Worcester kids haven’t had anything close to decent sex education for a long, long time, and now that we’re getting close to adopting a program that a normal city wouldn’t bat an eyelash at, people are losing their minds.
There were anti-sex-ed standouts at Elm Park and in front of City Hall yesterday. People held signs saying “stop sexualizing our kids” among other things. On Facebook the event was titled “Say No to 3R’s: Rights, Responsibility and Respect.”
Say no to respect! Say no to rights! How’s that for messaging? The standout was accompanied by leafleting that was rife with inaccuracies, and while most people are going to see this stuff as crazy most people are also not involved in city politics and these people standing out at Elm Park are intensely involved in this issue.
Tonight, the School Committee will vote on the new curriculum and we should be expecting these people in force. Several weeks ago, the curriculum passed a subcommittee review by a 2–1 vote after a long, depressing meeting in which many, many people expressed their opposition on mostly prudish religious grounds.
Over the past several years, various attempts to adopt a sex education curriculum have washed up on the rocks of that religious fervor, which isn’t unique to Worcester but does seem to hold a particular power here. Several years ago, I reported on how a sex education curriculum called Making Proud Choices disappeared before it ever went to vote because two of the three subcommittee members tasked with reviewing it shared the religious fervor of those people standing out at Elm Park yesterday. They had the ear of the superintendent and they had control of the mechanisms of power through which the curriculum needed to pass, so they simply spiked it. No vote, no discussion, it just disappeared. Luckily they did a lot of the plotting through emails which are public records haha oops!
I’m overgeneralizing here but these are the same people who stand out in front of Planned Parenthood to make young women feel as awful as they possibly can about going into that building. You know that guy that wears the Grim Reaper costume? And you know that building across the street from the Pleasant Street Planned Parenthood called “Problem Pregnancy” with the same graphic design as Planned Parenthood but when you go in they just try to guilt you into keeping the baby? I love Worcester and all but it seems like we have a special problem with this stuff here. You listen to these meetings and a lot of people who speak out against the sex education curriculum like to throw it in there like it’s some conspiracy that Planned Parenthood supports sex education. They like to do a little “and you’ll notice that Planned Parenthood supports this curriculum wink wink.” Because these people are delusional and they see Planned Parenthood as a manifestation of an evil rot at the core of our society and not the good intentioned but underfunded social program that it is.
“Rights, Respect, Responsibility” is a sex education curriculum created by an organization called Advocates for Youth. It is by all accounts a decent sex education curriculum which takes into account gender identity and sexual orientation and teaches kids about consent and how to safely navigate the awkward clumsiness and emotional vulnerability of early sexual situations. The key point is that it’s a curriculum which approaches the issue of sex from the perspective that kids are going to have it. Those opposed would prefer an antiquated program that attempts to scare kids away from having it, or even better nothing at all. School Committee member John Monfredo just straight up said at the end of the subcommittee meeting several weeks ago that he doesn’t feel comprehensive sex education works. Monfredo, who cast the lone vote against pushing the curriculum forward, said “as for the fidelity of these programs? I don’t think so.”
Abstinence is the way to go, he said. “Sexual avoidance models,” he said. “These models did produce behavioral changes such as delaying sex initiation,” he said. The translation of that, of course, is that the model he wants to see is better at scaring kids. It replaces the dignity of acknowledging sexual impulses and desires among the city’s youth with a cruel cudgel against them. Thou shalt not.
We should expect a lot more of that sort of rhetoric tonight.
The committee is voting on the curriculum, but they’re also crucially voting on a few other things that are necessary for the curriculum to actually work. The first motion they’re going to take up is the curriculum itself, that it be adopted in middle and high school, and that teachers are trained to teach it effectively. In the second motion, they’ll vote to hire more health and wellness teachers. In the third motion, they’ll vote to allow more time in the schedule for high school students to learn health. As it stands right now, middle school students take a quarter year of health, but there’s no such time budgeted at the high school level. In the fourth motion, they’ll vote on a request that the “administration communicate well and engage with parents about this curriculum.”
Even if that last one passes it’s more of a hope than it is a mandate, and given the current administration it may just be wishful thinking. Still, more staff, more training and more time to teach this stuff are all vitally crucial for the program to succeed. And the program needs to succeed. STD rates among Worcester youth are on the rise and the city’s teen birth rate is very high and also kids just deserve to be treated with the dignity of acknowledging that they’re going to have sex just like everyone else on the planet so why not throw a few pointers their way on how to do it without ruining their lives or someone else’s?
Tonight could be the end of a years-long push to get a decent sex education curriculum adopted in Worcester. Tonight the coalition that Monfredo represents might finally lose.
