Thursday, September 12, 2019

Some Thoughts On The TUSD Family Life Curriculum Conflict

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2019 at 12:02 PM

I've been out of town recently, so I haven't been personally involved in any of the board meetings or other events connected with the proposed Family Life Curriculum. With that in mind, here are some thoughts and discussion topics, from a bit of a distance.

1. I strongly support the new Family Life Curriculum. The changes are long overdue. Children and young adults need medically accurate information about sex, safe sex and the scope of human sexuality. The idea that keeping students ignorant will assure that they will become happily heterosexual adults who will abstain from sex until marriage — which I guess is the ideal for most people who oppose the curriculum — is both absurd and destructive.

I can't say that I support every word and every concept in the curriculum. I'm not an expert in the field, so I don't pretend to understand all the fine points. That being said . . .

2. It is an exercise in futility to try and fine tune the language and instructions in the Family Life Curriculum. Teachers will read through the curriculum and get some in service training, then they will teach the material, each in their own way. The only portions that need to be written with precision are the curricular commandments: the Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots.

If a curriculum states "Thou shalt not teach any form of birth control other than abstinence," that has an absolute, direct effect on the way teachers approach sex education in their classrooms. If it says, on the other hand, "Thou shalt teach about many forms of birth control including abstinence, while making sure to point out that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method," that is an important directive which teachers must follow.

Likewise, if teachers are told, "Thou shalt teach a certain topic in 4th grade" and "Thou shalt not teach another topic until 7th grade," those are absolute instructions which are supposed to be followed to the letter.

Beyond the commandments, a curriculum is a series of guidelines. Take it from a teacher who spent 30-plus years kinda following the district curriculum while spreading his own special sauce on all his lessons. It's up to the individual teachers to decide exactly how they will approach the topics mapped out in the curriculum.

3. At the September 10 board meeting, the vote on the Family Life Curriculum was delayed. Superintendent Trujillo made a number of suggestions for ways to modify the proposed curriculum. Some make a great deal of sense. It's wise to have a trained crisis contact in the school to help students whose past experiences are triggered by particular aspects of the subject matter. The assurance that there will be professional development on the curriculum for teachers is essential. Some other suggestions, such as increasing the emphasis on abstinence education and forbidding the use of materials other than those created by the district, sound like unwise concessions to the anti-FLC crowd which will do nothing to change their minds about the curriculum.

4. Mark Twain is reputed to have said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." I have to say, the flareup over the Family Life Curriculum isn't a repeat of the furor over the district's Mexican American Studies program in 2010, but it sure does rhyme.

When you look at the angry crowd at the recent board meeting, the emphatic signs on both sides and the heated rhetoric during the board meeting's call to the audience, it feels an awful lot like what happened at board meetings when the district had to decide whether to keep or disband the MAS program.

The timing of the MAS and Family Life Curriculum battles are similar. Both reached their height at the beginning of the campaign season. Coincidentally, the same three seats will be up for grabs as in 2012. Two are occupied by incumbents Kristel Foster and Mark Stegeman. The third seat is open; Rachel Sedgwick is not running for reelection.

I expect the Family Life Curriculum to be front and center in the 2020 board election.

But the two controversies are different in important respects.

The argument over dismantling the MAS program was created at the state level, where Republican state education superintendents and the Republican-majority legislature conspired to make the MAS program illegal. With the FLC, the idea of including the new curriculum comes from the district. It is an attempt to work around state restrictions on sex education and make it more inclusive.

The most important difference is, the MAS controversy was about whether or not to take existing choices away from parents and students regarding the educational approach to studying American history and literature. The FLC controversy is about whether or not to include a new course option which would allow parents and students to choose how to study about human sexuality.

At the forefront of the movement to keep the MAS program were current and former students who wanted to preserve an optional district program so they could choose to learn about American history and literature from a Mexican American perspective.

At the forefront of the movement to keep TUSD from offering the Family Life Curriculum are adults, some of whom have children in TUSD, others who have no connection to the district. They are trying to restrict curricular choice, not encourage it.

In both cases, it is about choice. Just as no parents were forced to have their children attend a Mexican American Studies course, no parents will be forced to have their children take part in the new Family Life Curriculum. In fact, since it is an opt-in program, parents have to actively choose to have their children participate.

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