Controversial news stories are never as simple as they seem in the comments section.
Take the issue about the seventh and 10th grade health class presentation in Cambridge Monday.
One group of commenters went to the extreme point that said students’ sexual education should be entirely up to their parents and that the teacher and/or school were pushing “the liberal agenda” and trying to “recruit” students into alternate lifestyles.
The other group called the first group “homophobes” and was incensed the school district would “regress to the 1950s,” ignore modern issues and put students at risk because of unreasonable parent complains.
And there was, needless to say, more. Why did Superintendent Vince Canini suspend the teacher? That was not necessary, some folks said. Why didn’t the school just fire her, was the question from others, and there were still others calling for all sorts of firings.
Before I go on, let me add a little more personal background. In 1995, I helped my National Honor Society president start a Gay Straight Alliance in a middle-sized high school in Eastern Connecticut. I have been active with LGBT issues for more than two decades, and over the last couple of years have worked hard to educate myself regarding transgender issues. I also taught middle school for two years and high school for 14. I worked mostly with juniors, but I did teache human behavior, including Freud’s psychosexual stages to ninth graders. I’ve presented at GSA conferences and remain an ally.
That said, and having read the 42-page handout that students in both grades received, I think the school district acted appropriately in dealing with the situation. The handout was ill-planned, and from a teaching point of view, ineffective. It did have several excellent illustrations of transgender issues, including charts and suggestions on how to approach the issue.
Beyond that, though, most of it was thick with definitions, some appropriate, about a half-dozen inappropriate, in my mind, and more that were too scientific or technical.
It was not an appropriate handout in general, because of its length and the depth of information, and that was made worse by the lack of focus on the age level of those getting the handout. It was set up more for a college course.
The controversy continued at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, with comments ranging from the theme of “You stole children’s innocence,” to the other extreme of “You are hurting children, because you are not supporting them.”
It seems here that Canini and other administrators did the best they could under the circumstances, despite the topic going viral and drawing comments from both sides from across the country and from other sides of the world.
As Canini has said several times, it was not the topic. There is no issue for the school, or the state curriculum, that education in sexuality in its multiple forms is proper in schools. The issue comes in when it is done and how it is represented.
You can read Bill Toscano's blog at poststar.com/blogs or his updates on Twitter, @billtoscano_ps.