Morally suspect “health education”

Quote of the day:

There is nothing legally suspect in basing a health curriculum on the wisdom of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association

No. No, there is not.

There is something highly suspect, however, about opposing such a curriculum. That is what PFOX and other anti-gay activist groups are doing in Montgomery County, having filed an appeal Wednesday with the Maryland State Board of Education to prevent Montgomery County Public Schools from implementing its newly approved sexuality education curriculum.

One of their stated objections is that the new curriculum fails to include the viewpoints expressed by the “ex-gay” movement represented by PFOX.

For the record, the new curriculum also fails to include the following viewpoints: That you ‘can’t get pregnant the first time’; that masturbation causes blindness and hairy palms; that ‘no’ really means ‘yes’; and that studying math causes young women to become ‘barren and unmarriageable.’ Also, that standing on one foot and flapping one’s arms while reciting the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven prevents cervical cancer.

According to the president of PFOX, Richard Cohen, homosexuality may be caused by “avenging spirits.” Unsurprisingly, Cohen was expelled from the American Counseling Association for malpractice, or what he terms his “work in trying to help homosexuals become heterosexuals.”

In other news, Pastor Ted has been simultaneously declared “completely heterosexual” after three weeks of “counseling,” and strongly encouraged by his handlers to make himself disappear for a while, presumably until his overseers are confident he isn’t going to up and start living his life with integrity.

The sad fraud that is the “ex-gay movement” is further exposed in an upcoming documentary, Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-Gay Movement. It may be easy to laugh at ridiculous pronouncements such as the one from Haggard’s handlers, but the truth is that this stuff isn’t funny at all.

Imagine how different his life could have been if he had not been taught to hate himself. Imagine how many lives could be different if they had not been truncated by the misguided belief that sexual orientation is something other than a naturally variable human characteristic. While parents have the right to teach their children anything they like, education professionals have a moral obligation to teach the facts, and not a smorgasbord of opinion.

The Montgomery PFOX activists have the gall to assert that a sexuality education curriculum that includes medically and factually accurate information about sexual orientation is being implemented “under the guise of keeping [GLBT] students safe,” at the same time that the suicide of two teenagers from their community is being investigated as possibly linked to anti-gay bullying. Their ludicrous suggestion that institutionalized anti-gay bullying should be included in a health curriculum is absolutely sickening.

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10 Responses to Morally suspect “health education”

  1. whackette says:

    “While parents have the right to teach their children anything they like, education professionals have a moral obligation to teach the facts, and not a smorgasbord of opinion.

    The problem is that people draw the line between fact and opinion at different places especially when it comes to controversial topics like this. What you believe to be absolute fact is very different from what James Dobson would label as factual. And most likely I would disagree with both of you. Sexual education is probably one of those subjects where it is very difficult to stick strictly to facts without opinion sneaking in. Without knowing exactly what Montgomery County hopes to teach I don’t know if I would consider it out of line or not.

    Also, it shows what a sad state our society is in when children have to be taught in high school that it is wrong to bully people.

  2. David says:

    Hi Whackette,

    I think there’s a real problem with framing the question this way (James Dobson’s facts versus the American Medical Association’s facts, and treating them both as equally valid). With regard to a health education curriculum, the basis for what is taught has to be what is medically accurate, and that is determined by well-established empirical methods. Dobson’s “facts” are not evidence-based; he in particular is continually being called out for misrepresenting the research of others in support of his opinions. Another researcher whose work was misrepresented by Dobson just came forward a few days ago to demand a retraction.

    If the standard for a health education curriculum is not the evidence-based policy positions of the mainstream medical and mental health professional associations, what would it be? That’s why this “controversy” seems so silly to me. The committee that developed the MCPS curriculum bent over backwards to avoid even the appearance of subjective opinion. They removed the perfectly accurate statement that some religious denominations condemn sexual diversity, and some do not. Representatives of the ones that do felt that the statement made them look bad. Their own beliefs make them look bad? I guess the problem is that their beliefs contradict the positions of these mainstream professional associations – but that is the truth, is it not?

