Reality: It’s just too controversial

Update: The Maryland code, sensibly enough, contains a provision advising schools to teach that there is such a thing as “sexual variation.” What a radical concept: Teaching students that reality is what it is, rather than what some special interest groups would like it to be.

Gosh, what could anyone find objectionable about the following statements of fact? These are not opinions, after all – these are simple statements of the policy positions of professional associations such as the AMA. One could concievably disagree with a position taken by the AMA, but opposing a factual statement that the AMA has taken the position? That’s just desperate.

1. Children who have fleeting same-sex attractions may assume incorrectly that they are gay or lesbian. Mere fleeting attraction does not prove sexual orientation.

2. All mainstream medical and mental health professionals have concluded that homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness.

3. 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.

4. Homosexuals can live happy, successful lives; they can be successful parents.

5. Children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as those raised by heterosexuals, and are no more likely to be homosexual.

These are the statements that were recommended by a citizens advisory committee, but will not be included in the newly adopted Montgomery County Public Schools sexuality education curriculum. The decision to exclude these statements was apparently a small bone tossed in the general direction of the anti-gay screamers (who may rival the Loudoun screamers for sheer, jaw-dropping awfulness.) The upshot is that students who directly ask teachers about these issues will be directed to discuss their concerns with “a trusted adult.” (As one student on the advisory committe sensibly pointed out, “teachers are trusted adults,” but never mind that.)

Even without the omitted messages, supporters of a responsible, comprehensive curriculum were mostly satisfied with the outcome, calling it a strong step in the right direction – clearly, a cue for the hysterics to begin. In classic heckler’s veto mode, one screamer threatened “It’s your choice…you can remove the homosexual activists [sic] from your [citizen’s advisory committee] and reintroduce ‘Traditional Values Education’ or approve this new curriculum (as is) and lose another court case.” [Note: The previous curriculum was legally dubious because it identified by name religious denominations that condemn homosexuality.] Others insisted that by presenting students with factually accurate information, schools will be guilty of “a biased viewpoint.” As Teach the Facts put it,

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

These folks seem to think that, in order to be “balanced,” educators are required to pretend that there is no objective, observable reality, and that all positions on a given topic are equally valid. By claiming that the new curriculum teaches a “moral position” on sexual diversity, they try to create a false equivalency between their beliefs and the fact-based curriculum. That framing is appropriate for extra-curricular clubs, which are intended to be a forum for opinion; that’s why a Bible Study club meeting at school does not violate the Constitution. It provides a forum for students to freely associate with like-minded peers and to express their views, but does not imply an endorsement by the school of those views, nor is it held to any evidence-based standard. A Gay/Straight Alliance serves the same purpose, as would an “Ex-Gay” club if a group of students wished to form one. These are intended to be venues for the free expression of viewpoints, and should be treated as equal in every way.

An academic curriculum, on the other hand, does not have the same purpose. Its role is not to provide a venue for every viewpoint, asking students to pick and choose what they (or their parents) like best, it is to impart knowledge. The standard for what is included in a health curriculum is whether the information is medically and factually accurate, not whether people like it or whether it agrees with what they were taught in church. If we don’t use the evidence-based positions of the American Medical Association as the standard for health curricula, then what should we use?

The place to disseminate the anti-gay “religious right” viewpoint about sexuality is within the limited public forum provided by extra-curricular clubs. As long as they are not disruptive and have a faculty advisor, students can associate with one another and express any viewpoint they like. Despite the anti-gay activists’ howls to the contrary, their rights are not being violated by an unwillingness to treat their beliefs as if they are facts.

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2 Responses to Reality: It’s just too controversial

  1. Jonathan says:

    There was a Nation article on the 2005 MCPS debate which included a great quote on Ruth Jacobs’ chastity agenda.

    Meanwhile, Ruth Jacobs, an internist based in Montgomery County, has repeatedly warned of the condom video’s “dangerously misleading message,” citing the many risks of “sexually active lifestyles.” What has not been widely circulated is her preference for a “chastity” message over one that favors “abstinence.” The former, she explains, carries the connotation of “purity and reaching towards God.”