Earlier this year in May, I ran across a homework assignment in my son’s state-mandated, eighth grade sex-ed curriculum that infuriated me.
(Personally, I thought Stenzel’s talk was awesome.)
Perhaps you think you can already guess where I stand politically, but you can’t. I didn’t vote for Trump–so there.
Regardless of your own personal opinions or political beliefs, or mine, here’s my criticism with this assignment: schools are supposed to teach students how to think—not what to think.
Education. Not indoctrination.
I (metaphorically) blew up Facebook a little bit when I posted my complaint about the assignment, not only on my own private Facebook page, but also on the school’s 700 member parent forum. And I believed I had a moral obligation to speak up at the next school board meeting. I wrote a letter to the Board of Education, explaining why the lesson wasn’t in compliance with California law (see pages 1 and 2). I dutifully printed ten copies of my letter (as required by the Board of Education office), tucked them into my shoulder bag along with a copy of my speech, and headed south in rush-hour traffic to attend my first school board meeting.
The auditorium was packed. Cramped, stuffy, housed in a building that showed all sixty-six years of its age, and far too small to accommodate everyone. Latecomers unable to get into the room stood outside in the crowded hallway, trying to peer past police officers keeping them out. Camera crews from TV news stations were set up at the front of the room. When I called the board office the previous week, I was given the impression that it would be a short, uneventful meeting. That’s not exactly what happened.
I arrived too late for a seat. But just in time to watch a dance performance of children celebrating their dual-language immersion school. The young students, mostly girls in traditional Mexican dresses the color of lolipops, their hair swept into high buns trimmed with flowers, hopped and twirled to a mariachi medley, fluttering and swirling ruffled hems of dresses gripped in their hands like ribbons in a breeze. When the entire presentation had finished, audience members (the parents, I assume) seated in the first few rows collectively stood up and left, freeing seats for the next group—frustrated parents who were there to protest or support various agenda items, such as a moratorium on charter school expansion, or the elimination of a preschool program that allowed single mothers to drop off their kids and go to work. The celebratory mood went out the door with the dual-language kids.
Everyone was grumpy. Many held small protest signs–messages printed on blue or red 8×11 paper to signal their support or opposition to the charter school moratorium as TV crews filmed them. One pissed-off black parent quoted from an article by Margaret Fortune to level a particularly damning accusation at the board, saying, “blue states can oppress black people too.”
(I show up at the bitter end, at 2:59:28.)
Perhaps as a conscious effort to placate this pissed-off parent and representative of an important voting bloc coveted (or perhaps taken for granted) by the Democratic Party, board members began reminding everyone that California is a “blue state” (as if this was important).
Beiser: “We all need to make sure that no matter what happens tonight, that we all are united as one in fighting together in Sacramento, a blue state, for more public education funding for all of our schools and all of our students.” (1:33:41)
Beiser: “…our state funding for public education has always been in the bottom… This does not look like public education funding for a state controlled by Democrats.” (2:24:12)
Barrera: “As a blue state, we get an F in how hard we try to fund our public schools.” (2:28:20)
Another ticked-off black woman (there were many) threw this blue-state virtue signaling back in their faces when she said to them, “When we talk about a blue state, when we talk about politics, let’s take politics out, because this is about education. This is about making sure that children thrive, that teachers thrive…”
(“Thrive” happens to be a San Diego-based charter school that the Board of Education recently voted to shut down. This word choice may be intentional.)
Sitting through this meeting made me suspect that San Diego Unified is completely dysfunctional. My complaint was probably the least important of the room, if not the entire district.
No–I take that back. Studies show that children in two-parent families are better-off than children raised by a single parent (see 1 and 2). And according to the The Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, “children from single-parent families are more prone than children from two-parent families to use drugs, be gang members, be expelled from school, be committed to reform institutions, and become juvenile murderers.” I believe a lot of problems that contribute to poor school performance would start resolving themselves within a few decades if everyone believed in marriage, and the next generation of children were all raised in two-parent families. Of course we don’t want to force anyone to get married, but teaching children about the value of marriage shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
I had skipped dinner and was getting hungry. I needed to stretch my legs. I needed to cough. I searched my purse for a Halls cough drop while everyone was arguing. People left after agenda items were approved, and the auditorium began to empty. I had sat through nearly three hours and thought I had another half hour to go. It seemed to me that the board had 54 more agenda items to vote on before it was my turn to speak. Soon after I popped a cherry cough drop into my mouth, the board voted on item “I,” which included all 54 items. It passed, and it was suddenly time for non-agenda public testimony—meaning it was finally my turn.
