nearly a year in a Syrian jail.

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you…and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003," Harper said.

"I sincerely hope that these words and actions will assist you and your family in your efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in your lives," he said. Harper's apology 'means the world': Arar

This case has caused a lot of tension between the US and Canada, with the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police resigning, a summit meeting and legal agreement (the "Monterrey Accord") between Harper and President Bush, several attempts at US lawsuits, which American courts have rejected on "national security" grounds, and more. It has been a big news story in Canada. Oddly, not mentioned much in the American media.

Here's his story, in a nutshell.
In 2002, the engineer was living in Ottawa and returning from a vacation when he was arrested during a stopover at New York's JFK Airport. U.S. authorities deported him to Syria, where he was tortured.

Ottawa set up a judicial inquiry into the case, led by Justice Dennis O'Connor, after Arar returned to Canada more than a year later.

O'Connor released his report in September 2006, concluding that Arar had no links to terrorist organizations or militants.

He also concluded the RCMP had provided misleading information to the U.S. authorities, which may have been the reason he was sent to Syria.

The government intends to implement the report's recommendations to ensure such an incident does not happen again, Harper said.

Earlier this week, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins criticized Ottawa's efforts to have Arar removed from a U.S. security watch list, saying Washington alone will decide who to let into the country.

The prime minister said the government will continue to press the U.S. to remove Arar from the watch list.

"We believe the evidence is clear that Mr. Arar has been treated unjustly," Harper said.

It is more and more difficult these days to talk about the United States in the first-person plural. I hate to say "we" sent this innocent man off to be tortured. I hate to say "we" maintain secret prisons where this sort of thing happens to thousands of inmates who have never been charged with any crime.

And I especially hate to say "we" are too stubborn to admit when "we" have screwed up. "We" are going to keep this man's name on the watch-list, so he can't travel anywhere, so he is always suspected of being a terrorist, even though the evidence against him was nonexistent and a Canadian investigation found nothing to link him to terrorism.

I just hate having to say that.

Even if "we" received bad information from the Mounties, there is no way his treatment was justified. If "we" had a legal system, with laws in writing and courts and legal representation and habeus corpus, the consequences of "our" mistake would've been something "we" could live with, instead of something "we" have to lie about and deny.

Friday, January 26, 2007

What's Going On At Shady Grove?

The citizens advisory committee made its recommendations for a new sex-ed curriculum, the school board voted unanimously to adopt it, and the CRC, as the DCist web site put it, "dropped a cluster bomb of crazy against the curriculum on their website, complaining that the new curriculum teaches kids that homophobia is wrong, and contends that the discussion of homosexuality will lead to teen suicide."

Prominent among the CRC's arguments was this, from one of their "cluster bomb of crazy" press releases:
... Both the school and the committee have rejected a petition signed by 270 Montgomery County physicians asking that the Surgeon General’s statement against condom use in anal intercourse be included. The Surgeon General warns that: “Condoms provide some protections, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice.” The petition and statement were rejected.

The petition that is mentioned was signed by physicians working at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. Two hundred seventy of them, they say. One question is, why would Shady Grove physicians want to support the anti-gay CRC in adding this irrelevant, inaccurate, and obsolete statement to the curriculum? Why are Shady Grove doctors opposed to "condom use in anal sex," which is recommended by the CDC and medical experts everywhere?

We have already tracked down the CRC's quote-of-a-quote from Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and discussed it HERE. This quote has been around since, as far as we could tell, 1987. It was officially published in a 1991 editorial about AIDS in the Journal of Family Practice, years after Koop was Surgeon General, not speaking as a government official.

The quote itself is medically ... wrong. Anal sex is slightly riskier than vaginal sex, because of three things: first, the anus does not secrete its own lubrication, meaning the tissue can be hurt more easily, and also probably (though there is no good research evidence) making it more likely that a condom will slip off; second, the lining of the rectum can be injured, allowing microbes to enter the bloodstream easily; and third, the tissues there are very absorbent anyway, which is why suppositories work.

Then it works like this. If your partner is uninfected, no problem, whether you're having anal or vaginal intercourse -- you can't catch something from somebody who doesn't have it. If your male partner is infected and you have receptive anal sex with him, your chances of catching the infection are slightly higher than if you have vaginal sex.

The prudent medical advice for not catching AIDS should be this: don't have sex with somebody who is HIV positive. I'm not being facetious, it's really that simple. And if you do decide to have sex with someone who carries the virus, you must be very, very careful. But that's a different thing -- they don't say "anal sex with people who are HIV positive is too dangerous," they're saying anal sex itself is too dangerous, and that's nonsense. More than a third of American adults (more than 40 percent of men, 35 percent of women) have had anal sex -- and survived without incident.

Though CRC's anti-gay motives are transparent and familiar, it isn't clear what motivated the physicians at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital to take a stand on this narrow issue. It does not appear that any group of doctors at any other establishment in the world has expressed an opinion on the topic, only Shady Grove.

The CRC's press release points to an FDA web site for the source of this quote. The FDA has recently changed the site to give a link to their source for it. They say the quote is...
referenced from "Understanding AIDS: A Message from the Surgeon General [PDF 1 MB]

The FDA added the citation very recently, probably out of embarrassment. Because, for one thing, at the present time there is no Surgeon General. There is an Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Kenneth P. Moritsugu, but that's not the same, and anyway, he never said this.

Mainly, the FDA knows this quote is out of date and meaningless in today's context, and they want you to know they know. I imagine there is political pressure to keep it on the web site, even though it embarrasses them.

But the interesting thing is -- the quote isn't there. Go ahead and look. Instead, that document says things like:
The AIDS virus can be spread by sexual intercourse whether you are male or female, heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual.

This pamphlet is actually quite famous. In 1988, Surgeon General Koop wrote this whole thing himself, and the Public Health Service mailed it to every home in the United States -- 107 million households got this. It was extremely controversial in its day, and was a brave move by a guy who didn't really approve of homosexuality himself but had to deal with an unforeseen epidemic in the gay population.

The brochure mentions anal sex as a risk factor, but it does not single it out as especially dangerous. Because ... it isn't.

Anal sex with strangers is a bad idea, but ... let's get this straight. If that's what the CRC is assuming, that people are having sex with strangers, well, they should mention that. Because, as the MCPS curriculum makes clear, having sex with strangers is a bad idea. Promiscuity is a bad idea. Abstinence and faithful monogamy are good ideas.

It has very little to do with what particular orifice is penetrated during any particular physical coupling. Casual fluid-swapping puts you at risk.

So it comes down to this. The anti-gay CRC and Shady Grove physicians are adamant that this statement should have been included in the sex-ed curriculum: The Surgeon General has said, "Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice."

A former Surgeon General said this in an editorial, years after he had left the office. At the time this statement was published, Antonia Coello Novello was the Surgeon General of the United States. And Novello did not say this.

It doesn't matter that the statement was first made nearly twenty years ago, in the darkness and confusion of the new AIDS epidemic.

It doesn't matter that the FDA doesn't know where the quote on their own web site came from.

It doesn't matter that the statement is medically unsound, and factually incorrect.

They want it included as if it were a fact.

This reflects very badly on Shady Grove. Maybe that hospital has doctors who will sign anything without looking at it, maybe they have doctors whose advice is decades out of date... It is weird that this only happened at Shady Grove.

I emailed the Associate Vice President of Communications for Adventist HealthCare, Inc., Thomas Grant, to see if they had anything to say. Their statement was: The majority of physicians that work at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital are independent practitioners and have been granted privileges to work at the hospital and at other hospitals in the county. Their views do not necessarily represent the views of the hospital, nor do they speak on behalf of the organization.

OK, so Adventist HealthCare is not responsible for what their doctors do while they're working in the hospital, and doesn't care if their medical knowledge is current. It's good to know that.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cheney Snaps at Wolf

Dick Cheney's interview with Wolf Blitzer made it onto the front page of the Washington Post this morning. I suppose the newsworthy part was where he bragged about the "enormous successes" we have had in Iraq. Well, the newsy part really was how cranky he was.

For us, the interesting part was seeing how he handled Blitzer's questions about Cheney's pregnant lesbian daughter.

From the transcript:
BLITZER: You know, we’re out of time, but a couple of issues I want to raise with you: your daughter, Mary. She's pregnant. All of us are happy she’s going to have a baby. You’re going to have another grandchild. Some of the -- some critics are suggesting -- for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family, "Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean that it's best for the child." Do you want to respond to that?


BLITZER: She's, obviously, a good daughter --

CHENEY: I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf. And obviously I think the world of both my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

BLITZER: I think all of us appreciate --

CHENEY: I think you're out of line.

BLITZER: We like your daughters. Believe me, I'm very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was a question that’s come up, and it’s a responsible, fair question.

CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree with you.

BLITZER: I want to congratulate you on having another grandchild.

Wow, this is uncomfortable.

I don't know how these guys keep all this straight. Without Focus on the Family and the other Family Blah Blah groups supporting them, Satan Cheney would not have the VP job. But he doesn't even want to talk about what they said.

This is called cognitive dissonance: an ordinary person would be forced to make a choice, and a statement, in this situation. Everyone seems to agree that Cheney loves his lesbian daughter and supports her desire to have a child within her monogamous relationship. So what would happen if this guy said out loud what he must believe? Just think of the good that could come of that, the opportunity that's been handed him.

Here's the problem: cowardice. He won't say what he knows to be true, because it might cost his party votes. He'll support his daughter privately, but he thinks people are "out of line" if they talk about it in public. In the meantime, his political machine is making life as miserable as possible for gay people.

Flyers: This is About to Erupt

In the past few days, TeachTheFacts has received a number of emails and inquiries from teachers and students, regarding the fact that PFOX is using the schools to disseminate their strange and misleading literature.

Teachers don't see why they should be swept up in spreading a message that is fundamentally religious in nature, runs opposite to our community's values, and goes against scientific and medical understanding. Students are also upset when they see what the schools are allowing.

It looks to me like there is a real possibility of an eruption of resistance here.

PFOX is not an organization of people who used to be gay and now are not. The Executive Director of PFOX has a gay son, who she may wish could change, but ... people don't. PFOX's futile mission is to stuff gay people back into the closet, but the truth is, it's too late. Our society has turned the corner.

The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other mainstream groups have all issued statements saying that sexual orientation is not something you choose, and it's not a disease. This position also reflects the values of our community, which is very diverse and respectful of differences.

The school district may have been painted into a corner, legally speaking, but they have to be responsible for the information they send home with students. Real damage that can be done by spreading PFOX's ugliness, and the school district should not be part of it.

Each school has its own dates for handing out the flyers. We have heard that a couple of them did it this week.

If you're at a school that's circulating these things, please do send us a note at and let us know what the reaction is. Our focal mission, of course, is the sex-ed curriculum, but these situations overlap. While TeachTheFacts is not taking the lead in any opposition to this policy, we'll certainly do our part to see that the right people get in touch with one another.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Cohen Gone From PFOX

I noticed the other day at Ex-GayWatch, they referred to Richard Cohen as the "former" president of PFOX. Well, you know me, I don't exactly keep up with these things. But today they followed up with a little explanation.

So here's the scuttlebutt from Ex-GayWatch:
While recently investigating two articles about or by PFOX, Ex-Gay Watch sought to determine if Richard Cohen remained president of the organization. Cohen is most well known for touch or "cuddle" therapy as well as having patients emotionally strike pillows with a tennis raquet. After demonstrating these techniques in a string of circus-like mainstream (and not so mainstream) media appearances, Cohen's name disappeared from PFOX's website rather unceremoniously.

Ex-Gay Watch emailed Regina Griggs, PFOX's executive director nearly two weeks ago and more recently Warren Throckmorton seeking an explanation. Throckmorton responded: (printed here with permission)
I decided to stop working with PFOX for one main reason: Richard Cohen's media appearances (CNN, Jimmie Kimmel and Howard Stern). I like Regina and others with PFOX so I did not make the decision easily. He is not now on the board which I suspect is a delayed fall out of his decisions to demonstrate his techniques publicly. Nothing has changed as far as my relationship with them however.

So ... I guess Richard Cohen was too nutty for PFOX.

Channel Five on Flyers

There is a controversy bubbling along here in Montgomery County, causing a lot of upset but rarely breaking to the surface in the media. The county school system was forced to change its policy regarding flyers that could be sent home in students' backpacks. We go into the decision HERE. The new rule says the schools have to allow any nonprofit organization to send stuff home with kids.

The point is, the schools have no control over it. So any crazy thing can be sent home, and it might look to parents like the schools endorse it, but it's not that -- they have had their authority stripped away.

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX-GAG) just love this new rule. The message from these suers is that gay people can (and should) learn to be straight. It is exactly the opposite message from what the schools should be teaching, but ... they're a nonprofit, and so the schools can't do anything about it.

You might have noticed a comment on this blog yesterday from an MCPS student who said:
Just as a note PFOX sent out letters to my school today as the new semester started and I am happy to report that every body in my homeroom threw theirs away. I also saw many other letters in trash cans and on the floor around the school. Their intended audience, the LBGT students were appalled that PFOX existed and insisted that nothing was wrong with them and that they don't need "treatment". Great job PFOX you just wasted a lot of trees for nothing.

Channel Five had a report last night on this subject. Pretty fair reporting. They interviewed Peter Sprigg and David Fishback. Funny, they list Sprigg as being with PFOX but don't mention that he's Senior Monkey-Monk at the Family Research Council. (Fishback, former chair of the MCPS citizens advisory committee, is described as a "Parent.")

The silver-tongued Sprigg gives it his best shot. I have always said, he's the kind that worries me, because he gives the appearance of being level-headed and talking sense. Then, you go and look up the "research" he cites, you put together his message, and ... it is very insidious.

Take a look at the video HERE. It's a pretty good news story.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Interesting Complaint

Somebody sent a letter to the Gazette with an interesting complaint about the new sex-ed curriculum. Here it is:
Teril Wright, Gaithersburg

Please tell me I am not the only one who is angry and appalled at the school board's decision to unanimously approve a new sex-education curriculum that they know is flawed enough to invite another court battle.

First, they spend millions of precious education dollars on an updated Family Life class. Then they spend more on the defense and loss of a court challenge. Then they spend more on developing a new, "improved" curriculum. And finally they will spend more on another legal challenge.

