Over 500 Helena, MT residents gathered at the Helena School District’s school board meeting Tuesday night to weigh in on a new K-12 health education plan released last week. The 62-page proposal, developed by community members and health officials over two years, promotes a broad health and nutrition education program for each grade. However, there is a small section dealing with sex education that has ignited a firestorm of backlash among conservatives, both locally and nationally.
The curriculum would teach first graders “that human beings can love people of the same gender;” second graders “not to make fun of people by calling them ‘gay’ or ‘queer;’” and fifth and sixth graders that “there are several types of intercourse.” These ideas spurred right-wing pundits Sean Hannity (and guest Fox News contributor Todd Starnes), Bill O’Reilly, and Laura Ingraham into a tail-spin on their shows this week over the curriculum as a weapon to promote the homosexual agenda:
— HANNITY: What right does a school district that can’t even teach kids to read and write — and this is, generally speaking, around the country — have to impose their values on the kids? [7/13/10]
— STARNES: Sean, this is the report right here. Sixty-two pages. I have read every single word. And I’ve got to tell you something, Jack and Jill go up the hill, and they do some really inappropriate things once they get up there. […] Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub. [7/13/10]
— O’REILLY: This stuff comes from the school boards and the superintendent. They want to indoctrinate the children. The reason is they don’t want bullying. They want tolerance across the board. So you take a 5-year-old who just wants to play and, all of a sudden, it’s Heather has two mommies or Gary has 18 daddies. I don’t know what it is. [7/14/10]
— INGRAHAM: Children will learn that sexual relationships could happen between two men or two women. Why stop there? Why are they stopping at two? I mean that’s very exclusionary, don’t you think? No plant life invoked. [7/15/10]
Hannity, O’Reilly, Ingraham, and many right-wing conservatives actually have no problem imposing values onto students — as long as they’re the values they champion, as found in programs like abstinence-only education. Medical experts have concluded that not only do abstinence-only programs not curb teen pregnancy, but “there is evidence to suggest that some of these programs are even harmful and have negative consequences by not providing adequate information for those teens who do become sexually active.” Despite clear evidence and increasing recognition of their inefficacy, such programs continue to receive millions in federal funding.
When it comes to curriculum content, the right-wing watchdogs are clear on what values are acceptable. Hannity slammed an Arizona school district for “refusing to end its Mexican-American studies program,” citing a Chicano civil rights textbook as evidence that the class radicalizes students to overthrow the government. Both O’Reilly and conservative pundit Michelle Malkin insisted that a California proposal to include LGBT history in textbooks was “extreme and dangerous” propaganda that would prevent teachers from criticizing the “gay cannibal” Jeffrey Dahmer.
Supporters of the Helena plan recognize the need to support curriculum that “contains honest, science-based information on wellness and allows students to make better decisions.” As one parent supporting the plan said, “[T]his is about reality and truth so our kids don’t grow up in La-La-Land.” The board will have one more opportunity for public comment before it makes a decision at its August meeting.