Redefining “neutrality”

Update: The Board voted 6-1 to adopt the new curriculum with the provision recommended by Superintendent Weast, discussed below. Congratulations to Teach the Facts for all their hard work and perseverance. A well-deserved victory for the kids.

The Montgomery County sexuality education curriculum saga continues, with the County Board of Education scheduled to decide today whether to expand the curriculum to all schools as written, or to revise it according to the recommendations of the Citizens Advisory Committee.

From the Washington Post last Thursday:

[Montgomery County schools Superintendent Jerry] Weast wants the lessons to go forward essentially as written, but a citizens advisory committee wants board members to add passages stating that mainstream medical and mental health organizations have concluded that homosexuality is neither a disease nor a mental illness. Weast and his staff oppose adding the material and say they have sought to keep the lessons as neutral as possible.

Um…informing students of the conclusions of mainstream medical and mental health organizations is neutral. Censoring that information in response to the demands of special interest groups – those whose opinions fall outside mainstream medical consensus – is biased.

Superintendent Weast sent a memo to the Board yesterday indicating a partial change of heart. He now supports at least allowing teachers to answer direct questions from students. Hopefully, someone on the Board today will exercise leadership and move to accept the entire recommendation of the Committee.

A little history: According to Jim Kennedy of Teach The Facts,

The citizens committee made those recommendations last winter, and the Superintendent’s staff decided not to include them. The school board had a lively debate on the topic, and in the end decided to leave them out at that time, before the testing, but to wait and see if there were questions that teachers couldn’t answer. There were.

The WP reports that “Teachers and students who participated in the field tests chafed at the tightly scripted structure of the lessons, and teachers reported confusion about their authority to answer questions posed by students. Teachers were instructed to answer no questions that strayed outside the health curriculum and to refer such inquiries to ‘a trusted adult,’ such as a parent or counselor.” As Jim Kennedy puts it, “But they could easily answer those questions, with a few pages of articles from the medical and psychological experts.”

This mandated response to a student’s question about sexual orientation is not neutral. It goes beyond a simple failure to provide information that could help the student. It actually constitutes a harmful, biased response, because it creates the impression that the topic is so shameful and inappropriate that it can’t be discussed at school. For the students who most need the affirmation and support of medically factual information, this is exactly the wrong message.

When the Citizens Advisory Committee voted again to recommend adding the organization statements, only the representatives from “Citizens for Responsible Curriculum” (CRC) and PFOX (one of whom is Family Research Council’s Peter Sprigg) voted no. The CRC has blasted out an email to their list calling for a demonstration this morning. They instructed participants to bring children in strollers and, inexplicably, to carry signs reading “No Unisex Bathrooms.”

Could it be that the Board of Education takes seriously the threat of litigation leveled by these groups? “It is inconceivable that a court will tell a school system that its curriculum is illegal because the school system provides information from the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Psychological Association (APA),” says David Fishback of DC Metro PFLAG.

Right. What is more likely, that including the positions of mainstream medical organizations will support or undermine the school’s defense of the curriculum? Are you kidding me?

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17 Responses to Redefining “neutrality”

  1. Jack says:

    How about teaching them Math, Science, History, and Language, and leaving the moral issues to the parents?

    It doesn’t get any more neutral than that.

  2. David says:

    It’s a health class, not a moral issues class.

  3. Jonathan says:

    We’ve seen from our local right-wing candidates and elected officials that they indeed want to teach “morals”. They want to teach that a very narrow definition of “Christianity” is the only way to “Salvation” and that people who don’t ascribe to that ideology should be bullied. This bullying is described on the Jewcy blog.

    Since we have parents who teach their kids to bully, it’s important that the public schools to correct that immoral behavior.

  4. Jack says:

    David — Sex is a moral issue.

    Jonathan — An interesting post over on Jewcy, but almost all religions try to get converts. If you are going to compary homosexuality to religion, then you must allow people the freedom to try to convert people. I must have missed something, but I see nothing about bullying in the post at all.

    I agree that public schools, and private schools for that matter, should never tolerate bullying. What’s that got to do with being gay? I was bullied because I had red hair. My son has been bullied becuase he is blonde. (There are only two blonde boys in his grade.) My second son was, too, until he smashed the older (and considerable larger) boy’s head into the side of a school bus. No-one has bullied him since.

    Bullying is always wrong — the reasons are irrelevant.

  5. David says:

    Yeah, now I remember why I was always in the vice-principal’s office. I took Jack’s advice. Not saying that kids shouldn’t fight back, but isn’t it our responsibility as adults to minimize the necessity?