Not only did they know this time that it would most likely be attacked again, but they invited it. The Post quoted board member Sharon Cox as saying, ''I believe we will be sued. That's OK ... Bring it on."

Where do these people get off begging for more money "for our children" while spending it on avoidable court cases? If the judge the first time mandated changes to conform to his ruling, then why the heck didn't they do the job right? And why do we have to pay for it? Money wasted on flawed sex-ed curriculum

The pivotal word in this message is "flawed." The writer assumes that MCPS expects a lawsuit because they know there's something wrong with the curriculum, that it's got flaws. As if it's somehow easier to just put out any old junk and then fight about it in court than to produce something that is legally robust in the first place.

Back in early January of 2005, just a month after they'd first organized their group, the CRC's inner circle was discussing strategy among themselves, in a message board that later turned up in the Google cache where everybody could read it. One of them wrote a short summary:
1. Continuing outrage streaming in to their castle headquarters
2. John Garza proceeding immediatley with his lawsuit. (Lawsuits tend to get peoples attention - merit or no merit because it forces them to deal with their legal team on a continuing basis)
3. 50,000 plus signatures between the paper petition and the on-line petition.
4. Tabulation of all the outrageous things said about us and this issue, and posted on both web sites.
5. Massive email campaign to inform and INFLAME.

In other words, aggressive tactics.

That's about as clear as it gets. They didn't care if there was "merit or no merit" in the lawsuit. It wasn't about actually having a case, suing over an actual grievance, the point was to "get peoples attention."

We sympathize with the person who wrote this letter to the Gazette. It really is a big waste of taxpayers' money. We looked HERE at what could have been done with the money wasted on the last suit, and it's terrible. And we know the school district has been very careful this time, they've had a special team of lawyers look at every word of this new curriculum, making sure that the suers won't win in court this time. Because, remember, last time school-district attorneys were completely taken by surprise; it wasn't that the anti-MCPS groups had such a good case, or that the curriculum was flawed, they lost because their lawyers were not prepared to argue the case.

The suers don't have to win to waste our money. There doesn't actually have to be anything wrong at all for them to file some papers and make everybody go through the process. Because the CRC has pro bono representation from Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel, a group that goes around the country filing these crazy things to build up the religious right and tear down the separation of church and state, it doesn't cost them anything. MCPS, on the other hand, does have to spend money to defend itself -- and attorneys aren't cheap.

So they find themselves in a kind of blackmail situation, and this letter-writer disagrees with the school district on what to do. They could defer to the threat of an expensive court battle, just give up and stay with the curriculum we've got now. And I guarantee you, a fly on the wall at the Carver Center would definitely have heard that option being discussed. They could let our community's educational system take orders from any group that can get lawyers to threaten to file papers.

Or MCPS could move ahead and do what needed to be done, despite the threat. Knowing that the lawsuit has already been threatened, a little bravado was not uncalled-for. Sharon Cox and Pat O'Neill both made their statements in the board meeting, that if the lawsuit was inevitable, they were ready for it. I am sure they knew what they were saying when they made those statements, and that they were both fully aware of the threats, of the chances that it would succeed, and of the wishes of the community.

Montgomery County has some of the best schools in the country at a time when public education is under attack in a wave of anti-intellectual provincialism. The board needed to make a choice. It's clear they made the right choice, not to cave in to a handful of litigious whiners.

The Stage Is Set for the State of the Union

(CBS) President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night to a nation that's strongly opposed to his plan for increasing troops in Iraq and deeply unhappy with his performance as president, according to a CBS News poll.

Mr. Bush's overall approval rating has fallen to just 28 percent, a new low, while more than twice as many (64 percent) disapprove of the way he's handling his job.

Two-thirds of Americans remain opposed to the president's plan for sending more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq — roughly the same number as after Mr. Bush announced the plan. And 72 percent believe he should seek congressional approval for the troop increase.

However, the poll finds more Americans might back the president's plan if they were convinced it would assure U.S. success in Iraq. Poll: Bush Approval Rating At New Low

Personally, I thought he'd never fall into the twenties. I figured there's a core group of people in this country who would stick with him no matter what. It's like those fifteen people who still show up when the CRC puts out the call. But no. They may be slow, but eventually they figure out what's going on.

That last little item, by the way, that's a joke. More people would back the plan "if it would assure success." What kind of question is that? That's like asking, do you think it would rain if the sky turned green? It's so hypothetical, it's just impossible to answer. Everybody knows more troops won't assure success, in fact, nobody even knows what success in Iraq is any more. Replacing Saddam? Destroying the weapons of mass destruction? Introducing a democratically-elected Iraqi government? Defeating al Qaeda? Defending America? Bringing peace to the Middle East? Getting the oil? Avenging 9/11?

Hey, look, we've succeeded already, OK? It's time to bring 'em home.

It will be very interesting watching this frightened failure of a President try to tell our country tonight what a wonderful job he's been doing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Gay-Haters Are Giving Up

From the Pueblo, Colorado, Chieftain Online:
In past sessions, Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave were conservative champions of a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the last Congress, both sponsoring legislation to do just that.

Not this year.

The two Republicans said last week they have no plans to re-introduce their legislation in the new Congress - another sign that Democrats are now in the majority.

"At this time, I haven't discussed it with anyone," Allard said on Thursday. "If we thought there was a decent chance to bring it to the floor for debate, I would, but with the new Congress, I'm not sure we will ever have that opportunity."

Aaron Johnson, Musgrave's spokesman, said the congresswoman would not introduce the legislation this year.

The federal amendment - endorsed by President Bush - was approved on several occasions by House Republicans in recent years but consistently stalled in the Senate. With Democrats now chairing all House and Senate committees, a marriage amendment will not come forward unless a Democrat sponsors the bill and the leadership agrees to bring it out of committee, which is highly unlikely. Allard, Musgrave shelve marriage amendment in new Congress

It's just an idea that's run its course. This amendment was never going to pass, even with Republicans running things in Congress -- it was just a way for politicians to pander to the religious right. Now it's not even that, all this would do is alienate the public and lose votes for anybody associated with it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Current Condom Video

It has always seemed obvious that the suers' 2004/2005 attack on Montgomery County was not motivated by the content of the sex-ed curriculum, but by their hopes of a political coup capitalizing on it. If they had been able to recall the school board, as they set out originally to do, they could have affected Montgomery County political life in a most dangerous way. They were coached by Republican Party operatives in their meetings; the curriculum itself was innocuous, but the rhetoric from their side was calculated to drive a wedge into our community, so they could gain power. It has been our duty as citizens to stop them.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum pretended to throw a big fit over the previous condom video, the one with the cucumber, and now they are shocked, simply shocked, because the new one tells students that they should use a condom whenever they have anal, oral, or vaginal sex. Or as they put it, it "instructs students in anal sex."

The CRC also has said many times that the current curriculum is just fine, and they don't want to change it.

So it's interesting to look at the condom video that's been in use in Montgomery County schools for ten years, at least -- the one that the CRC likes so much. I myself sat in a room at Einstein High School with the CRC's President a couple of years ago and watched this thing, so I know they know what's in it.

The video, Hope Is Not a Method, was produced in 1993. It covers quite a lot of ground in nineteen minutes, and manages the "delicate" stuff by using computer animations of penises and vaginas. We have a few chunks of script from the video.

Like, this is pretty good advice, but I'm surprised, again, that the CRC endorses it:
Female host: So now that you know how to start a pregnancy, you need to be aware that the way to prevent a pregnancy is to keep the egg and sperm away from each other. Not having vaginal intercourse is the obvious way to be sure pregnancy won’t occur. Another word for this is “abstaining.” But this doesn’t mean you can’t be close physically with another person. Two people can be sexually satisfied without having intercourse at all. You’re probably thinking of all sorts of things that two people can do – touch, kiss, masturbate, or give each other massages. They can even hug and hold hands and feel wonderful. Sex can be a lot more than just intercourse.

We have seen the survey results showing that students from abstinence-only sex-ed programs do all sorts of things while still remaining "technically" virgins -- is that why the CRC approves of this message?

And ... it's interesting, and I admit surprising, that the CRC is OK with telling students that masturbation is just one of "all sorts of things that two people can do." I think that I might have stopped short of that one, if I were developing a movie for other people's kids to watch. I'd say it to my own kids, but I think that's pushing it for a health class in a public school. --Remember what happened to Joycelyn Elders.

And I have to say, the statement, "Sex can be a lot more than just intercourse" is a very big sentence, and could be the central theme of a really good course. Especially when we have talked about sexual orientation, the CRC always wants to talk about "the behavior." Like, sex to them is intercourse. But here, this movie is saying that hugging and holding hands and feeling wonderful is a kind of sex.

It's fine with me, but I'm surprised the suers agree with it.

Some of the terminology in the movie is a little outdated, and in fact some of the advice is now considered incorrect.
Male host: Condoms not only prevent pregnancies but they are the only method that prevents the spread of sexually transmissible diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, condyloma, and of course, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Now we’re going to be talking about other methods of birth control as well but remember, whether you’re having vaginal, oral, or anal sex, condoms should be used to protect both you and your partner.

Where they say "condyloma," we would probably today say "HPV," or human papillomavirus, which is the virus responsible for genital warts, or condyloma. It also causes cervical cancer and other not-nice conditions. Also, there is now a new vaccine against it, and it is likely that this virus will stop being a danger for the next generation.

Note that the current curriculum says the same thing about "vaginal, oral, or anal sex" that the new one will say, but the CRC is threatening to sue over the new one. They are s-o-o-o-o outraged, but ... it's always been there. Where was the outrage three years ago? Four years ago? All through the last half of the Nineties? Nah, with the Bush re-election of 2004, they thought it was time to cash in some of that political capital. Sorry that didn't work, folks. Now you've missed your chance.

Here they go into some of the details that the citizens advisory committee wanted to make sure were included in the new video:
Male host: Some things to remember about condoms:

  • Lubricated condoms are less likely to tear.
  • Latex condoms are recommended because they give the best protection against the spread of sexually transmissible diseases.
  • Never use Vaseline or any oil-based product with a condom because oil destroys rubber quickly.
  • Body temperature can also destroy condoms so don’t keep them in your wallet for any length of time.
  • Condoms are to be used only once and then thrown away.

Female host: And plastic wrap, sandwich bags, and balloons are not the same as condoms. They don’t work.

Some of these things, you think, nobody'd ever do that, would they? And the answer is, yes, they would.

Hope Is Not a Method is a pretty long movie, we're not going to publish the entire script. It goes through some other forms of birth control. Here's a partial outline, as prepared by TTF's own CillyGoose:
  • Female condom
  • Foam – containing nonoxynol-9. The instruction is to USE A CONDOM TOO.
  • Suppositories – USE A CONDOM TOO.
  • Vaginal Contraceptive Film – USE A CONDOM TOO.
  • Sponge – USE A CONDOM TOO. If you’ve had toxic shock syndrome, do not use a barrier method like the sponge.
  • Prescription Methods:
  • Diaphragm – use spermicidal cream or gel and USE A CONDOM TOO.
  • Birth Control Pills – some people have minor reactions. USE A CONDOM TOO.
  • IUD – i.e., copper 7. USE A CONDOM TOO.
  • Norplant – A hormonal implant. USE A CONDOM TOO.
  • Natural Family Planning – rhythm – effectiveness widely varies as you try to avoid having vaginal intercourse near ovulation. Don’t try this alone; work with a family planning specialist.

All of these methods have been temporary birth control methods. Next up are the permanent methods:

  • Voluntary Sterilization: tubal ligation in women, vasectomy in men.
  • Unintended pregnancy: go to Planned Parenthood, a family planning clinic, clergy, doctor, therapists, counselors.

Note that nonoxynol-9 is not recommended any more, because it can have adverse effects. I don't think you can get the sponge in the US any more, either. If a health teacher shows this video in class, they have to be sure to go back and correct a couple of these things. And our health teacher told that's just what she does.

I'm pretty sure the new curriculum also doesn't mention that a girl should go to Planned Parenthood or a family planning clinic if she finds herself unintentionally pregnant.

In fact, I'd say that was the one political decision that the citizens advisory committee made in evaluating the newest curriculum. We discussed inclusion of a section that addresses the question -- what do you do if you think you're pregnant? The answer seems pretty obvious, that you have three basic choices: you can have the baby and raise it, you can put it up for adoption, or you can abort. The committee just knew there was no point in even including these obviously true facts, simply because of the polarized political culture.

Well, you know, health teachers can continue to show this video, even though there's a new one.

Hope Is Not a Method wraps up with this exchange:
Male host: Well, we’ve answered many of your questions about birth control. We know it can be embarrassing buying a contraceptive and it can be difficult talking to your partner about sex and birth control.

Female host: But we hope you’ll realize how much better you’ll feel about yourself and your partner if you’re not worried about an unintended pregnancy or disease. Remember this can happen to you. Responsible sexuality is a choice only you can make.”

In 2004, right after the shocking Presidential elections that were interpreted as a "mandate" by the religious right, the group that became CRC formed to recall the school board in response to the unanimous decision to adopt a new sex-ed curriculum. (They'll tell you that's not true, that they just called their web site by accident, it didn't mean what you think it means.) When you read the curriculum itself, you saw that there was nothing there to offend; it was very conservative, to use that word in its ordinary sense. They made up stuff and twisted words to make it sound bad, but an intelligent person could read it themselves and see what was going on.

They saw their opportunity, and they attacked. And here's the point: their attack on Montgomery County had almost nothing to do with the content of the curriculum itself. And as we look back at the video that the county has always used, we see that the same complaints that were made against the "old new" curriculum, as well as the "new new" curriculum, could have been made against the "old" curriculum we're currently using.

The people of this county approve of this type of education, and always have. The crybabies threw their tantrum, and now it's time for them to cry themselves back to sleep.

America: Based on the Right to Life

America was founded on the principle that we are all endowed by our Creator with the right to life and that every individual has dignity and worth. National Sanctity of Human Life Day helps foster a culture of life and reinforces our commitment to building a compassionate society that respects the value of every human being.

Among the most basic duties of Government is to defend the unalienable right to life, and my Administration is committed to protecting our society's most vulnerable members. We are vigorously promoting parental notification laws, adoption, abstinence education, crisis pregnancy programs, and the vital work of faith-based groups. Through the "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002," the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003," and the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004," we are helping to make our country a more hopeful place.