Though these people are loud it’s important to remember there are relatively few of them. Rights, Respect and Responsibility is a sex education curriculum chosen by Worcester health educators and broadly supported within the school district. A letter today signed by 94 Worcester parents makes the point well.
Opponents would like you to believe that there is only one way to be family focused, which by necessity includes shrouding our children and their bodies in shame, fear, and questions. Our families know that open communication, objective information, and mutual respect are critical to supporting our children in developing positive self-identity and being caring community members. Families like ours are most Worcester families- According to a 2017 poll from EMC Research, 92% of Worcester voters agree that high schoolers need sex ed, and 78% about middle school, and 87% agree that sex ed needs to be comprehensive.
We believe that young people in Worcester deserve to learn accurate and inclusive information that will equip them with the tools they need to make healthy decisions and form safe, respectful relationships. Comprehensive sex education is proven to help young people prevent STIs, and develop effective communication skills including recognizing and asking for consent. Comprehensive sex education ensures the unique health needs of LGBTQ youth are addressed, and has been shown to foster greater communication between parents and teens about sex, relationships, and staying healthy.
Meanwhile on the lighter side of the “why are we like this” front local scumbag Aidan Kearney’s Wachusett Regional School Committee run is being fought intensely by local scumbag Mike Gaffney, a former city councilor here in Worcester. Kearney and Gaffney used to be friends but they had a big public falling out a few years back and now they’re frenemies and like oh my god sis has there been some tea spilled. I mean this guy Gaffney has been sending out mailers and filing complaints with the Office of Campaign Finance trying to sink Kearney’s run on every little legal loophole he can. Now Gaffney is trying to get Kearney in trouble for not reporting the money he makes off his blog to the Office of Campaign Finance because he uses his blog to promote his campaign so it’s sort of like advertising? Or something like that. I skimmed it. And Kearney’s writing about the complaint or something. I don’t even know why that asshole is running for School Committee but I’m sure it’s nothing good. I’m quoted in this complaint Gaffney filed which is insane.
It’s confusing the way he words it but that’s a tweet I did and I guess Turtleboy blogged about it but I don’t know I don’t read it because I’d like to keep my laptop virus free.
I used to care more about this sort of stuff because Gaffney and Kearney represented a nasty right-wing political coalition that for a moment there a few years ago seemed like it may have had some staying power but now Kearney is running for a small town school board because it’s racist to hate racists or something like that and Gaffney is sending batshit letters to the Office of Campaign Finance snitching on him and I’m just sitting back like :’-)
For what it’s worth and on a more serious note Kearney’s mother, Mary Mullaney, used to be a Worcester School Committee member. She, Monfredo, and the late Brian O’Connell all lobbied behind the scenes—very effectively—to keep sex education out of Worcester.
This is what she wrote in one email on the issue to Superintendent Maureen Binienda.
“Five years from now the situation will be the same or worse because what is lacking here is strong families, good moral upbringing, fathers in homes, faith in a higher power. We put bandaids on huge problems and feel good that we are ‘trying,’” Mullaney wrote to Binienda. “You know better than anyone in Worcester — because you are the REAL thing when it comes to urban kids — that these children are spiritually and psychologically impoverished, neglected, abused. They need love, guidance, support, alternatives to the crap they see around them. Condoms will not save their souls. I am not sure if they will even help their bodies as they are too young to use them well, but I know for sure that condoms will not heal their soul or solve the loneliness in their hearts.”
They have different writing styles to be sure but tell me how much different is this email from a Turtleboy article really?
The Mullaney to Kearney pipeline is not a bad lens through which to view the generational morphing of American conservatism. The “Jesus saves” bumper sticker versus the Punisher bumper sticker. “Family values” versus “blue lives matter.” Authority rooted in a morality versus authority for its own sake. Still though, the object of that authority, the people on whom it is leveled, remains the same. “Urban kids” versus “ratchets.”
Anyway like I said earlier I’m really hoping the coalition represented by Monfredo and Mullaney takes a big fat loss tonight and Worcester kids finally get some decent sex education.
Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve been working on a really important story and I sent it to a press lawyer a few days ago juuuust in case and that press lawyer told me I would certainly get sued if I ran it, so… sort of bummed on that one! But that won’t be last you hear from me on that front that’s for sure.
Do you guys think I should take on an intern this summer? Someone hit me up to be my intern and I could do some fun stuff with that I could be like Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and make him fight pirates. Hit me up in the comments with other intern-related suggestions.
If you like what you’ve been reading please consider throwing me a few bucks a month to keep the ship afloat.
Also check out Highway 69, the dumb podcast I’ve been doing with my friends about all the dumb stuff that happens when you’re a touring musician, it’s a lot of fun!!