Jewish World Review May 16, 2005 / 7 Iyar,
Sex for Dummies
When covering a dispute over sex education in public schools, many reporters know what to do. Just type that the fundamentalist yahoos are at it again. For all we know, editors have installed a special timesaving key on newsroom computers so that the usual sex-ed news article pops out in 15 seconds or less. A classic example is the front-page Washington Post piece for Saturday, May 7, dealing with a new pilot program in Montgomery County, Md. The reporters managed to associate the protests with national right-wing Christian politics, the anti-evolution crusade, and Dorothy's discovery in the Wizard of Oz that she wasn't in Kansas anymore. (For a deft takedown of the bias in this piece, go to oxblog.com and scroll down to the May 8 analysis "More Ignorant Christian Fundamentalists?")
Resistance to anything-goes sexual preaching in the schools is routinely depicted as a phenomenon of conservative Christians, but in an analysis of health textbooks, Gilbert Sewall of the American Textbook Council says that the sexual assumptions of the aggressive "health lobby" offend lots of Americans of all faiths and none. Sewall wants sex education to find a middle ground between abstinence-only programs and the muscular "health lobby."
Even apart from church-state entanglement, the Montgomery curriculum is out of line in dismissing moral claims as myths. On what basis can a state institution tell parents and children that their morality is faulty? In dealing with homosexuality, the job of the school is to teach tolerance, not to disparage traditional views. Gays are our neighbors and should be treated with respect. Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, one of two local groups opposing the curriculum, makes this point clearly.
"Teaching respect for persons with same-sex attraction is appropriate and right," the group says. "But demanding affirmation of a homosexual orientation and behavior goes beyond the ethic of tolerance." The curriculum does in fact teach approval of homosexuality. Understandably, gays want that approval, but it can't be imposed by state schools.
Indoctrination. Much of the most contested material is tucked away in the teachers' resources guide. Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum complains that health teachers did not mention or show the teachers' materials at parent meetings. "When asked about them," the group said, "the standard answer was they were 'for the teachers only to use and not of interest to the parents.'"
There's a reason why so many sex-ed specialists slide into indoctrination almost without noticing what they are doing. The programs are often prepared with heavy input from Planned Parenthood, gay groups, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, all of which operate on assumptions that much of the public does not share. One assumption is that sex is simply a smorgasbord of choice, and it doesn't really make any difference whom you have sex with or how, as long as you have orgasms and use contraceptives. "Oral, anal, and vaginal sex" all require condoms, says an earnest young woman in a video (since withdrawn from the curriculum) that demonstrates the proper way to place a condom on a cucumber. Elsewhere, the curriculum says, "Sex play with friends of the same gender is not uncommon during early adolescence." Whatever.
The strangest aspect of the Montgomery curriculum is the insistence that students should ponder their gender identity. In plain English, this means boys should examine whether they really want to be boys, and girls should wonder if they should be girls. This is a current obsession in the world of sex ed, apparently inserted here to accommodate transvestites and transsexuals.
The good news is that local parents and their friends were able to make a solid case, take it to a reasonable judge, and get the county to back down, at least for now. It's a model of how dissenters in other communities should act.
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