One of our society's challenges today is to harness the power of science to ease human suffering without sanctioning practices that violate the dignity of human life. With the right policies, we can continue to achieve scientific progress while living up to our ethical and moral responsibilities.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day serves as a reminder that we must value human life in all forms, not just those considered healthy, wanted, or convenient. Together, we can work toward a day when the dignity and humanity of every person is respected.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 21, 2007, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

This is so bizarre I can't even find words to comment on it. A lot of blogs are linking this to the news from Iraq, however-many soldiers have died in the last however-many days. But that barely touches it.

Imagine the President of the United States announcing that America was "founded on the principle that we are all endowed by our Creator with the right to life." Who makes this stuff up? More importantly, who's buying it?

That's One Way to Get Off

Scooter Libby, Satan Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is supposed to go on trial this month.

They started last week by picking a jury. Libby's lawyers asked a lot of questions about how people felt about the Bush administration.

All they needed to do was to find twelve people who could say they weren't absolutely disgusted with the administration. They needed a pool of thirty-six to choose from.
WASHINGTON - A federal judge is putting more potential jurors on standby in the CIA leak trial because so many people have been dismissed, mostly because of strong feelings against the Bush administration and the Iraq war.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton had hoped to have a 12-person jury picked Thursday so opening statements could be held Monday. After three days of hearings, however, Walton did not even have a pool of 36 impartial people from which to choose the final jury. He pushed opening statements back to Tuesday.

Attorneys for former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby have been asking pointed questions about each juror's political views. Several have been dismissed because they said they could not set aside their opinions on President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney or the war in Iraq. More jurors on standby in CIA leak trial

A question in my mind would be, what kind of jury will they end up with? It seems they are likely to end up with twelve of the most ignorant people in the city. Is that the best way to administer justice?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

X is Not Equal to X

Conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza has a new book out that argues that the American "left" caused 9/11. Because some Americans insist on living with freedom, including women walking around with their faces uncovered and taking birth control pills, Muslim fundamentalists needed to attack us. He was interviewed by Salon this week.

He says, among other things:
So in that sense, when they say that Islam is under attack and that, not American values, but these American values that are being globally pushed by the left, the values of, I mean, you have left-wing organizations filing lawsuits all over South America to liberalize abortion laws. These are democratically passed laws in Catholic countries, but under the bogus rubric of international law, there's an effort here to overturn these democratically passed laws in the name of some notion of abortion as an international right. Again, you have Planned Parenthood distributing contraceptives to Muslim girls.

My point is how can you justify this sort of thing? Isn't it true that when the radical Muslims say, "This is an effort to corrupt our morality," they have a point? That's why radical Islam has been able to recruit so successfully from traditional Islam. So it's simply blind of us not to see that as a serious problem.

He'll probably get his wrists slapped for this, because you're not supposed to say it out loud: American conservatives want the same thing the Muslim fundamentalists want.

Our sex-ed controversy is more than a local debate over a couple of hours of classroom time; it's a microcosmic capsule of a conflict that spans continents. Following the Enlightenment, American government, the American "way of life," was founded on the idea that people can handle freedom. They might not make the choices that the betterthanyou observer would approve of, but in the long run it works out OK and everybody can die knowing that they have lived fully and responsibly in the pursuit of happiness as they themselves imagined it to be.

Fundamentalism across religions is more the same than it is different. Call your deity "X", every fundamentalist group looks for the subservience of individuals to X. Morality comes from X, truth comes from X, the world was created by X. Obviously, to the dispassionate observer, when X<>X you've got a problem, a conflict in beliefs. And since everything depends on X, since every fundamentalist's X is the only X and he/she/it is the source of the meaning of life and of life itself, if there are multiple X's, you end up inevitably with hatred and war. Once you've defined X as The Truth, anyone who assigns a different value to X is a promoter of falsehood.

It turns out that the people who come up with this stuff, the fundamentalists, tend to be the same kinds of people, no matter what culture they represent. They are opposed to individualism, to freedom, they just hate it when people do things that X might not approve of. Not only for themselves, but for everybody. Since X is real and runs the whole world, anybody can screw it up. Therefore you don't just worry about your own behavior, you have to try to get everybody else to follow X's rules.

So they want the same things on both sides. What that means is that it's up to the rest of us to stay out of it. More than that, we have to make sure these X-loving nuts don't bring their consequences down on all of us. Don't let the world think they represent us, or that we're like that. It should be clear as a bell: we stand for freedom in America, whether somebody likes it or not. We may make some wrong choices, but they're own our choices, and we must not cave in to the fundamentalists who believe we sin in choosing personal autonomy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Legal Wordsmithing From Hell

Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General of the United States, sitting in Congress yesterday.
Specter: Now wait a minute, wait a minute. The Constitution says you can't take it away except in the case of invasion or rebellion. Doesn't that mean you have the right of habeas corpus?

Gonzales: I meant by that comment that the Constitution doesn't say that every individual in the United States or every citizen has or is assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn't say that. It simply says that the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended.

From mcjoan at Daily Kos, a reminder of what the Constitution does say about habeus corpus.
The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

This is about protecting people from unlawful imprisonment. Americans feel they are protected from being snatched off the street and held without charges, without representation, without release. The Constitution seems to guarantee it.

But the Attorney General is looking at it a different way. He's saying, nothing in the Constitution actually says you have that protection. It only says it can't be suspended. And of course, it really can't be suspended if it doesn't exist in the first place.

I don't think Congress wants to impeach the President. They don't want Satan in the driver's seat, for one thing, and they don't want to ripen an incumbent for the next election. But this administration is going to force them to do something. This interpretation of the Constitution is unheard-of, it's preposterous, and it's extremely dangerous.

(Crooks and Liars has video HERE.)

The Examiner Gets It Really, Really Wrong

I'm moving this up out of the comments section. A little while ago, "digger" posted a comment that said:
CRC posts on their website an Examiner story that says students can't graduate if they opt out of the Orientation lessons in Family Life. That can't be true, can it?

Well, you follow the links, and you end up at this Examiner article:
Montgomery County - Although Montgomery County school officials have been making controversial new teachings on sexual orientation seem as if they’re optional, the reality is that all 10th-graders must take the class in question in order to graduate, officials said.

Schools chief public information officer Brian Edwards explained to The Examiner that the 18-week health course — which includes two hotly contested lessons mentioning transsexuality and bisexuality within a three-week unit on family life — is required.

Administrators have emphasized during meetings leading up to the approval of the new sex-ed curriculum that the lessons are “opt-in” — meaning parents must sign a waiver indicating it’s all right for their children to enroll.

Officials have stressed that it’s more of a permission-based process than “opt-out,” in which the student is in the class unless specifically requested not to be by a parent.

But Edwards clarified that, more precisely — with regard to the sex-ed-included class — students can’t just pick and choose which parts of the course to study. So, essentially it’s an all-or-nothing mentality.

“If you choose to opt out of a lesson,” he said, using one of the two sexual orientation ones as examples, “you opt out of the whole course.”

And opting out of a required course, he said, means not graduating.

That notion makes the issue of the debated sex-ed curriculum important to all Montgomery County families with children in the district, curriculum opponents are saying, because they will be confronted with the teachings and expected to make a choice.

John Garza, an attorney representing Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which sued Montgomery County Schools two years ago over sexual education teachings, said he feels that officials have not made this point clear enough and is hoping to educate parents on the reality.

Students required to take controversial sex-ed class

Well, you coulda knocked me down with a feather.

Wouldn't that be something, if you were given the option of having your child not take the class, and then they just couldn't graduate?

Hey, I gotta tell you, there's a picture of a cute bunch of schoolkids, maybe kindergarten or first grade. Underneath it, it says:
Students in Montgomery County Public Schools (seen here with MCPS' Superintendent Tiffany Anderson) will be confronted with controversial sex ed curriculum in their classroom and will be expected to make a choice when they reach 10th grade, say county officials.

--"Make a choice?" About what?

Oh, and then I figure out something. The MCPS Superintendent is Jerry Weast, not Tiffany Anderson. Tiffany Anderson is Superintendent in Montgomery County, Virginia.

So is the rest of this stuff about ... Virginia? Well, no, that can't be, because they quote Brian Edwards, who's our guy, here in Maryland. And the rest of this, the CRC, Garza, the lawsuit, that's us.

I've had the requirement angle explained to me a few times before, but I admit I don't remember all the details. I sent a note to a guy I know in the school district, but never heard back.

David Fishback had better luck. He posted a comment after digger's, that said:
I spoke with Brian Porter's office, and was informed that he has asked the Examiner to publish a correction.

[editorial note: as noted in the comments, he actually talked to Brian Edwards' office. Edwards is Director of public information for MCPS. Porter is chief of staff.]

David, you know, was the chair of the previous citizens advisory committee, that worked on the last curriculum, the one that ended up getting thrown out after the lawsuit. He also pasted in his comment a letter to the Examiner, which I think sums it up pretty well.
January 19, 2007

TO: Dana Levitz
The Examiner

FROM: David S. Fishback
Member, Board of Directors, Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG)
Former Chair, Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development to the Montgomery County Board of Education

I just read your January 16, 2007 article on the health education curriculum in Montgomery County, entitled "Students required to take controversial sex-ed class." (pasted below).

Contrary to the headline and the text of that article, no student is required to take the lessons on sexual orientation or condom use. Rather, as MCPS has made crystal clear, students may only take those units of the health education curriculum if given permission by their parents/guardians, and those who do not take those units receive instruction in other health-related matters -- and that instruction satisfies the state health requirement for graduation. This is plainly presented at p. 4 of Superintendent Weast's January 9, 2007, report to the Board of Education, which I have attached for your convenience. Your article clearly must have taken statements by MCPS Public Affairs Director Brian Edwards grossly out of context.

I would strongly advise that you not take anything presented on this issue by the groups connected to James Dobson and Jerry Falwell at face value. Those groups have misrepresented the facts in the past, and apparently continue to do so.

In any event, it is essential that the Examiner apologize to Mr. Edwards and publish a correction to this egregious error. Reports that generate heat, but not light, do a great disservice to our community.

cc: Brian Edwards
Mongtomery County Board of Education

I think that clears it up. The Examiner has some work to do. I don't have any idea how they got it so wrong.

Whining, With Flags and Eagles

Several people sent me links to this slick website where the CRC complains about the new curriculum. The Center for American Cultural Renewal actually looks like something out of the Colbert Report, with bald eagles and flags, and look, there's a happy bride and groom, holding hands.

Here's how they describe themselves:
The Center for American Cultural Renewal is a grassroots public policy and advocacy organization working to promote and protect traditional values based on the Judeo-Christian ethic. We work to restore the Constitutional principles embodied in the founding of our nation and base our arguments on logic, natural law and empirical evidence.

Our goal is to renew the promise of America envisioned by the Pilgrims of the 17th Century and the Founding Fathers of the 18th Century restoring our greatest institutions; traditional marriage, two-parent families, community and religious organizations, and civic responsibility for the purpose of renewing our values to fall in line with our most cherished traditions.

We work to restore America’s purpose.

So, OK, turn the hands of time back to the good old days, fine, I hope they're happy.

Their article is called New Sex-Ed Curriculum Is Still Biased, if that gives you a clue about what follows. Most of the stuff comes from CRC literature, either their minority report or some public comments at the school board; we've heard it all before.

It starts like this:
While the following story comes from Montgomery Maryland, the homosexual advocates are promoting and implementing radical sex-ed curriculum in government schools around the country. Under the guise of keeping homosexual, bisexual and other students “safe,” the sexual lobby has gained access to your children. Activists have intimidated administrators and school boards in to allowing them free rein to promote whatever sexual practices it chooses in the most graphic and inappropriate manner possible.

The amount of propaganda being disseminated is astounding. Nothing is too far-fetched to be excluded, and nothing is considered off limits even to what is taught elementary students.

How's that for a rollicking start?

You get the feeling right away that they're against it.

This thing is too long, I'm not going to reproduce it here. But let's look at some snatches...
“That all five lessons of the curriculum focus on and promote homosexuality and don’t even touch on the value of having a traditional family should tell parents of the enormous influence of sexual advocacy groups placed by the Board on the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC),” according to [Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum President Michelle] Turner.

Yes, four of the five new sections focus on homosexuality a little bit. Because ... that's what they're about. For twelve years a kid goes to school learning about stuff, for four 45-minute classes he's going to hear something about sexual orientation.

The fifth section is about condoms and doesn't mention sexual orientation at all, or have anything to do with it.
Turner points out that the material for the curriculum is drawn from an excerpt from a book by Holt Lifetime Health, written for one of the most liberal school districts in the country, Los Angeles. It was authored by a gay activist and contains glaring omissions on the health risks of homosexual behavior.

I can't believe this one. They are so outraged over the authorship of this book. Who wrote your kids' other textbooks, do you know? Of course not. Did they come from liberal school districts? Who cares?

I mean, really, who cares who wrote the textbook?
The Board also approved a new video that recommends condoms for every act of "oral, anal, or vaginal sex," while ignoring a petition from over 200 physicians requesting that it include a specific warning about the dangers of anal sex.

That petition is a fraud. Those doctors didn't know what they were signing. The petition asks for a statement from a 1980s Surgeon General to be included. It's absurd.

Also, the CRC always ignores the fact that the video that is now in the schools, and has been for years, also says to use a condom for anal, oral, and vaginal sex. It's not new. In fact, we've been looking at that movie, Hope Is Not a Method. I think I'll have a blog post about it pretty soon.

They like to bring up anal sex because it sounds dirty. The CRC keeps talking about it, it's like an obsession with them.

Oh yeah, and this was under the headline: Condoms and Anal Sex Approved.

Ha -- the citizens committee threw these nuts a curveball:
FRC's [Family Research Council] Vice President for Policy, Peter Sprigg, a Montgomery County resident, represented Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) on a Citizens Advisory Committee that reviewed the curriculum. Even the liberal-dominated committee had voted to include a statement saying, "Civil expressions of disapproval of homosexual behavior out of sincere religious, moral, or health-related concerns should not be labeled as homophobia." But school system staff removed that caveat from the lessons approved yesterday.

Yeah, the liberal committee was OK with that. How liberal does that make them? I don't know why the school district didn't include it, they didn't include some things I wanted, either. Whatever, you move on.
Additionally, the curriculum refuses to acknowledge the existence of "ex-gays." Parents should be aware that on the subject of homosexuality, some public schools have gone beyond education to indoctrination.