    Yes, bullying is always wrong. The problem is we’ve got people arguing that it’s not always wrong, and that in some cases it’s even desirable. We have a sitting Supervisor who openly says that anti-bullying efforts shouldn’t apply to GLBT youth, and we have some other nutty buddy arguing that being bullied will teach gender-variant children “proper boundaries.”

    Forcefully told to change, Jews were encouraged to do so by being tied to the Inquisitor’s rack, expelled from most European nations, held to the fire, conscripted into the tsar’s army, or otherwise offered the choice between conversion and death. During Spain’s transition to state-mandated Christianity, men had to prove they were not Jewish infidels (or Moorish Muslims) by eating pork and pork fat in public.

    You do not recognize this as bullying? Can you imagine, as the author asks you to, “urban billboards of smiling ex-Jews undergoing baptism with the slogan “I chose to change!”? And would such a thing be merely a reasonable attempt at conversion?

    How people treat each other, including within sexual relationships, is a moral issue. How sexuality and our bodies work is a health issue.

  6. Jack says:

    How we treat OUR SELVES w.r.t. sex, is a moral issue.

  7. David says:

    Yes, that is certainly true also. But I’m not sure I understand your point.

  8. Jack says:

    Sexual activity is a moral issue. Certain sexual activites are considered immoral by some people. ALL sexual activity outside of marriage is considered immoral to some people.

    Homosexual activity carries the same risks as heterosexual activity, except pregnancy, although the risks are generally greater. There is no reason to even mention gay sex, because ALL sex has such risks.

  9. Jack says:

    They were, but they abandoned that when the teachers’ unions went political.

  10. Jack says:

    “So how come anti-gay industry essentially does nothing but hone in on sex during discussions of our lives, our rights, and our place in society?”

    Because that is the distinctive attribute defining homosexual and heterosexual.

  11. David says:

    Bingo – that’s why those terms are so inappropriate and unhelpful. The gender of person that we are drawn to spend intimate time with has to do with so much more than sex. I think we’ve had this discussion before about the relatively tiny proportion of our lives we spend actually having sex. That’s only part of orientation.

    “Certain sexual activites are considered immoral by some people.” Sure, that’s a belief, and no one is being told not to have that belief, or that it’s wrong. That has nothing to do with the curriculum.

    The objections of the AGI folks arise from the fact that their beliefs look out of the mainstream and not in accord with reality when the medical consensus – that sound and accurate information – is presented. That’s an artifact of the curriculum, not its objective. It’s a health class, in which the objective is to teach students life skills. Students are certainly able to learn things like the characteristics of healthy sexual relationships, how to properly use contraceptives, and how to protect themselves from STIs without abandoning their moral beliefs about sex.

    Perhaps there is some confusion about the scope of the term “moral belief.” There’s a difference between things that are subject to fact-checking and things that are not, but “belief” can refer to either one. The belief that “acting on same-sex attraction is morally wrong” is not subject to fact-checking, and is just a belief. On the other hand, the belief that “gay people have a mental disorder,” or that “gay people can’t live healthy and happy lives” is a misconception, or a “belief” that is wrong. It is subject to empirical testing, which has resulted in the consensus positions of mainstream medicine.

    It is perfectly possible to accept corrections of these misconceptions – what the health curriculum does – while still holding the belief that “certain sexual activities are immoral.” It may be less comfortable to do so, but that shouldn’t be the problem of the health curriculum or the schools. The facts are what they are.

  12. Jack says:

    No, David, that medical opinion is not “an artifact of the curriculum,” but, as your own post points out, “a citizens advisory committee wants board members to add passages stating that mainstream medical and mental health organizations have concluded that homosexuality is neither a disease nor a mental illness.”

    That is not an artifact of the curriculum, it is not even in the curriculum. Nor should it be. The objectives you mention are acheived without mention of the medical opinions (not facts) on homosexuality.

  13. David says:

    What you are referring to as “opinion” is the consensus of every mainstream medical organization, a consensus reached via a large body of evidence accumulated over many years. It does not qualify as “he said, she said.”

    Furthermore, the statement “mainstream medical and mental health organizations have concluded that homosexuality is neither a disease nor a mental illness” is in no sense of the word an opinion, as the fact that these organizations have come to this conclusion is indisputable. That’s what’s so pathetic about AGI objections to those statements.

  14. Jack says:

    That FACT is that the CONSENSUS is still just an opinion, and a politically motivated one, too.

    In any event, it is not part of the curriculum, and it does not need to be.