I spit my cough drop back in the little paper wrapper and stuck it in my purse. I was not aware of any sexual assault allegations against Kevin Beiser at the time, so I did not pay any attention to him as he excused himself and slipped out right before the public testimony. I was the third person to be called. But first let me share with you the words of the person who spoke before me–the same woman who earlier told the school board to “take the politics out.”
“As a victim of sexual misconduct, I find it hard today that I listen to several of you talk about violating the laws while you sat up here with someone who has allegedly violated laws. I know that we all, including you all in the Democratic Party, have asked Kevin Beiser to resign. And I will continue to ask that Kevin Beiser resign.
“The accusations against Kevin Beiser are horrific, and the way that this district has been run is also horrific. We cannot have someone in office in leadership that has allegations like this standing. We do not need him in leadership at a school district with sexual allegations, and we definitely do not need him in any type of leadership with the Democratic Party.
“Please do not talk about the Democratic Party in the way that you have while you have someone sitting here who has violated laws as well.”
(Here’s an article by the Voice of San Diego that details the allegations against San Diego Board Trustee Kevin Beiser.)
I was next.
My presentation was terrible. I had prepared a two-and-a-half-minute speech, but because there were so many people who also wanted to speak, my allotted time was reduced to one minute, which threw me off. I was frazzled. I read straight from my notes and forgot to use eye contact. I was recovering from a cold and kept clearing phlegm from my throat, right into the microphone. Then I managed to finish my abbreviated speech just as three shrill electronic whistles cut me off. I approached the board to submit my ten copies of my letter.
And that was it.
I heard nothing back from them. I didn’t expect to.
A few days ago I emailed the district’s Sexual Health Education Program (SHEP) office to find out what happened. I got a confirmation that the homework assignment I had complained about was, in fact, gone. I was also told that the homework had been replaced last year for a reason that was unrelated to my complaint–they could not find a compatible non-technology option.
They also wrote:
We were also concerned that the original homework and associated video, although presented with the intent for students to have practice distinguishing between accurate online resources about STIs and ones that provide distorted and disrespectful information such as the video, would confuse students and they would take away the message from the video that would not align with our curricula’s CHYA-aligned requirement that comprehensive sexual health education “promote understanding of sexuality as a normal part of human development.”
In other words, they could care less that the homework was biased. Apparently the definition of “bias” is grounded in the unapologetically biased worldview of the sort of people who enjoy talking about sex with other people’s children. What concerned them was making sure that they promoted a sex-positive message.
(Is there any wonder why California, a “blue state,” is struggling to pay for everything?)
All that time and effort I wasted writing my letter, driving downtown, sitting through the entire three-hour meeting filled with grumpy parents just so I could read from a piece of paper for one minute and submit my letter didn’t make a difference. The removal of the homework was entirely coincidental.
Since I was already exchanging pen-pal letters with the sex-ed office, I decided to press forward and introduce one more complaint. It was a big one, this time concerning the lesson on gender (you can read my email here).
Some of my criticisms:
- The lesson teaches the social constructionist theory that people are blank slates, which is a myth (read The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker).
- The lesson omits the fact that the majority of boys with gender dysphoria (who may have expressed the wish to be of the other sex in childhood) later on identified as gay (63-100%), not transgender; for girls 32-50% later identified as lesbian, not transgender (APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology Vol 1, p. 744).
Something amazing happened. The sex-ed office actually “listened” to me.
(And here I shall henceforth refer to the person with whom I was in correspondence by her preferred pronouns “she/her/hers” so that I may leave out her name.)
I’m so glad you referenced the American Psychological Association (APA) in your statements below, since the APA is also funded by CDC to provide technical assistance and capacity building… for school districts across the country for the CDC grant that we receive to implement sexual health education, access to sexual health services, and support for our LGBTQ students. In fact, APA has been funded by CDC for several grant cycles, along with Advocates with Youth (AFY) who created the Rights, Respect, Responsibility (3Rs) curriculum that our district implements, and APA provided guidance to AFY on supporting the safety and inclusion of LGBTQ youth while the 3Rs curriculum was in development.
I will definitely reach out to both APA and AFY with your comments, since both of these organizations are indeed experts in the field of supporting the health and safety of youth, including LGBTQ youth, as well as adapting academic research and findings to youth- and age-appropriate instructional materials to be implemented within a classroom setting.
In conclusion, the homework assignment I had complained about was removed and replaced. And the sex-ed office might reevaluate the lesson on gender.
My mission is finished. I’m all done.
I challenged the district’s sex-ed curriculum–and won.