No, nothing about "ex-gays," which at least they put in quotes. There's nothing in there about unicorns, either.

The CRC's rep on the committee, Ruth Jacobs, gets in on it, too.
Dr. Jacobs, an infectious disease specialist, was upset by the bias on the committee, “I have found that MCPS and the CAC avoid saying anything that could reflect negatively on homosexuality, regardless of the health risks.

Yes, that's true, both the district and the committee were careful not to be disrespectful. That's a real black eye for the community, I'm sure.
“It is wrong to use the lives of our children as political footballs. Forty-five percent of the deaths from AIDS infections in the U.S. are due to men having sex with men even though they are about 2 percent of the population,” she continues, “To not warn the children of these risks is irresponsible.”

I agree with that last sentence. That's why I'm glad the Montgomery County Public Schools have an entire section of the Health curriculum devoted to just that, sexually transmitted infections, how you get them, how to prevent them. It doesn't belong in the sexual orientation section, because ... that's not what it's about. The sexual orientation section, oddly enough, is about sexual orientation, which has nothing to do with disease.

Ooh, this is nicely written fiction right here:
CRC also points to the introduction of transgenderism as normal, natural, unchangeable, and healthy.

It's true, in tenth grade they learn that some people experience being a different gender from their physical bodies. There's even a little vignette about a transgender teenager. Nowhere does the curriculum say that it is "normal, natural, unchangeable, and healthy." Why would it? It's just something that happens sometimes, you don't have to get all judgmental about it. Transgender people don't ask to be that way, they just are. Hearing about it in school isn't going make the boys want to be girls all of a sudden, everybody knows that, really.

It's as if this were a criticism of the curriculum. It is certainly a fact that some people's subjective gender is inconsistent with their physical features. I can't see what's wrong with mentioning it in a class on sexuality.
In fact, major reputable medical facilities such as Johns Hopkins University Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic no longer perform reassignment surgery because they consider it unsuccessful in treating transgenderism.

We've already talked HERE about the history of sexual reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins. I looked around the web and don't see anything about the Cleveland Clinic. Whatever, sexual reassignment surgery is accepted by the medical community. The fact that the guy can name two places that don't do it is ... well, it's nothing.
“In many ways this curriculum is more radical than the previous one. It certainly contains many of the elements we sued over in the first place,” says Turner.

Oooohh hee hee hoo hoo yuck yuck -- I love this.

Of course it's "worse" than the other one. The Montgomery County community doesn't have anything against gay people. The first curriculum tried to compromise, tried to find a middle ground, but the CRC wouldn't have it -- it had to be all or nothing for them. Well, they got nothing. And so the schools had to start over, but this time they didn't try very hard to accommodate the litigious whiners.

What did you expect?

Hey, this is a weird one:
Literature by Homosexual advocacy Group

Children will read and analyze four stories developed by a gay advocacy group:...

And then it goes on to quote some vignettes from the Holt textbook.

I must have missed something. Were these "developed by a gay advocacy group?" The book doesn't seem to say where they came from.

And anyway, if I may say so -- what a stupid criticism. So it was developed by a gay advocacy group? So what? Who cares? What is wrong with that?

Oh yeah, then they say:
No heterosexual stories were included.

Well, everything else in the whole Health curriculum is about heterosexuals, how can you complain about a couple of days' less attention?

See, this piece of junk was full of lies and misconstruals. It sure would be nice to be able to sit back and not worry about it. But this is how it starts. These liars start out getting all puffed up about things, and squawking everywhere about it, and after a while the whole barnyard's in an uproar.

We're waiting to find out where the new curriculum will be pilot-tested, and when, exactly. Oh, and of course I suppose we're waiting to find out what the suers will find to complain about this time.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Curriculum Documents Online

The school district had a package of documents, covering the period when the new sex-ed curriculum was being developed. We've taken the package and broken it out so you can see the different pieces as they relate to one another.

The page is available from our Resources page, or you can just click HERE.

There were three kinds of things developed:
  • A condom lesson for tenth grade
  • Two sexual orientation classes for 8th grade
  • Two sexual orientation classes for 10th grade

Each piece of it has three kinds of documents:
  • The citizen advisory committee's recommended changes to the first MCPS draft
  • MCPS staff response to the recommendations
  • A final draft, ready for pilot testing

The web page also has a memo from Superintendent Jerry Weast to the school board, presenting them with the new material.

Not much to add to that, these documents will be handy if we want to discuss any details of the curriculum.

The Question is Why

I can't find any original documention for this, but AmericaBlog is reporting that Stephen Bennett, a high-profile minister who claims that gay people can become straight, is planning a meeting with President Bush. Apparently he announced this in an email newsletter.

The issue is a new hate-crime bill that's going through Congress. Seems the law as it's written gives a stiffer sentence for hate crimes than, y'know, regular crimes, and it includes "sexual orientation" among the usual race, religion, and so on. So, you beat up a guy for harassing your girlfriend, that's one thing. You beat up a guy because he's black, or because he's Arabic, or gay, and the sentence is worse.

Well, the Stephen Bennetts of the world don't think that's fair. They want Our Leader to veto this bill.

Here's what the Focus on the Family site Citizen Link put up yesterday:
A new hate-crimes bill introduced earlier this month in Congress may eventually pass both Houses, pro-family experts say. The president's help may be needed to keep it from becoming law.

The House Judiciary Committee has begun consideration of H.R.254, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. The legislation is similar to measures passed by the House in 2005 and by the Senate in 2004.

The Lee bill seeks to establish a new federal offense for hate crimes and would mandate a separate federal criminal prosecution for state offenses tried under its provisions. A sentence of life imprisonment could await those convicted.

Focus on the Family Action, and other pro-family groups, oppose the bill.

"We oppose hate-crimes laws because they do not equally protect all Americans as the U.S. Constitution demands," said Tom Minnery, senior vice president of government and public policy for Focus on the Family Action. Hate-Crimes Legislation Reappears

We note that the "ex-gay" groups are especially adamant about this; Alan Chambers, the head of a major "ex-gay" organization, is quoted in this Family Blah-Blah article:
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, the nation's largest network of ex-gay ministries, said the objection to hate-crimes legislation isn't just theoretical -- it has actually been used to prosecute Christians for their beliefs about homosexuality, both in the U.S. and internationally.

Uh, yeah, this law could be used to prosecute Christians who act on their beliefs that gay people deserve to be beaten and killed. Terrible. Just terrible, and not fair.

It's interesting, with all the bad stuff in the world, that this is what it comes down to for these guys: tolerating hatred.

Let's say Stephen Bennett used to be gay and now he's really not. OK, the "Applause" sign is blinking, thank you, thank you ladies and gentlemen. So tell me how, logically, you get from "God loves me and helped me to be straight," which is what his message is, to "Beating and killing people because they're gay is no worse than beating and killing people for any other reason?" I mean, why would you put everything on the line for that, of all things?

I think these guys are walking a tightrope here. Of all the positive messages they could promote, they decide to try to justify hate? When do they realize they've toppled over the edge of decency?

They'd like you to think this is some kind of thought-police situation, but look, here's what the law is about -- it's an amendment to the existing law:
Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person ...

... will get ten years in prison ...
... the acts committed in violation of this paragraph include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill ...

So... naw, this isn't about thoughts, this is about committing violent acts based on the kind of person somebody is.

The issue here is not really whether hate-crime laws do anything, the question is ... why are these guys going to go all the way to the President of the United States to try to get lighter sentences for people who kidnap, rape, beat, and kill gays?

Luckily He's Wrong

The Gazette has a video online, an interview with MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast, whose job is up for renewal. They cover a lot of ground, but of course I'm going to focus on his comments about the sex-ed curriculum. Here's that part of the transcript for you:
INTERVIEWER: Are you confident that the sex-ed plan that was approved yesterday will stand up when it's challenged in court again?
WEAST: Uh, actually, I am. I think it's a fair plan, I actually read every line, not that I'm an expert, but I think people will, well, some thought it wasn't enough explanation, many others thought it was too much, which is probably a good balanced approach. There's two lessons in the eighth grade, they're very respectful and those kind of things. At the tenth grade there is the, uh, sexual orientation part of it, but it's about disease --
WEAST: and it's about disease prevention, that's why there's a condom video there.
INTERVIEWER: What are the options for opting in or for opting out?
WEAST: Well, you have to opt in, I mean, that's the good news.
INTERVIEWER: That means that parents have to ...
WEAST: -- have to sign something to get in. And if you don't, we have a series of lessons about smoking cessation and, you know, eating healthy and things like that that you can, that you would get, if you don't opt in.

OK, look, there's a lot of politics involved in running a big school district like ours. Weast's position is never really secure, there's constant dynamic tension between him and the board, and basically that's the way it ought to be. I'm not going to plop down on one side or the other -- I think you'll find that TeachTheFacts folks disagree with Weast and the board as much as we agree with them, depending on the topic. So we're not here to support any person or tear them down, we just want to see a good comprehensive, inclusive, fair and accurate sex-ed program in the public schools.

Weast says he read every line of it. He didn't have to say that. Because, let's just say, if he read every line, he sure forgot a lot of it.

The tenth-grade sexual orientation lessons are not about disease. The idea is absurd. They're about sexual orientation, which has nothing to do with disease. This is really disappointing, that the guy who's office was in charge of developing the whole curriculum would have such a terrible misunderstanding of what it's about.

The anti-MCPS group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum wanted it to be about disease. They would love for students to learn that being gay is a disease, that gay people carry disease, that they spread disease. The CRC wanted the sexual orientation section to be about AIDS and, especially, they wanted to talk about anal sex, they want people to think that being gay is just about anal sex and deadly viruses.

Neither the Superintendent's own staff who developed the curriculum nor the citizens advisory committee that reviewed it would allow the sexual orientation sections to be hijacked by this kind of stereotyping and ugliness. The sections are about sexual orientation itself, about feelings, about romantic attraction and emotional attachments, about being a gay person. There is nothing about any disease in there.

For the Superintendent to spread this misconception is simply unbelievable.

Dr. Weast is known to be a politally savvy figure, and we may attribute his ... misrepresentation ... here to another misstatement in this short recording. He said, "Some thought it wasn't enough explanation, many others thought it was too much, which is probably a good balanced approach."

When he started that sentence, I figured he was talking about the citizen committee's desire to include the statements of the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which Weast's staff and the school board both decided to exclude, at least for now. So, yes, "Some thought it wasn't enough explanation." That would be me, and almost all the members of the committee that reviewed the curricula.

But then, "Many others thought it was too much?" How many? Ten? Fifteen people in our sprawling, diverse, suburban county? Apparently Dr. Weast monitors the noise level and not the source of complaints. The truth is, very few members of our community think this went too far. Basically, the handful of suers who couldn't stand the last proposed curriculum are mad because this one goes further, is more sympathetic to gays, than the one they sued over. It seems pretty clear, those litigious whiners are not going to be happy with anything short of a curriculum that describes homosexuality as a disease.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Morphing of the American Family

For the past century our society has been going through a kind of upheaval that is unrivalled in history. Remember, a hundred years ago American women weren't allowed to vote. Then, in short time, there was a tennis match between Billie Jean King and some male chauvinist pig, then the invention of skinny cigarettes, and now we expect women to receive equal treatment in all aspects of life.

Cynics theorize that men wanted to keep women dependent on them, as a matter of maintaining power. Maybe that's right, I don't know. But even though it's not perfect, things have definitely changed, in what amounts to a fundamental realignment of our entire social structure.

The institutions of marriage and family don't mean what they used to, either in the economic sense or, really, in the personal sense. Women no longer strictly have to depend on men to take care of them, and sexual behavior is no longer constrained by inflexible laws and the customs of marriage. The traditional nuclear family is now optional, whether you like it or not -- people can choose to live that way, if that's what makes them happy, but they don't have to. Women can wear the pants nowadays, if they fit.

You can think of these changes as disastrous, if you prefer. Like, you can form a group and call it Family Blah Blah something-or-other, and devote your days to putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. You can point to everything that is different today as a sign that the world is coming to an end. Or you can search for happiness in your own life under the new rules. Personally, I find that the nice little Leave-It-To-Beaver nuclear family is a good thing for me. It is certainly one of the options that are available.

The New York Times had a story yesterday that underlines the situation.
For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.

In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits. 51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse (may require free subscription)

I tend to think that all of this can be traced back to The Pill, but of course that's not correct. The women's suffrage movement didn't have the pill, for instance. This is just a progression that started with the Enlightenment and has just kept going, as people got comfortable with the idea of using reason rather than tradition to inform their decisions.
Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.

In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women.

In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military or are institutionalized. But while most women eventually marry, the larger trend is unmistakable.

“This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people’s lives,” said Prof. Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research group. “Most of these women will marry, or have married. But on average, Americans now spend half their adult lives outside marriage.”

It's your patriotic duty to go read that whole article. We can moralize about it, sentimentalize over it, whatever. The world is changing, and we don't know where it's headed, but like the guys says, "there is no going back."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Correction

This is just a little thing, but I wanted to set the record straight. There was some question about Sarah Horvitz' suggested amendment to the sex-ed curriculum Tuesday.

I was sitting behind her, in the back row, behind some folks holding up signs so nobody else could see (but they were so effective). Straining to hear, I thought she had proposed including the whole list of "bullet points," and wrote that here.

Here's what she actually said, at about 2:10 in the meeting.
I wanted to speak on Mrs. Cox's comment that, about students in regard to this amendment, that I don't believe that students will go in and seek out a guidance counselor, because, especially in a huge school, for example Sherwood or Blair, when a guidance counselor has a couple hundred students, that, are they really going to feel comfortable going and talking to a guidance counselor and asking them these questions when most of them don't have any personal connetcion to a guidance counselor. And that when they ask this question in class and they don't get an answer they just get told to find an another adult, but that's what, basically it's going to keep happening, to find another adult, and that it's very important that this type of question gets answered and I'd like to add that, I don't know where it would be added in the curriculum, but it was one of the citizens advisory committee's recommendations about students with, um, [reads] "chiildren with fleeting same-sex attractions may incorrectly assume that they are gay or lesbian; a mere fleeting attraction does not prove sexual orientation," that all should be added somewhere into the curriculum. Because that, especially for eighth-graders, when they're starting to explore their sexuality, they're starting to think about the opposite sex or the same sex, in a different way, that it's important that they get this information, that they're taught these things.