    It appears more and more that those who are objecting are not really upset about the curriculum itself, but rather the policy positions of the professional organizations on which it is based; of course, they can’t request an injunction against the AMA, et al, so they bother the schools instead.

    Unfortunately, the reason that we have to teach children in school that it’s wrong to bully people is that some folks have the opinion that certain kinds of people deserve to be bullied. Are you saying that this opinion is not valid?

    It’s interesting – this question is more of a philosophical one on which people might have different opinions. It would be harder to make an evidence-based argument for one position or the other, so we make a moral one: it’s wrong to be mean to people.

    You can review the MCPS curriculum here. I’d be interested in hearing what you think.

  3. whackette says:

    Please don’t think I was saying Dobson is right. I was only trying to point out how difficult it can be to agree on what actually is a fact. And I was contrasting Dobson’s understanding to yours (David’s) not to American Medical Association’s. Some facts are indisputable while others can be a bit more cloudy.

    I have to go make dinner now. I’ll read the curriculum this evening. Thanks for the link.

  4. whackette says:

    “Unfortunately, the reason that we have to teach children in school that it’s wrong to bully people is that some folks have the opinion that certain kinds of people deserve to be bullied. Are you saying that this opinion is not valid?”

    No one deserves to be harassed, physically attacked or have their property damaged or taken. When adults do those things it’s called assault, stealing, destruction of property and the law steps in to offer protection. The question is: Why are we allowing this kind of criminal behavior to be tolerated in children, often times without any consequences? People are entitled to whatever opinion they want, but certain actions are met with punishment.

    I read through the curriculum prepared to be offended, but was very pleasantly surprised.

    The lesson on condoms stressed that abstinence is safest numerous times. I hadn’t expected that to be mentioned so prominently. It seemed to stick to facts and instructions that are probably seldom read off the package insert in time to be put to use. It taught the two most effective ways to prevent disease and pregnancy; it did not encourage promiscuous sex. I have no problems at all with this lesson.

    The lessons on sexual variations focused mainly on the fact that not everyone is the same and how our behavior effects others. They did not promote homosexuality. Over all they are very much in line with what I teach my own children. Anything that I would change or do differently would be splitting hairs and introducing opinion.

    To sum thing up, I found them very objective and was impressed.

    It should also be noted that a student must have permission from a parent on file to be allowed to take the classes.

  5. David says:

    Thanks for your great comments here – for the record, I’m not assuming that you agree or disagree with any of this, I’m just playing devil’s advocate. Re: your previous comment, I’m not suggesting that my opinions (and I do have some) be part of the curriculum, just that the standard used for defining “fact” in a health curriculum should be the conclusions of mainstream medicine, since there has to be some standard.

    I’m glad that you were pleasantly surprised by the curriculum – it’s true that they have been meticulously objective about this, presenting simply the fact that people of different sexual orientations exist. What ended up being left out of the curriculum, however, are the following statements:

    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. [I don’t get the objection to this one. This seems like something that they would want kids to know, if they’re really afraid that homosexuality is being “promoted.”]

    2. All mainstream medical and mental health professionals have concluded that homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness. [Statement of a policy position]

    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. [Statement of a policy position]

    4. Homosexuals can live happy, successful lives; they can be successful parents. [This is technically a subjective opinion – in a disagreement, whose opinion is the authoritative one here?]

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

    These are all perfectly factual statements, none of which could be said to be introducing opinion. One can disagree with the position taken by the American Medical Association, etc., but one can’t deny that this is in fact their position.

