Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dobson on Modern Education

We still get a monthly newsletter in the mail from Focus on the Family, usually written by James Dobson. June's edition, titled "Education Turned Perversion" arrived today. I still sometimes read them, and this one deserves comment for its inflamed rhetoric, dishonesty and irony.

The primary focus of the letter was to examine the ways that "homosexual activists and their allies on the far left" have been trying to advance their cause by influencing education. Dobson describes this as an effort "to gain control of children", "a brilliant plan, hatched in Satan's own lair." I am not sure if Godwin's Law applies to snail mail, but it took only until the third paragraph to mention Adolf Hitler.

Dobson discusses (if you could call a diatribe a discussion) three bills under consideration in California as examples of what is being done, SB 1437, AB 606 and AB 1056. You might want to read them quickly; they are not long. But before you do, make sure you read Dobson's newsletter first, so you will know what to look for.

SB 1437 amends existing law to forbid educational materials from "reflecting adversely" on people based on sexual orientation, in addition to other categories that are already protected. It also requires that social science classes include study of the role and contributions of various social groups (again now including sexual orientation), and it requires that educational materials reflect the diversity of our society. Each of these are to be done in "an age-appropriate manner". This is the closest that any of these three bills come to actually promoting homosexuality, and that only by recognizing the contributions to California of homosexuals among many other groups. It does not directly promote homosexuality or any other sexuality.

According to Dobson,

AB 606 would authorize the California Superintendent of Public Education to withhold two-thirds of a school district's budget from any district that does not, in its judgement, promote homosexuality, transsexuality and bisexuality in school policies.

His footnote for this claim references an article on WorldNetDaily, which includes the above statement, not quite word for word, but very close. Unfortunately, this is an inaccurate description of the bill. Discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation (again, among many other characteristics) is already illegal in California. However, such descrimination and harassment continues to be a problem. This bill requires school districts to develop and publish anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, update other documents, display information on training, curricula and other materials that address these issues, and so on. It does also specify the means by which the Superintendent can enforce the law. To claim that anything in this bill forces school districts to promote homosexuality, transsexuality or bisexuality is simply wrong.

The third bill Dobson references, AB 1056, would authorize up to $250,000 for pilot programs for "tolerance education" ($25,000 per school for up to ten schools). Each school would run its program for three years. Dobson takes pains to point out that this $250,000 would come from an almost bankrupted state treasury, and while that may be true, that figure represents only 0.0005% of California's annual education budget of the $48 billion estimated for 2006-20007. Again, the focus of the programs is on tolerance, not of various sexual lifestyles particularly, but of any of a large variety of criteria. It certainly does not promote homosexual lifestyles, but only promotes the kind and respectful treatment of students. It does not require students to respect homosexuality, as Dobson complains, but to respect (among many others) homosexuals, a distinction fully compatible with the old "hate the sin, love the sinner" idea, if you happen to view homosexuality that way.

After these misleading and outright incorrect descriptions of the bills, Dobson asks

Is there any doubt about the commitment of these people to the task of controlling children's minds? All the ranting and raving about "tolerance" is a ruse. The real purpose here is to promote sexual "lifestyles" among the young. Hence the fate of California's children, and by extension, the children of the nation, hangs in the balance.

Controlling children's minds? I think not. Teaching people to be kind to each other, even when people like Dobson are trying to fan the flames of intolerance? Yes. And who is ranting and raving?

Dobson includes a few more accusations to fan the flames a bit more. He claims that the bills will require textbooks "to depict same-sex couples in romantic and family settings." There is no such requirement. Dobson also "presumes" that because the law (SB 1437) would prohibits material that adversely reflects on gays and lesbians (on the basis of their sexual orientation!), it would also prohibit "references to sexually transmitted diseases among both heterosexuals and homosexuals." Why would he presume that? Not because the law would actually prohibit that, any more than it would prevent discussions of any other disease. No, he would presume that, I think, because it will further inflame the fear and anger he is trying to generate.

And that is where the irony comes in. Dobson quotes an associate of Ted Trimpa, a political strategist that works with Tim Gill, a Denver businessman involved in gay political issues. Dobson includes this quote:

"You have to create an environment of fear ... the only way to do that is to get aggressive and go out and actually beat them up..."

Uh, oh. Ellipsis alert. Time to go and track that quote down and see what was really said. I'll add context and then bold the elided parts:

McFarlane quotes his boss on another key aspect of their political strategy. "Tim says you have to turn down the volume [of opponents' antigay rhetoric]. They can't just say and do everything with license. They have to know beforehand that it is going to cost some votes and some serious money to play like that. It certainly doesn't stop it, but it turns it way down." And when they do spew antigay rhetoric, they often look extreme.

"You have to create an environment of fear and respect," added Trimpa. "The only way to do that is to get aggressive and go out and actually beat them up [politically]. Sitting there crying and whining about being victims isn't going to get us equality. What is going to get us equality is fighting for it."

Well, in this case, including the elided parts and context does not change the meaning entirely, as sometimes happens when people "quote mine", though I would suggest that the differences are sufficient to change the stress a bit unfairly. In the original context, you can see that McFarlane was speaking about their goals in influencing politicians, who they want to understand the possible repurcussions of opposing the legislation the Gill Foundation is advocating.

Now, I do not condone the intent to instill fear, nor do I really want to spend any more time talking about the context in which the statement was originally made. The reason that I brought this up is that Dobson through this very letter is himself seeking to (continue to) create an environment of fear among his supporters. His volatile words and imaginative interpretations serve exactly this purpose, at the expense of accuracy. This from the man who wrote "I always considered my responsibility to the children and their parents to be a sacred trust that demanded the highest degree of integrity." (Emphasis mine.) Dobson may want to review the definition of the word, because the dishonesty in this letter contradicts this claim.

I found it ironic too that Dobson would complain about a judge in Georgia ruling that a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was unconstitutional (oh, those unelected activist judges, you know), while also complaining about the elected activist legislators and governor in California. According to Dobson, the California legislature "is controlled entirely by gay activists and radical liberals" and "they can impose the most extreme social experiments without serious opposition from conservatives... they can do whatever they want to children..." (Ellipsis alert. Better go check up on me!) How true that is of California I do not know. But when something similar happened at the federal level with conservatives in power, I do not recall him complaining. Rather, I believe he was rather pleased.

By the way, one of the roles of the judiciary in this country is to protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority. Rejecting a measure that was approved by a majority is quite reasonable in this light. (That is not to say that the particular case he mentions was rightly decided; I have not looked into it, and my opinion would not count for much anyway.

One final bit of irony. Dobson mentions several times that children are vulnerable to believing everything adults tell them. In fact, he specifically says that God made them this way, and that there are "those who would subject them to carefully designed propaganda." With this, I partially agree. Not the God part, but the rest. And I might suggest that some of the carefully designed propaganda includes many Sunday Schools, AWANA, even Adventures in Odyssey.

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