At least that's my sloppy transcription.

So I was wrong. She only proposed the one statement.

Good Sense and Good Values Go Together

THIS ARTICLE in this morning's Post included this statement.
The structure of state regulations about sex education speaks to the delicate balance between providing lessons to children about sexuality, discrimination and public health and respecting the religious and moral values of parents.

Listen, we hear this kind of stuff every day. But stop: think about it.

On one hand: lessons to children about sexuality, discrimination and public health.

On the other hand: respecting the religious and moral values of parents.

This is a false dichotomy -- there is no incompatibility between these two classes of things.

First of all, let's break down the "other hand" part of it. Religion and moral values.

THIS SITE has data on religion in Montgomery County. These tables account for 873,341 individuals, out of a county of about a million people -- it says that "historically African-American denominations" are not included, but I don't know why or what that implies. Whatever, scootch up your favorite numbers a little bit, if you like.

In Montgomery County, it looks like about 7 percent of individuals call themselves "evangelical Protestants," and about 10.1 percent are "mainline Protestants." Well, as we saw recently with the schism among the Baptists, most Protestants don't approve of the anti-gay obsession of the Southern Baptists. The biggest religious group, otherwise, is the Catholics, who make up about 21.2 percent of the population. As I understand it, their view on homosexuality mainly has to do with the idea that sex is for making babies; if you're not going to do that, you shouldn't be having sex. Basically the same way they feel about birth control. But they're not opposed to someone being gay, they just think they should be celibate.

Put them all together, and that's, mmm, gimme that calculator, that's about 38.3 percent of the population that belong to identifiable Christian denominations.

On the other hand, 12.8 percent claim to be some other religion, and 47.3 percent of Montgomery County residents claim not to belong to a religion at all. This is the biggest group by far, more than twice as big as the Catholics, even.

So -- Montgomery County "religious values" are skewed to the nondogmatic side, you might say. Seven percent evangelicals. People here don't believe the gay-hating stuff as a religious value.

And as for "moral values," I guess we can look at the recent elections for evidence of that. People in this county are progressive, tolerant, liberal. The newly-elected county executive is a board member at PFLAG. All the school board members who were elected have come out in favor of the statements supporting gay and lesbian rights. People know what they're doing when they vote.

It's time to get over this idea that teaching respect, teaching tolerance, teaching people to blossom as who they are rather than who other people want them to be, is somehow in conflict with "religious and moral values."

Remember, at the school board meeting the other day, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and PFOX held a big demonstration, with people holding up signs. The news cameras loved it, all the TV zombies got them on the news that night. I counted nine signs, and let's say there were another half-dozen people there with them. That's fifteen total out of a county of a million people. That is a radical minority, not representative at all of the rest of the population. If they don't want their kids to take the classes, they can just not-sign the permission slips. It's that easy.

The truth is: facts, tolerance, and health DO NOT conflict with parents' religious and moral values. People want accurate, comprehensive, and inclusive sex-ed, they want their kids to be tolerant, they want good public health policies -- as a moral value.

The two things are totally compatible.

COMAR, Right and Wrong, and the New Curriculum

I don't usually do this, but I'm going to blog twice about this article, just because the stuff at the start and end and the stuff in the middle are different, and equally important.

The Washington Post this morning had an article about the new Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum, and how it met state requirements, and what they do in other places. Maryland state law, called COMAR, says that schools should teach about "sexual variations," but it doesn't really say what that means. Every place decides for themselves. Montgomery County decided that "sexual variations" really meant "sexual orientation," and they went with that.
Montgomery County's overhaul of its sex education curriculum, which has inspired a lawsuit, petition drives, national news coverage and the formation of fiercely polarized community groups, was itself inspired by two words buried deep within the regulatory code of Maryland, which advises school systems to teach "sexual variations."

The county school system invoked those regulations in defense of disputed new lessons that introduce students to sexual orientation and transgenderism in grades eight and 10.

Neither Maryland nor Virginia requires school systems to teach about sexual orientation, state officials said. Maryland's stipulation that schools teach sexual variations as one of several "areas of emphasis" in health classes is open to broad interpretation.

FYI, here's what COMAR says:
The following areas of emphasis shall be included in each program of the local school system:
(i) Maturation;
(ii) The reproductive process;
(iii) Sexual variations;
(iv) Contraception;
(v) Premarital intercourse;
(vi) Marriage and family responsibilities;
(vii) Family planning; and
(viii) Sexually transmitted diseases.

OK, back to The Post:
Montgomery's new curriculum, approved last week for field tests this spring, goes deeper into sexual and gender identity than most other Washington area school systems have dared, judging by an informal survey. Some Northern Virginia systems don't teach about sexual orientation, and Maryland systems generally broach the topic in less detail or at the request of a curious student. Information from D.C. schools was not available. Wide Berth Allowed on Teaching About Homosexuality

At present, Montgomery County schools don't say anything at all about the topic, and teachers are instructed to give a "perfunctory" answer if a student asks about it.

I didn't really have the feeling that MCPS went ahead with this curriculum because they had to, but because it's the right thing to do. The curriculum needed to be improved after so-many years of the same thing, while the world changed around us. There's no point in keeping kids in the dark about their sexual orientation, and in fact it makes a lot of sense to get the facts out in the open.

Last night my daughter was looking around MySpace, and she came across the site of another friend who has announced he is gay. Usually it's not a surprise, but she was surprised by this one, a kid in the neighborhood. Look, there're lots of gay people out there, in the real world and in the classroom. They're going to ask about it.
"Everyone's watching Montgomery right now, in no uncertain terms," to see whether the new curriculum survives an expected legal challenge, said Jean-Marie Navetta, spokeswoman for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a national nonprofit organization. If the lessons emerge intact, they could be replicated.

That "expected legal challenge" is bizarre, isn't it? Like, the question is, what will be the grounds of the "expected legal challenge?" We know the suers are going to complain, but what are they going to complain about? --You'd think the horse would come before the cart, that something would bother them and then they'd sue. But no, they decide to sue first, then find something to sue about. What a wild and wacky world we live in.

We remember the CRC strategy discussion, 'way back in January 2005, where they said: "Lawsuits tend to get peoples attention - merit or no merit because it forces them to deal with their legal team on a continuing basis." There ya go, they just want to sue, for suing's sake.

Toward the end, this article reviews policies on teaching about sexual variations in neighboring counties, which is interesting in an academic way, but I hardly think Montgomery County needs to try to be like other places. We are a prestigious place to live, a place that leads. Let's continue to support doing the right thing.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Evangelical Sex-Ed Backfires in MoCo

The Rockville Pregnancy Center is just down the street from me, on Twinbrook Parkway. I walk past it every day on my way home from the Metro. They're a storefront business, in a two-story building with an engineering company and a hair salon and some other small businesses. You can go in there and they give you a urine test to see if you're pregnant, and then they "counsel" you. All of it's free.

Like, here's one from their FAQ page
Q. Do you offer Ultrasound?
A. Yes, when medically indicated for pregnancy viability when considering abortion.

In other words, they only use ultrasound if you're thinking about having an abortion, so you can see how cute the little guy is that you're about to horribly murder. (HERE's how that works.)

It's that kind of place.

It's an affiliate of Care Net, a national network of these places. Here's what their web page says:
Care Net has focused its ministry efforts on developing, equipping, and promoting more than 1,000 evangelical pregnancy centers across North America.

I should mention that the executive director of the Rockville Pregnancy Center, Gail Tierney, was one of the participants on the message board, back in the day. She wrote complaining about the fact that the schools would teach about condoms. She said 44 percent of their clients became pregnant while their partner was wearing a condom. Which, to me, is the reason they should be taught to use it correctly. But not everybody sees it that way.

Forty-four is such a believable number. Much better than forty-five, which sounds, I don't know, rounded, just a little too easy. And forty-three would've been, y'know, a prime number and all, a weird number. Forty-four is perfect.

Here at, our one and only topic of interest is the Montgomery County, Maryland, public schools' sex-education curriculum. So ...

As part of our kids' education here in this county, a representative of this evangelistic anti-abortion mission, the Rockville Pregnancy Center, comes into their Health class to talk to them about ... how dirty sex is, I guess.

The result this week, at Albert Einstein High School, was this letter from the principal:
Dear Parents/Guardians:

I want to inform you of an incident that occurred January 8 in your child's comprehensive health education class. It has been brought to my attention that an outside speaker encouraged students to chew a piece of gum already chewed by other students in the class. I have learned that the intended purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate to students the power of peer pressure and to use it an analogy for transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

I am appalled and aghast that someone would do this as part of an educational presentation. This exercise was inappropriate and unsanitary and it should not have occurred. I became aware of this exercise just yesterday when I was notified by central office staff.

Montgomery County Public Schools staff has conferred with the office of Dr. Ulder Tillman, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Chief of Public Health and County Health Officer. Her office has advised us that this is an unacceptable and unsanitary practice which carries risks similar to drinking from a common glass, bottle or straw. If you have questions, please contact your private health care provider or DHHS Communicable Disease Services at 240-777-1755.

As a result of this incident, the outside group that made this presentation is no longer approved to send speakers into any classrooms in Montgomery County Public Schools.

I felt it was important to let you know that this incident occurred and I am mailing this letter to ensure that it reaches you. I am intensely dismayed that this happened here at Einstein, and I apologize to you on behalf of our staff. I assure you that your children's safety and health is of the utmost importance to us and I pledge to you that this type of activity will never occur again.


James Fernandez

They passed a piece of gum around the whole class, and everybody chewed it for a little bit. I do know that one of the first students to chew the gum is taking antibiotics for an infection. That's only one that I know of -- of course the whole point of this exercise is that you can catch something, right? So if they all catch something, it only proves the point. Brilliant.

I'm sure the nuts will be waving their hands in the air, screaming that the school district is discriminating against these guys because of their religious beliefs or something. But ... why were they there in the first place?

These people will tell you it doesn't matter if kids are exposed to a little ol' germ or two; as long as it prevents even one abortion it's justified, because the ends justify the means. And in response to that I would just add what the principal of Einstein said: "the outside group that made this presentation is no longer approved to send speakers into any classrooms in Montgomery County Public Schools."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

School Requires Balance to Science

It's getting late, and I wasn't planning on blogging, but ... I was just checking the blogs, and ... I have to put this one up here.

This is from the town of Federal Way, Washington. Turns out I've spent a little time in Federal Way. There's not much to say about it, just a little place in the woods outside Tacoma.

I knew an opera singer there who could imitate Jimi Hendrix's guitar with his voice. He'd sing Purple Haze dew-dew-DAH-dew and you'd think it was an upside-down Strat through a Marshall stack with a Fuzz Face ... ahem ... but ...

(This was a while ago, you might say.)

So they showed "An Inconvenient Truth" in some schools there. This is mind-boggling.
This week in Federal Way schools, it got a lot more inconvenient to show one of the top-grossing documentaries in U.S. history, the global-warming alert "An Inconvenient Truth."

After a parent who supports the teaching of creationism and opposes sex education complained about the film, the Federal Way School Board on Tuesday placed what it labeled a moratorium on showing the film. The movie consists largely of a computer presentation by former Vice President Al Gore recounting scientists' findings.

Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher," said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. "The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD." Federal Way schools restrict Gore film: 'Inconvenient Truth' called too controversial

Hmm, Hardison, Hardiman, Hardiberg, Harrison ... that name sounds familiar ...

Yeah, if it doesn't quote the book of Revelations directly, it doesn't belong in the schools. Of course.
Hardison's e-mail to the School Board prompted board member David Larson to propose the moratorium Tuesday night.

"Somebody could say you're killing free speech, and my retort to them would be we're encouraging free speech," said Larson, a lawyer. "The beauty of our society is we allow debate."

Except we're talking about schools. You could debate all day about what if two plus two was five, but you don't. Schools in some places are for learning.

Can you imagine, first of all, the insanity of making science like this political? How did this happen? Who decided that global warming isn't happening? You've got, on one side, scientists, PhD experts in geology and meteorology. And on the other side, some capitalists and some nuts.

And you're supposed to "balance" them.

These are some wacky times we live in.

Of course, you know what I think. America is in danger of totally losing respect for learning, for critical thinking, for reasoning based on facts and logic. This is what we're fighting in our little county, and this is what the folks over in Federal Way had better wake up to. Our society is coming to worship ignorance.

The school board went along with it.
School Board members adopted a three-point policy that says teachers who want to show the movie must ensure that a "credible, legitimate opposing view will be presented," that they must get the OK of the principal and the superintendent, and that any teachers who have shown the film must now present an "opposing view."

Ooh. My forehead just left an impression in the table-top.

Just in case there's any doubt, the story goes on:
"In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations," states a 2001 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which advises policymakers.

"Furthermore, it is very likely that the 20th-century warming has contributed significantly to the observed sea level rise, through thermal expansion of seawater and widespread loss of land ice."

The basics of that position are backed by the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences.

But what about PFOX? What do they think? Maybe the earth is warming because so many people discriminate against ex-gays.
Laurie David, a co-producer of the movie, said that this is the first incident of its kind relating to the film.

"I am shocked that a school district would come to this decision," David said in a prepared statement. "There is no opposing view to science, which is fact, and the facts are clear that global warming is here, now."

Look, knowledge can change, no doubt. But right now the best knowledge in the world says that people are causing global warming. Why would you bet against that?
The Federal Way incident started when Hardison learned that his daughter would see the movie in class. He objected.

Hardison and his wife, Gayla, said they would prefer that the movie not be shown at all in schools.

"From what I've seen (of the movie) and what my husband has expressed to me, if (the movie) is going to take the approach of 'bad America, bad America,' I don't think it should be shown at all," Gayle Hardison said. "If you're going to come in and just say America is creating the rotten ruin of the world, I don't think the video should be shown."

Scientists say that Americans, with about 5 percent of the world's population, emit about 25 percent of the globe-warming gases.

Ah, maybe that's it, that's why global warming is political -- because it'd be us, Americans, who'd have to do something about it.

Well, we can easily readjust the facts to prevent that.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Baptists Making a Stand

We really should comment on this interesting development, which might affect our situation here in Montgomery County in the long run.