    The idea that a curriculum could possibly “promote homosexuality” is an interesting one. It requires the outright rejection of the positions described in 3) above, and assumes that kids who would otherwise be straight will choose to be gay if they hear that it’s possible to have a happy life. This just seems bizarre to me. I mean, why? Why would a kid with heterosexual attractions just decide that it would really be better to try being gay? In reality, the kids who are gay will see that it’s possible to have a happy life, and not believe that they have no other choice but to try to change themselves into something they’re not. What could possibly be wrong with that?

    Here’s an opinion, from me: Trying to make sure that gay kids hear nothing but that negative message is institutionalized bullying, and it’s much more harmful than even getting physically knocked around by peers.

    There also seems to be a glaring contradiction that is being exposed through all the attention paid to the “restoration” of Ted Haggard. The assumption of the PFOX people is that there is really no such thing as a gay person, right? I say this because the opposite statement is what they object to in the curriculum. Their belief is that everyone is really straight, but that some people are for whatever reason choosing to engage in homosexual “behavior.” After the revelation that Haggard is “100% heterosexual” after three weeks of counseling, all these folks who have gone through conversion therapies have been coming forward to say that this doesn’t sound right. They describe their own experiences as years of struggle to change their behavior into something that isn’t natural for them. They choose to do this because it’s more important to them to conform their behavior to a heterosexual standard than it is to live according to their own orientation, but they are very clear that this is the choice they are making. They, and the therapists who advocate for this as a right of self-determination, never claim that their orientation has changed.

    In spite of this, the folks who have filed the injunction against this curriculum are objecting to even the acknowledgement that gay people exist. That in and of itself is too threatening to their world view. There just seems to be an absence of logic in all this.

    As someone who (I think) is coming at this from a fairly conservative viewpoint (politically and theologically), can you help me understand the thinking going on here?

  6. whackette says:

    I’m likely to step on some toes with this, but here goes anyway.

    I think you’re very close to being right when you say that even acknowledging the existence of gay people is a threat to the world view of many conservative groups. I would modify it slightly to say that it is a threat to their(or should I use “our” here? I’m not real sure anymore) world view to acknowledge homosexuality without condemnation. Even those who do believe that a person doesn’t choose to be gay often times think that the person is giving in to sin and choosing defy the Word of God. To this way of thinking, a mention of homosexuality that isn’t immediately followed with harsh criticism is the same as promoting it. It’s viewed as an evil, lustful, self gratifying lifestyle and there are reasons for this, though they rely heavily on stereotyping.

    Sad to say, I have a friend that actually wants his son to tell derogatory jokes and mock homosexuality with his friends. In his mind this ensures that his son will never fall victim to the “homosexual agenda” and “try homosexuality”. He resorts to brow beating when the illogical aspects of this are pointed out. You are right; logic is glaringly absent from many of the anti-gay arguments.

    This can be a very tough issue for a Christian. It’s so much easier to stay inside our Christian Bubble and not expose ourselves to other ideas. A year ago I was very secure in my views about homosexuality. It has been a faith shaking experience (and the cause of much heated debate in the Republitraian household) for me to widen my circle of friends. I struggle very much to reconcile my faith with with reality and it has left me with a view very similar to one which was described by Lewis Smedes as “misunderstood by Christian heterosexuals as flabby concessions and by homosexuals as unfeeling intolerance.” Though I have found that my gay friends are much more willing to engage in polite discussion about this than the flaming heterosexual Christians.

  7. David says:

    To this way of thinking, a mention of homosexuality that isn’t immediately followed with harsh criticism is the same as promoting it. It’s viewed as an evil, lustful, self gratifying lifestyle and there are reasons for this, though they rely heavily on stereotyping.

    Aren’t those really just stereotypes of men in general? 🙂 I think we’re all painfully familiar with the fact that folks who don’t have personal relationships with any gay people are susceptible to this idea – they soak up stuff like that film made by James Dobson’s outfit, “The Homosexual Agenda” or whatever it was, where it shows footage of gay pride parades and claims this is what gay people are all about. Gay people like me are boring, we don’t get to appear in their films.

