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January 10, 2007

The cucumber people gird for battle

You may have been wondering why I haven't written for a few months about the "cucumber people." You know who I mean -- the proponents of a sex-ed curriculum in the Montgomery County public schools, featuring an instructional video in which a woman placed a condom on a cucumber and an aggressively pro-gay segment on homosexuality, which was struck down by a federal judge alost two years ago. For the past two years or so, I've had a great deal of fun with these guys, most recently poking fun at the instructional video by making a crude drawing (discussed here) that explains the process in much simpler terms. There, I noted that the proponents and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit had worked out a compromise, in which the condom was placed instead on a wooden phallus, without the MTV-style slick graphics.

The reason I haven't written anything since then is that there hasn't been much happening in public lately. Until now.

According to the Rockville Gazette, the Montgomery County school board has voted unanimously to approve a revised curriculum. The curriculum opponents agree with many of the revisions, but otherwise they're not happy at all. One board member remarked about the threat of another lawsuit, "Bring it on!" (Not literally; it was actually, "See you in court.") Of course, the likelihood is that a lawsuit will be futile. The previous lawsuit was successful, I think, only because of the earlier curriculum's outrageous anti-religious guidance. All that's left now is a dispute over how to handle certain issues in an educational curriculum, and it's hard to imagine that the board will lose.

Legalities aside, there's still a question whether the curriculum is appropriate in its current form. I don't want to get into the whole polarized debate we have on this commission and the school board, not to mention in society at large, between the warring "homosexuality is good" and "homosexuality is bad" factions. In a lot of ways, homosexuality simply is. The real question is how you teach kids about it in a public school sex-ed class. And the answer has to be that you stick to the facts. You focus on real, scientific, factual information. This whole subject matter is so emotionally and politically charged that people tend to equate their own beliefs with science. In science, however, you explain what is known and what is theory. You don't oversell your case, and you don't put forth theories that the evidence is strongly against, unless you make clear what the evidence really is.

If there's one thing you'd expect that everyone could agree upon, it's that anal sex, especially unprotected anal sex, poses a serious risk of transmission of HIV. What's very troubling is that a description of the new curriculum in the Post suggests that it omits any discussion of that risk. (The Post refers to it, delicately, as "potential health risks.") That anal sex is risky isn't religion; it isn't political correctness; it isn't opinion. It's objective fact. Teaching about homosexuality while refusing to tell kids about the risks involved in anal sex is simply insane.

So maybe we're back to Square One, or maybe it's only Square Two-and-a-half. I guess they'll be back in court before long. The school board will almost certainly win, but that doesn't make its willful communication of ignorance to teenagers justified.