Lots of Christians shake their heads at the religious extremists who use the Bible as an excuse for bigotry. For many devout folks, the message of Jesus is one of forgiveness, kindness, love. But there's that noisy little gang of them, who just live to make everybody around them miserable.

Turns out, if you look into it, the Southern Baptists are, let's say, "overrepresented" in the nuthouse. And apparently this is finally starting to grate on the other Baptists' nerves.

In all the excitement recently, this story may have been overlooked:
(AP) With the help of former President Carter, Baptists who have distanced themselves from the conservative Southern Baptist Convention announced plans Tuesday for a major meeting that aims to improve the Baptist image and broaden its agenda.

Carter, who left the Southern Baptists in 2000 after the denomination came under conservative control, and former President Bill Clinton, also a Baptist, joined leaders of about 40 Baptist groups in making the announcement at The Carter Center.

"Our goal is to have a major demonstration of harmony and a common commitment to personifying and to accomplish the goals that Jesus Christ expressed," Carter said. Carter, Clinton Back Moderate Baptists

Well, that sounds like a good idea. I never understood how these gay-haters ran away with the whole Christian religion in the United States. There's so much beauty in life, and gospels teach such a beautiful message, but instead of appreciating God's handiwork they put all their effort into hurting people.

And then, when you try to advocate caring, kindness, and clear thinking, you get accused of religion-bashing.

Skipping down...
Organizers say the event could draw more than 20,000 Baptists. Among the groups supporting the effort are several historically black Baptist denominations. Carter stressed that Southern Baptists are invited to the gathering.

The announcement Tuesday is the latest chapter in fierce Baptist battles over how to interpret Scripture. Starting in 1979, Southern Baptists who believe the Bible is without error took leadership of the convention, which now claims 16.4 million members. The denomination became a leading voice opposing gay marriage and abortion, and took stands on many other public policy issues.

Southern Baptists with a more liberal outlook responded by forming their own groups, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an organizer of next year's assembly.

Let's keep an eye on this. I think the radicals are losing their lock on public discourse.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Report on the Board Meeting

I was just looking around at the blogs, and see that Maryland Politics Watch has published David Fishback's notes from the school board meeting yesterday. I had seen this piece earlier in email, and was impressed by its thoroughness. I didn't take any notes at the meeting -- long story, I ended up being separated from my notebook -- but the sound of David's furious scribbling was audible all the way across the room. Nearly drowned out the speakers.

Not really.

Here's the most thorough and accurate description of the Board meeting that you will see. David Fishback puts the corporate media to shame:
There was the expected public comment from the CRC/PFOX people attacking the Superintendent's proposal in its entirety and complaining about the "gay agenda" and the like. (Contrary to one press report, there were not 15 people testifying to their point of view. They had five people speaking at Public Comments.) No one on the BOE even responded to their statements, other than to say, with respect to a lawsuit, "bring it on."

Jim Kennedy of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) and, Christine Grewell of, Matthew Murgia of the CAC, and I all spoke generally in support of the proposal, while noting the glaring omission of basic information, notably the medical consensus that homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder. In my testimony, I noted that this is information that all four recently-elected BOE members supported for the curriculum during the campaign and that the CAC had overwhelmingly recommended inclusion of that information.

The Superintendent and the Staff presented the program, touting it as a great advance, which it is, but without really commenting on the substance of the CAC's disagreements with what was not included. The Staff noted that it was including a statement in the 8th Grade curriculum that was already in the 10th Grade curriculum: That sexual orientation is "innate and is a complex part of one's personality."

This seems to be the Staff's way of conveying that sexual orientation is not a choice.

Dr. Rachel Moon, who was one of the American Academy of Pediatrics experts who were consulted at the start of the MCPS revision process, noted that the experts would prefer that sexual orientation information be provided earlier in Middle School than 8th Grade and stressed the need to give kids information, although she did not address the CAC recommentations that were not included by the Staff.

CAC Chair Dr. Carol Plotsky noted that there were some important things that the CAC would have liked to have include. She said that she hoped that after the pilot fileld testing the rejected CAC recommendations would be revisited and included.

BOE President Nancy Navarro said that information needs to be presented in the context of tolerance and that the Staff proposal "begins to achieve our goals." She said that we should see how the field testing goes.

BOE Member Steve Abrams said the BOE should defer to the Staff and see how the field testing goes.

BOE Member Patricia O'Neill addressed the issue of a lawsuit. She said, "See you in court." She then moved to amend the 8th Grade Lesson to include a statement from the American Psychological Association that the medical community has determined that homosexuality is not an illness.

Mr. Abrams responded that there have been some animal studies suggest that sexual orientation can be changed, and said he would vote against the proposal if Ms. O'Neill's amendment was included.

BOE Vice President Shirley Brandman spoke in support of Ms. O'Neill's amendment.

Mr. Abrams responded that it should be opposed because it was not from the Staff.

BOE Member Sharon Cox said that it is good to make it clear that sexual orientation is innate, and that students need to know that homosexuality is within "the normal range of human experience." She then said that she knew that the BOE would be sued no matter what. She added, however, that she "didn't want to give them an additional handle." She also repeated what I heard the Staff said to the experts and CAC Chair Plotsky during a teleconference on Friday: If we add the O'Neill amendment, then what do we say when someone asks about transgender?

Ms. Cox completed her coments by saying that the BOE should let the pilot go forward and see what kinds of questions come up. So she would not want to include Ms. O'Neill's suggestion "at this moment."

New BOE Member Chris Barclay (he was appointed when Valerie Ervin ascended to the County Council as a result of the November election) asked very good questions about what happens when a child asks if homosexuality is an illness. Ms. Navarro then asked BOE attorney Judy Bresler to address the BOE and Bresler gave some very confusing answers about what the guidance counselors could say. One thing that was suggested by Staffer Betsy Brown was that the American Psychological Association document that was drawn upon for the curriculum was available as a resource for the guidance counselors. This still seems unclear. Unfortunately, these exchanges derailed Mr. Barclay's inquiries. Ms. Brown said that that students will ask these questions of their guidance counselors.

Student BOE Member Sara Horvitz responded that students will NOT seek out their guidance counselor -- that very few students have any kind of relationship with their guidance counselor. She also though that the "fleeting sexual attraction" CAC bullet point should be included now, as well.

Ms. Cox then said, "I'm just talking about the pilot now. Let's see how it goes."

Ms. Horvitz responded that "questions will come up. We should do it now."

Ms. Navarro again said that the BOE should move forward now and see how the field testing goes.

The vote on Ms. O'Neill's motion was 4-4, so it failed. Ms. O'Neill, Ms. Brandman, Ms. Horvitz and BOE Member Judy Docca, voted in favor. Ms. Navarro, Ms. Cox, Mr. Barclay, and Mr. Abrams voted against.

Ms. Horvitz's motion was defeated by, I think, a vote of 6-3. Ms. Brandman, Ms. Horvitz, and Dr. Docca were the affirmative votes.

Mr. Barclay, however, reiterated that he wanted to see how the field testing went, and that he has "an expectation that things will be added."

Ms. Brandman urged that the BOE hear all the questions raised the course of the field testing. How that will be done has not yet been established.

The BOE then unanimously approved the curriculum for piloting.

Now. Don't you feel like you were actually there?

Of course, he left out the most important part, which is, naturally, the CRC's opinion about it.

On Not Declaring Victory

Today brings a curious combination of elation and letdown. Realize, we at have been fighting for more than two years -- we started in December, 2004 -- to see that a decent sex-ed curriculum is implemented in Montgomery County. We battled through the first round, which ended with the legal settlement that threw out the proposed curriculum and citizens advisory committee, and we battled through the second one: formation of a new committee and development of a new curriculum.

Yesterday the school board unanimously adopted the new curriculum. Though there are coalitions on the board, representatives of both parties and diverse philosophies, backgrounds, and special concerns, all the members raised their hands when the vote came. They knew that a lawsuit is likely, but they knew the world was watching, they knew their community was counting on them, they knew what their consciences demanded, and they did the right thing.

Did we make any difference? I don't know. I tend to be fatalistic about these kinds of things, but this time, watching how this all went down, I'd have to say yes, we made a difference.

We defined our mission early on as "supporting the school board." And basically, that's what we've done, even though I know there are times they wished we wouldn't. Sometimes supporting means cajoling them, scolding them, pushing them to do something they'd really rather not have to deal with. Call it tough-love, I don't know, but I think it made a difference for them to know that this organization was following the case every single day, commenting on the progress of the new curriculum, getting involved whenever the task started to veer off the path or when it needed a little push.

And again, I do have to thank our school board for having the fortitude to vote for this, even when they knew it'd put them back in court.

There are two main reasons not to declare victory at this time. First of all is the trivial reason: it's almost certain that the CRC is going to sue. We have not yet come to the page that says: The End. Of course, this time the school district got some high-priced lawyers involved from the start. The curriculum was developed by a team of pediatricians and educators, but nobody saw a lick of it until the lawyers had gone over it. You can bet, everything on those documents has passed through the fine-toothed comb.

The bad guys can complain about "viewpoint neutrality," but their lawyers know perfectly well that doesn't apply in the classroom. The precedents are out there for everyone to see -- the concept gives them hope, because the judge mentioned it last time, but it won't hold up in court. Presenting the scientifically and medically accurate viewpoints is enough, without dragging in the "ex-gay" hoax, or a bunch of stuff to make gay people sound dirty or creepy. Oh, and the idea that students' First Amendment rights are violated because they don't get to express their bigoted views in the classrroom, well, that's silly. Students have never had the right to say anything they wanted in a classroom. It's crazy to think the courts are going to support the idea that the classroom is the place for some punk kids to express their personal opinions. Can you imagine?

The other reason not to declare victory is that the curriculum is not quite complete. As far as sexual orientation and gender identity goes, it gives an objective and fair picture, even sympathetic. But the school district shied away from making the real point, which is that the scientists and the doctors don't see homosexuality as a sickness, or as a choice, and they don't think there is any problem with gay people having families and living normal lives. Most of us in TeachTheFacts, and most of the members of the citizens committee, really feel that this fact should be explicitly included in the course materials. Tell students that the AMA, the APA, the AAP all have said, for the record, that being gay is not a sickness, sexual orientation is not something you choose. Without knowing the source, this must sounds like another opinion, and you know what they say about opinions ... ending with "and they all stink." It's not just an opinion like yours or mine, these are statements reflecting years of research and debate among the most highly-qualified experts in science and medicine.

In the long run, it might be just as well to wait and see how pilot testing goes. But the fact is, the medical community has made it very clear that they can't find anything wrong with being gay in itself; gay people have the same problems the rest of us do. And knowing that could mean life or death for some worried kid.

So ... at this point it's fine to feel a little bit elated: MCPS did just vote, unanimously no less, to start testing a really good curriculum. The nuts have screamed and yelled, and the TV-news zombies were attracted to the noise, but in the long run that's all it was: noise. School district staff, the doctors, the lawyers, the citizens committee, the school board, all focused closely on the actual topic, which was not the noise but the education of our county's adolescents, and yesterday we passed an important milestone.

And it's OK to feel a little letdown. You know that, as much effort as has been put into this, the whiners are still trying like crazy to tear it down, trying to undermine it. Their defining characteristic is that they can't accept when they lose a fair vote. So you never get to rest. You're always going to have to pick up your mace and your broadsword and wade back into the carnage.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Unanimous ... Again

Wow, it's been a long day already. The school board meeting was at 10 this morning. The place was packed. There were TV antennas out front, guys walking all over the place with cameras, reporters with their makeup all straight, wires strung everywhere. In the boardroom, every seat was taken. People were standing along the sides and back of the room.

Yes: a zoo.

I'm sure I'll be posting something soon about the public comments. There are fifteen slots, and there were fifteen speakers. They were not all about the sex-ed business, but a lot were.

I don't know if my favorite part was the CRC's Ruth Jacobs waving her flag and holding up her football ("don't kick our kids around"), or if it was the guy from the Conservative Democratic Alliance who said ... hey, wait a minute. The Conservative Democratic Alliance is a rightwing British group, they don't operate in this country, do they? Oh, man, look at this, he's been saying this same exact stuff for a million years ... Anyway, it was a great moment in Montgomery COunty history when he said "You can remove the homosexual activists from your CACFLHD [the citizens advisory committee] or approve this new curriculum (as is) and lose another court case."

I love being called a "homosexual activist." It's just so perfect.

For the record, there was one openly gay guy on the committee. I don't think he is an "activist," I don't know, he seems like a pretty normal guy to me.

A sentence of new wording was appended to the curriculum by MCPS staff, stating that "Sexual orientation is innate and a complex part of one's personality." Not much discussion of this, really.

The last week has seen a lot of intense communication between the board members and interested parties. We've been seeing lots of emails and hearing about bunches of phone calls, informal discussions at PTA meetings, mmm, conference calls with the doctors, who said what about who, as everybody got their ducks in a row and figured out what to say in the public meeting. So, today's statements by board members were not too much of a surprise. We heard the arguments we had expected. (I think you can watch the meeting online HERE, once they get it posted.)

As you know, we had hoped to get in the "bullet points" from the AMA, APA, and AAP. Two motions were made by board members, one to introduce a cut-down version, and one to adopt the whole thing. After some interesting debate, neither motion passed. It seemed to me that members agreed with the statements, and supported including them, but just didn't want to make that big of a change at this time. The issue will be revisited after pilot testing, and I have the feeling it has more of a chance after the legal threat has dissipated and they've gotten some feedback from students.

I've got to mention. The student member, Sarah Horvitz, made the motion to include the full text. And man, that girl was good. She explained the whole thing, what it is and why it should be there, what it's like to be a student dealing with a counselor you don't know, and I figured she'd sold it to them. Sadly, no. But watch this young lady, she was really impressive today.

Board member Steve Abrams tried to introduce a motion ... something about changing the sexual orientation of animals ... but nobody would second it. Sometimes the other members just roll their eyes. (He did get in a pretty funny pun, though, about eighth-graders thinking the word "innate" meant "in eighth grade.")

Oh, yes. At one point, board member Pat O'Neill said something about being sure there'd be another lawsuit. Her words: "See ya in court." And Sharon Cox, as well, when she referred to the almost certain impending action by the suers, said "Bring 'em on." Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do, and I thank you ladies for showing the way so fearlessly.