    I get the impression that there is a lot of mystification about what it is to be gay at work here. There are people who seem to think that we have this indulgent lifestyle where we lie around and have sex all day, and everything is easy because we don’t have to deal with all that tension and misunderstanding between genders – in short, that we are lazy and self-indulgent, taking the easy road, whereas straight people are struggling and sacrificing and denying themselves pleasure, and working very hard to make a functional life with their opposite sex spouses. It almost seems sometimes like they are envious of something they think we have, and that they can’t have. This characterization is based on talking with and reading analyses by anti-gay theorists and activists; I don’t know if it captures the belief accurately from your perspective or not.

    The truth is that this is a fantasy, which you probably know perfectly well. We do not in fact live in this carefree garden of delights, we are just living as best we can as we were created to be. It’s not all, or even primarily, about sex. It’s about who we are oriented to have intimacy with, which is very different.

    I want you to know that I appreciate the struggle you’ve chosen – I realize you didn’t have to put yourself through this. Interesting that you frame it as between your faith and reality. That’s pretty wrenching. My guess is that people who believe that there is no such thing as a gay person have reached that conclusion because they refuse to believe that a loving God would deliberately create people who are, in the words of this writer, forced to live in a way that He condemns.

    My response to that is that I agree. I don’t think God would do that. Reality being what it is, I think there must be another answer to this contradiction.

  8. whackette says:

    It’s not just James Dobson’s video or similar religious groups that feed the stereotype. Earlier this month, I saw a story in the Seattle Times about a drug resistant strain of HIV. The article stated that the four men who are infected (in that county) are gay and have had multiple anonymous encounters making it difficult to track down those who are also potentially infected. Multiple anonymous encounters sounds bad. Not that straight people don’t do similar things, but this kind of stuff just feeds the anti-gay sentiment.

    Take a quick look at the personals on Craigslist and it’s easy to see why we would think it’s all about sex. (But you might be right and it is just a condition universal to men in general. It’s just that straight men hoping to attract a woman have to tone it down to have much luck.)

    My only point here is that there are reasons the stereotype is what it is and Christianity isn’t singularly responsible.

    As far as what most people think, you have summed it up very well. Who wouldn’t be envious of the idea that you have no real responsibilities and just do what ever makes you feel good? And yeah, I know that’s not how it really is.

    My struggle isn’t between faith and reality but, reconciling the two. In some areas this has caused my faith to grow stronger, in other places I’m left with questions that are, so far, unanswered and doubt creeps in. I just trust that I won’t go too wrong if I remember that Christ’s foremost command to us was to love, and that we have been entrusted with a message of reconciliation not condemnation.

  9. David says:

    The Rule of Love used to be a foregone conclusion when trying to come to these reconciliations – glad to know others have not forgotten.

    I don’t mean to suggest that the stereotypes aren’t based on something real. It’s just that you would think from such propaganda that irresponsible, selfish behavior is what being gay is about, when in reality that’s exactly as true as saying it’s what being straight is about. Add to that the flat out lies being touted as “research” (for example, that the average lifespan of gay men is 40 years, or that gay people are 275% more likely to abuse our own children) and you have quite a load. I could put together footage from Mardi Gras or Spring Break somewhere and make a good case for the revolting truth about the heterosexual lifestyle. That would justifiably anger straight people – and it would be just as valid.

    I guess the other thing I want to say about that is that self-destructive behavior can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When kids are told that they have no future, that what they are is detestable, that they can never have a honest intimate relationship, and all the other horrible messages that gay kids hear growing up, is it any wonder that there is a nihilistic streak in some segments of our community? It’s remarkable that so many of us transcend that, especially those raised by very homophobic families.

    I don’t think Christianity is responsible at all – I think there are certain misguided or manipulated leaders who have hijacked Christianity for a purpose that is diametrically opposed to what Christianity is.

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