Finally, a half hour after lunch was supposed to have started, the school board voted on the new curriculum. All hands went up: unanimous. Now the curriculum will go to piloting in a number of middle and high schools.

Afterwards it was very interesting, in a pathetic kind of way. We're not usually around that many television crews, so I forget they're like this. They flocked around the CRC members to find out what they thought.

Wow, I was just looking for something about what the CRC thinks of the new curriculum, and Google showed me the CRC already has their big press release out today. What do they think? Hmm ... "wins a failing grade ... more about sexual politics ... increased emphasis on moral approval of alternative lifestyles ... the decreased or even absent treatment of abstinence as a choice ... sex not placed within context of marriage." All righty then. Not happy, it seems.

When the school district had a really good curriculum in 2004, these Brilliant People did all they could to get it thrown out, and finally succeeded. They knew the district was going to start over again -- did they really think the next curriculum would be more conservative? Did they expect to convert people by suing?

Gee, I'm sorry about that. He said, giggling into his sleeve.

Woops, almost forgot ... in the "overflow room," board members and supporters of the curriculum stood around quietly while the cameras pointed at the CRC's signs, and taped their adamant statements. When you watch this on the television news, you're going to get a very strange version of what happened today. You're going to hear the tiny minority of anti-gay losers explain it, the ones who don't understand what this curriculum is about or why this vote was significant.

Why TV works that way, I couldn't tell you.

Let me tell you what happened. The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt new sex-ed curricula for eighth and tenth grades. Students will learn about variations in sexual orientation and gender identity, and how to correctly use a condom. The classes will be objective, thorough, fair, and scientifically sound.

This is a giant step for MCPS; I applaud them for their courage, and don't worry, we will continue to pressure them to make the classes better.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Board Decides Tomorrow

Tomorrow the Montgomery County Board of Education will discuss the new curricula that have been developed, and vote to accept or reject them. It has been a long time coming, and we hope that the board is willing to pilot test the curriculum.

It is also a last chance to make it better, to include some crucial stuff that was left out by the district when they put together the final draft.

The citizens advisory committee strongly desired a handout with this wording:
Other things to know:
  • Children who have fleeting same-sex attractions may assume incorrectly that they are gay or lesbian. Mere fleeting attraction does not prove sexual orientation.
  • All mainstream medical and mental health professionals have concluded that homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most experts have concluded that "one's sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual." Moreover, according to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation is not a "conscious choice that can voluntarily be changed." Similarly, the American Medical Association opposes "therapies" that seek to change sexual orientation that are premised on the assumption that homosexuality is an illness and that people should change.
  • Homosexuals can live happy, successful lives; they "can be successful parents."
  • Children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as those raised by heterosexuals, and are no more likely to be homosexual.

It looks like MCPS is afraid, though, that if they actually said out loud what the medical community believes, it will somehow make them more vulnerable to a lawsuit.

But look, this is important, students need to know this. It should be the heart of the "sexual variation" curriculum, the fact that doctors and scientists agree that being gay is not a disease and it's not a choice, that you can live a happy, normal life, being gay. It shouldn't be some optional add-on, this is the core of the whole thing.

Because, for me at least, this is what this whole battle is about. I have never seen this as a struggle for "gay rights." Now that I've been exposed to some of the ugliness, I certainly sympathize, but I'm sorry, if I were to "get political" it wouldn't be over the subject of gay rights.

No, to me, this is about courage and accuracy in education. It's about making our kids smarter by teaching them the truth in school, the scientific truth, the truth as it is understood by trained experts, no matter whose panties end up in a wad over it. It's about teaching the right thing, and it's about standing up to those who would try to bring you down to their level.

I value education, especially higher education. You learn a lot in graduate school and afterwards, when your career brings you in contact with other experts, with complicated theoretical notions, with the data and subtleties of analysis; these interactions lift you to a level of intimacy with the topic that other people simply don't have. And MCPS should not be ashamed to go into a classroom to teach students what the highly educated experts believe.

The school district says that if a student has a question about homosexuality, the teacher is supposed to tell them to discuss it with a "health professional." A doctor. The message will be, clearly, that this is a health issue, if you think you're "like that" there must be something wrong with you.

But that message is just the opposite of what the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics want taught. They want people to understand it's not a disease.

It would be the very best to give students these statements and discuss them in class, but we can think of several compromises. For one, the school board could take the document known as "the compendium" in committee discussions, and make it a "teachers' resource," so teachers, when asked hard questions in class, can draw on these for answers. Another solution, effortless to implement, is to give teachers the APA brochure that is the source of many of the statements in the "bullet points." This would just mean downloading it from the Internet and making copies for each teacher. This handout can provide many answers to the harder questions that teachers might receive in class.

It will be very interesting to see how the board's discussion goes.

Message in the Sand

About 1,200 people gathered at San Francisco's Ocean Beach, in Nancy Pelosi's back yard, to spell out a message.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Does Scientific and Medical Knowledge Need to be "Balanced" by Something Else?

David Fishback pointed this one out. The Examiner had a story this morning. Looks like the reporter went to the MCPS briefing Thursday. David focused on this part:
According to Betsy Brown, director of the county's curriculum department, the main factor that's different about these hot-button lessons is that they will be strictly scripted, and teachers will not be allowed to bring in their own information or materials.

"If kids ask a question that's outside the scope of what's taught, the teacher is encouraged to tell them to talk about it with a health professional," she said. Sex education to be voted on by school board next week

So ... say a kid in a class has some questions about homosexuality. Say it's something personal, the kid needs to know some stuff. Guess what -- he can ask, but the teacher can't answer.

The medical and mental health organizations -- American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and others -- have web sites and brochures with lots of answers. The citizens advisory committee had recommended inclusion of some statements from those sites, as a handout at least, for both 8th and 10th grade classes.

But it appears the school district is afraid that giving out information by these groups will make them vulnerable to a lawsuit. As if scientific knowledge needed to be "balanced," in the classroom, with religion-based prejudice.

And look at what the teacher is supposed to do: tell them to talk about it with a health professional. Just great. I guess a kid wouldn't deduce that homosexuality is a sickness from that, would they?

As it is, there's nothing in the curricula that specifically says that homosexuality is not a disease, which is a very important point. It's not a disease, and it's not a choice; these are facts that students need to be told.

The school board can do the right thing on Tuesday, and add the "bullet points" that were strongly recommended by the citizens advisory committee, but rejected by the Superintendent's staff. We hope they do.

Friday, January 05, 2007

... And The Post

Daniel DeVise at the Washington Post is following the story. Excerpts:
Montgomery County school officials previewed new middle and high school lesson plans yesterday on sexual orientation and condom use, topics that could refuel the debate on how much the county's teenagers need to know about homosexuality and premarital sex.

The lessons -- which have come under more dispute than any other piece of the county schools curriculum -- represent an attempt at compromise among the school system and polarized community groups that have fought bitterly about the merits of taking lessons on sexuality beyond heterosexuality. Sex-Ed Plan Could Revive Heated Debate From 2005

Yeah, well, the state of Maryland says the schools have to take it beyond heterosexuality, MCPS is just following the law here.
School board members will consider the new sex education curriculum Tuesday at what promises to be a well-attended meeting. Defenders of the curriculum expect the community groups that sued in 2005 to halt the new sex-ed curriculum to do so again. But group leaders said yesterday that they would give the school board a chance to act before taking any steps.

"I really think Montgomery County schools can do better," said Ruth Jacobs, an infectious-disease specialist and member of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which, along with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, sued to block the first incarnation of the curriculum.

Ah, so nice, they'll give the school board a chance.

Tuesday the board will vote to either accept or reject these new curricula. I guess that's what they mean. If the school board rejects the material, the suers will stifle their desire to go to court.
The lessons, approved by the county school board in fall 2004, introduce sexual orientation topics to eighth- and 10th-graders and correct condom use to 10th-graders. Board members decided to add a discussion of homosexuality, which Montgomery teachers had been barred from broaching except in response to students' questions.

The state requires teaching about "sexual variation." MCPS asked a group of experts to determine what that means, and they decided it mostly meant "sexual orientation."
Parents organized against the curriculum and an eight-minute condom demonstration video, in which a young health educator unrolls a condom onto a cucumber. Critics said that the lessons tacitly encouraged premarital sex and homosexuality and failed to voice varied views, such as that sexual orientation is a choice or that anal intercourse can pose particular medical risks.

In 2005, the citizens groups sued. In May of that year, U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. issued a temporary restraining order, opining that the curriculum "presents only one view on the subject -- that homosexuality is a natural and morally correct lifestyle -- to the exclusion of other perspectives." The litigants reached an agreement in June 2005, and the school board agreed not to broach religious beliefs in the revised lessons.

If you've got to tell the story in two paragraphs, I guess that's it. Mmm, if I were writing this, I woulda said "A handful of whiners" instead of "critics," I think. And I would've included some of the humorous anecdotes about tricks the CRC tried that backfired on them. But, for two paragraphs, there ya go.
With the help of medical experts, school officials have spent more than a year crafting the curriculum. It was reviewed by a citizens committee that included representatives from all parties to the suit. The document incorporated 69 of 83 changes recommended by the committee. But neither side is completely satisfied.

There's one part of me that understands, they couldn't include everything. On the other hand, there's part of me that wonders if some decisions weren't made for the wrong reasons.
A majority of committee members recommended that the lessons include emphatic statements that homosexuality is not a disease or mental illness and that sexuality is not a choice, beliefs supported by mainstream medical groups. School officials decided such statements did not fit the "objectives for the lesson," according to internal school system documents.

"I suspect that they're shying away from controversy here," said Jim Kennedy, a member of the citizens committee and, a group of Montgomery parents and their supporters pushing for broader lessons.

David Fishback, also a member of that group, noted that every successful Montgomery school board candidate last fall favored teaching that sexuality is not a choice. "They're going to have to decide whether to follow their campaign pledge," he said.

OK, well, the board will discuss this on Tuesday, and decide.

In the meantime, they do have the list of the committee's suggestions in front of them. Unfortunately, the list doesn't include the votes on each item, so they may not realize how strongly the committee felt about some of them.

This will be a chance for the new board -- and I don't mean just the new members, but the new board as a reorganized entity -- to show the community what it stands for. Will they approve the lessons as prepared, or will they actively participate in making some of the harder decisions, decisions that career MCPS staff may not feel empowered to make?

The question is, will they take this the extra inch?

We'll know Tuesday.

The Gazette Reports

Yesterday I got a flurry of calls from reporters, after the Wednesday-night unveiling of the new curriculum, and after MCPS briefed journalists on the new material. I pretty much told them all what I blogged yesterday. The eighth and tenth grade curricula are really good, but I'm afraid the Superintendent's office may have backed down where they should have been firm; they should have included the medical establishment's statements.

Actually, a couple of the reporters, having seen the documentation of what committee proposals were accepted and what was rejected, brought up the topic themselves -- it jumped out at them, you might say, that these were pretty big suggestions that were shot down.

After years of excellent reporting on the Montgomery County sex-ed controversy at The Gazette, we understand that Sean Sedam has been promoted and they have assigned a new reporter to this story, Marcus Moore. Welcome, Marcus. This morning's story was co-authored by the two of them. Excerpts:
The Montgomery County school board will meet Tuesday to vote on a revised sex education curriculum that overhauls a controversial video on condom usage and lessons on sexual orientation.

Some advocates applauded the changes, while others say the revised video and lesson plans are still a little too raunchy for middle and high school students.

"I think they did a nice job, but it still introduces anal and oral sex to the kids," said Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. Montgomery board to vote on sex ed lessons

This last comment is a little ironic, as the CRC has insisted all along on teaching more about anal sex in the classroom. I guess they figure they can win either way. If there's nothing, they will complain that the classes don't warn about the health risks of being gay, and if there's anything, they will complain, as they do here, that the schools are teaching students about anal sex.

For the record, the only mention of anal sex is during the condom video, which mentions that the condom should be used for vaginal, anal, and oral sex. This is standard government-web-site advice, mainstream medical advice, nothing "raunchy" about it.
School board members were briefed and watched the video before Christmas.

"I think staff did a fabulous job," said board member Patricia B. O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda. "... I think it is viewpoint-neutral. It’s 21st century health curriculum for 21st century students. ... I think there is consensus and a feeling that we should move forward with this pilot."

Board President Nancy Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said she had spoken to four board colleagues.

"Everyone seems pretty much on board," Navarro said.

"I think it is a balanced proposal," she said. "I believe it’s a step in the right direction."

OK, good news, it sounds like the school board will probably vote to adopt the new material.
"The revisions are really good," said James Kennedy, president of and a member of the advisory panel. "I think they did a good job of pulling it together, but the superintendent’s office was overly cautious."

Members of the 15-member Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development were briefed Wednesday night on the curriculum revisions.

At the committee’s suggestion, the video now has narrators of both sexes and includes information on how to properly store, open and discard condoms.

The curriculum, however, still does not reference ex-homosexuals.

"As a physician, I’m terribly disappointed in [the lesson] not mentioning ex-gays," said Ruth Jacobs, an infectious disease physician in Rockville who represents CRC on the advisory panel. "I think it’s discrimination. I think it reflects bias. I’ve been concerned about bias on the committee."

Well, first of all, I believe I said "might have been overly cautious." Second, it would have been nice if they'd mentioned what I thought they were overly cautious about, or if they had mentioned that nearly the entire committee felt the same way. Oh well.

And that last thing ... what does being a physician have to do with "ex-gays?" Does Ruth Jacobs, as a physician, see a lot of "ex-gays?" Did she learn about "ex-gays" in medical school?

Or is she trying to link her authority as a physician to her ideological belief that gay people should go back into the closet?

I'm just asking.

I feel I should comment on the use of the word "however" in this sentence: The curriculum, however, still does not reference ex-homosexuals. The citizens committee did not ask for the inclusion of anything about "ex-gays," in fact, when the topic came up is was voted down by a huge majority. There's no "however" necessary there -- the committee had not asked for the topic to be included, that's all.
O’Neill said she did not think the curriculum needed to mention ex-gays.

"I don’t believe it would be appropriate to be in there," she said. "Personally I don’t believe that it is a fact-based position. I think this is a thorough, medically based comprehensive curriculum."

Peter Sprigg, who represents PFOX on the advisory panel, disagreed with the curriculum’s use of the term "homophobia" because it "creates the illusion that it is a scientific term."

PFOX contends homosexuality is a choice people make and can abandon.

The word appears in an excerpt of a textbook that critics say is biased in presenting sexual orientation.

Sprigg had recommended the term be scrapped from the curriculum, but the advisory committee voted against his proposal. If the word is included, it needs clarification.

"I would urge the board of education to reject the staff proposal as it is at this time," Sprigg said.

Well, he's got to say that. That's why he was put on the committee.

In case you haven't been following this story, Peter Sprigg was assigned to the committee to represent PFOX as a consequence of a legal settlement agreement. CRC and PFOX were opposed to everything the majority of the citizens advisory committee (and the majority of the County) wanted; of course they don't think this proposal should be accepted. This was inevitable in the way the committee was set up.
In May 2005, a federal judge ruled that teacher resource materials, which were not to be presented to students, were objectionable because they unfairly singled out specific religious denominations for their condemnation of homosexuality.

A line in an assignment for eighth-graders echoes that finding.

"Just as stereotyping others based on sexuality is not an acceptable behavior, stereotyping others based on personal beliefs also is not acceptable," reads part of an assignment that asks students to reflect on stereotyping based on sexual orientation, appearance and mannerisms.

Yes ... it is not acceptable to stereotype bigots, Mwahahahahoohoohee.

By the way, this being a new reporter and all, let me note something here. The CRC and PFOX represent a nearly-nonexistent tiny minority in Montgomery County. But in this story, I count eleven paragraphs that give voice to CRC and PFOX views on the curriculum. There is one paragraph quoting somebody from (me), and the rest is history and quotes from officials.

It may be colorful, for instance when people say the schools "introduce anal and oral sex to the kids," but the distorted thinking represented by CRC and PFOX does not reflect the values of our community. It's fine to present both sides of a controversy, but it would seem to make sense if the balance reflected the makeup of the County, not the shrillness of the absurd accusations some people make.

The country has turned a corner. The misconstruals and absurdities have been voted out at the national level, and were soundly drummed out here in Montgomery County, as well. There's no need to pander to the radicals.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

As the World Turns

Sometimes there's just no need to add anything.

Here's Our President (who has only vetoed one bill in his Presidential career, to prevent stem-cell research) in the papers this week:
"People want to end the secretive process by which Washington insiders are able to get billions of dollars directed to projects — many of them pork-barrel projects that have never been reviewed or voted on by the Congress," he said. Bush wants balance budget by 2012

Yes ... they do want to end that -- the recent elections were an indication.

Here's Barney Frank talking to Keith Olbermann:
When the Republican administration of George Bush tells me not to use legislation to make political statements, it‘s kind of like being accused of being silly by the Three Stooges.


Improved Curricula, But Something Important Is Missing

Last night the citizens advisory committee was shown the version of the condom lesson and the eighth and tenth grade sexual orientation sections that will be presented to the school board.

The condom video is much better. They added a lot of things the committee had suggested; a woman's voice, a lot of details about proper condom use. It's actually not bad now -- you might remember, the original gave the basics about how to put the thing on, we wanted it to say how to use a condom correctly. Now it does. It's not going to win any awards for video production, but it's informative, at least. It'll work.

The eighth and tenth grade curricula are also better. The Superintendent's office accepted most of the changes suggested by the citizens committee, and smoothed out a lot of little things, and it's OK.

But the committee was not, let's say, enthusiastic at the end of the meeting. We discussed passing a motion endorsing the curriculum, and decided not to vote on it.

It seemed to some, maybe most of us, that the Superintendent's office backed down on one of the most crucial suggestions, without much of an explanation. The implication was that they were going to leave out some important details in order to avoid possible controversy.

There were several things, but most of it comes down to one item that was rejected for both eighth and tenth grade classes. It was a set of statements from professional organizations that had been recommended by the committee with 10-3 and 11-2 majorities (with CRC and PFOX being in the minority, of course, and on one vote, another conservative member).

Members of the committee were disappointed about the rejection of the "bullet points," a handout with a small set of statements by mainstream medical and mental health organizations that made an important point.

Here is the information that was excluded:

Other things to know:

  • Children who have fleeting same-sex attractions may assume incorrectly that they are gay or lesbian. Mere fleeting attraction does not prove sexual orientation.
  • All mainstream medical and mental health professionals have concluded that homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most experts have concluded that "one's sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual." Moreover, according to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation is not a "conscious choice that can voluntarily be changed." Similarly, the American Medical Association opposes "therapies" that seek to change sexual orientation that are premised on the assumption that homosexuality is an illness and that people should change.
  • Homosexuals can live happy, successful lives; they "can be successful parents."
  • Children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as those raised by heterosexuals, and are no more likely to be homosexual.

These statements come from the American Medical Association’s Policy Number H-160.991 Health Care Needs of the Homosexual Population, the American Academy of Pediatric’s Clinical Report on Sexual Orientation and Adolescents, and the American Psychological Association’s online publication Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.

It would be one thing if the committee had asked for statements from gay advocacy groups or church groups or whatever, but that's not what this is. These are the organizations we depend on for our health needs; these are doctors, they've got no axe to grind, they just want to see us well. These are important statements and the citizens committee wanted them included.

The Superintendent's staff comment was: Disagree. The recommended new material does not align with target indicators and objectives for the lesson. I think everybody understands that this is a judgment that could have gone the other way just as easily; these statements are certainly in line with the other materials in the lessons, and they are authoritative, readable, and relevant.

The next step is that the school board will discuss the proposed curricula on Tuesday. Among other documents, they will receive the list of suggested changes and whether they were accepted or rejected by the Superintendent's staff. During the discussion they have the opportunity to reintroduce changes themselves.

We hope the school board will be bold enough to put these important statements back into both the eighth and tenth grade curricula. It should not be controversial to quote mainstream medical opinion, and it could mean a lot -- a whole lot -- to the poor kid who's sitting in class feeling like a freak, not knowing if there's something wrong with him, as it will mean a lot to his friend who wonders what's up with him.

These statements were intended to be handed out with class materials. They hardly needed any classroom discussion, it was considered enough just to get the information to students.

The board has a number of new members, and has just undergone a shift in leadership. Most observers feel that this will be a vibrant, progressive Board of Education, one that dares to do the right thing. This might be the first test of that.

It's up to them now.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tomorrow We Get to See It

The Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development evaluated curricula on sexual variation for eighth and tenth grades, and condom usage for tenth grade. The school district proposed content, and the committee (I am a member) evaluated and made recommendations.

The district is not bound to incorporate any or all of the committee's recommendations, but they were made in good faith, and in some cases they really were necessary. The weird thing is, the committee doesn't know what recommendations were accepted and what ones have been ignored or overruled.

It works like this: the writing committee proposes a curriculum; the citizens advisory committee reviews it and makes suggestions; these are passed to the Superintendent's office, and his staff makes revisions as they see appropriate; the result of that process is proposed to the school board, who vote on it.

A recent memo from the Superintendent thanked the committee and added, "I am particularly impressed by the conduct and leadership of the committee in considering all points of view in reaching its majority conclusions in the form of recommendations by the committee." And it's true, this is what we did. There were very many suggestions, the committee listened to them all, discussed them, and voted on them. It was brutal at timies, we stayed late, we held extra meetings, but we did it, we took everything seriously.

Tomorrow the committee will meet at 7 PM for a presentation of the new curricula. The meeting is described as a briefing on the Superintendent's recommendations to the Board, including a summary of changes that were made in response to the committee's suggestions.

I know that some committee members have been a little uneasy with the fact that we don't know what the result will be -- basically, we have signed off on something without seeing it. I am optimistic, personally, but the thing is, the schools have a way of being hesitant about controversy. You know how it is. On the other hand, the new curricula meet state requirements, reflect the values of the community, and they're way overdue. If there's any controversy, it's up to the school district to fight for high standards. Not that they look forward to that, but I think that's why Board of Education positions are elected by the public, so they'll feel obligated to display some backbone.

The new material will be presented to the school board on January 9th, for them to vote on. I'll be kind of curious to see if any of them vote against it.

Nothing, Just Something That Happened

This morning I was in Union Station, going into the Metro, and I heard loud voices. A man in a brown jacket was yelling at another man, who kept saying, "Get away from me! Get away from me!" The guy in the jacket took a swing at him, and I went over to tell the station manager he had a problem on his hands.

I turned around just in time to see the guy in the brown jacket knock the other guy down. He jumped up again immediately, rubbing his jaw, still saying "Get away from me! Get away from me!"

Somebody, apparently trying to help, said "Here come the police! The cops are coming!" I think they hoped to frighten the guy in the jacket away, because ... there weren't any cops. He kept swinging at the other guy, who ducked and jumped back and managed not to get hit again. Then I think it sank in that the police might be coming, so the guy in the jacket threw up his hands and shouted, "He put his hands on me!"

Another man standing right there said, "No, he didn't." So the guy in the jacket started toward the door. He saw me watching, and took a step in my direction. He said, "You better believe in Jesus this year, nigga, or I'm gonna kill you."

Then he took off for the door, and left the building.

I guess that was just his way of wishing me a Happy New Year.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Jesus to Return in 2007, And Other Predictions

There are some things that you want to see in a survey, and some things you don't. It's important to know how people feel about a political trend, for instance, because the success of that trend depends on the public's vote. So when 70 percent of Americans oppose the war against Iraq, for instance, you can figure that any politician who wants to be elected next time around will adjust his stated opinions likewise.

On the other hand, you can ask people what they think the weather will be next year, and, yes, they'll tell you, but ... so what? You can ask them whether they think the stock market will go up or down, but responses will not correlate with the actual behavior of the market. You can ask them whether they believe the earth is warming up or not. These questions might be interesting for what they say about the public's attitude, their state of optimism, but you have to be careful not to read the majority's expressed belief as a substitute for fact. If ninety-nine percent of biologists take Darwinian evolution as a robust, comprehensive theoretical structure, but less than half of the public does, we need not consider the science of evolution to be in a state of controversy or challenge. It just means that the people have not been educated yet.

So read these results with skepticism. From the AP:
WASHINGTON - Another terrorist attack, a warmer planet, death and destruction from a natural disaster. These are among Americans' grim predictions for the United States in 2007.

Only a minority of people think the U.S. will go to war with Iran or North Korea over those countries' nuclear ambitions. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed think Congress will raise the federal minimum wage. One-third see hope for a cure to cancer.

These are among the findings of an Associated Press-AOL News poll that asked people in the U.S. to contemplate what 2007 holds for the country. Poll: Americans see gloom, doom in 2007

This is funny. For some reason, this reporter put all the cheerful stuff at the top of the story (after that first worried paragraph). No war, cure for cancer, woo-hoo, those Americans are looking forward to this next year!

But, uh:
Six in 10 people think the U.S. will be the victim of a terrorist attack. An identical percentage thinks it likely that a biological or nuclear weapon will be unleashed somewhere else in the world.

Seventy percent of people in the U.S. predict a major natural disaster in the country and an equal percentage expects worsening global warming. Also, 29 percent think it likely that the U.S. will withdraw its troops from

Among other predictions for the U.S. in 2007:

_35 percent predict the military draft will be reinstated.

_35 percent predict a cure for cancer will be found.

_25 percent anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Whoa, roll it back, Joe. A quarter of Americans think Jesus will come back in 2007?

A quarter of us?

This is all, of course, just a chance for me to tell you about my favorite bumper sticker. You've seen the one, I'm sure, that says, "In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned." It's cool and evocative, and concretely reminds us that when Jesus comes, the true believers will be snatched away in an instant. It does make you worry about the traffic tie-ups, if it turns out there are a bunch of them. Cars crashing up against the curbs, pedestrians jumping out of the way, it could be rather chaotic.

But that's not my favorite bumper sticker, of course. My favorite is the one that says, "In case of Rapture, Dude, can I have your car?"

Because, as we have noted here, the problem with religion, really, is that the different ones don't agree. If they portray the One Perfect Reality, then they ought to say the same thing. But we have people sacrificing their lives in the name of Jesus, and in the name of Mohammed, and so on, and they can't all be right. If you asked around the Arabic lands, they will swear, insistently, that they're right and the Christians are wrong. But if you asked around Europe and the American continents, you'd hear just the opposite. The same amount of conviction, the same amount of doubt -- the same amount of erudition and intelligence in both populations.

So a full quarter of Americans think this is it, this is the year Jesus returns. That means we don't need to put much effort into building a secure future, we don't need to worry about stuff like the environment, health care, building a strong defense, because ... well, I don't understand the theory in its entirety, but I think this means that only sinners will remain to experience the consequences of any long-term planning. It's not clear if only Baptists and Pentacostals will be whisked away, or if Methodists and Presbyterians will also be taken by the Rapture, and it appears that Catholics expect to go, but do Mormons? What about the Anglicans? Depending, a guy like me might end up with a nice ride.

In some of these, I expect the public is a little gullible. How can we not attack Iran? Do people really think The Decider has not Decided on that one?
Fewer than half the public think it likely the U.S. will go to war with Iran or North Korea. Should it come down to that, 40 percent think the battle will be with Iran while 26 percent said North Korea.

Higher gas prices, legalized gay marriage and the possible arrival of bird flu also are seen as being in the cards.

More than 90 percent of people think higher gas prices are likely. A gallon of self-serve regular gasoline averaged $2.29 last week, compared with $3 over the summer.

Also, 57 percent said it is likely that another state will legalize gay marriage. Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts; four other states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships.

People were split on whether 2007 will bring the U.S. its first bird flu case. More than 150 people worldwide have died from the disease. Health officials fear a pandemic if the virus mutates into a form easily passed from person to person.

Women generally were more likely than men to expect some of the more dire predictions to come true, such as a worldwide terrorist attack and war with Iran or North Korea. Democrats and people under 35 were more likely than Republicans and older people to say global warming will worsen in 2007.

It is somewhat interesting to see what people expect to happen. Of course their expectations are based on what they read in the press and see on TV, which is based on ... whatever some publishers and editors decide, which is based on ... who owns the company. But, not to get too cynical about it, let's note that the American people are a little gullible and a lot smart. They tend to believe what they're told, but they're capable of changing their minds, and they're able to read between the lines. The last elections showed us that.

Well, here we are: 2007. Pull up a chair, let's watch the game, let's see who wins, and see if there are any good plays that we can talk about in 2008.