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Shawn Vestal: Debate over sex ed brings out the worst in bill’s opponents

As the sun sets on another sex-ed freakout in Olympia, a question lingers: Just how malevolent do opponents of sex ed believe teachers are?

So twisted they’d use porn as a teaching aid.

So corrupt they would instruct kids to insert vegetables in their anuses.

So untrustworthy they would teach children how to have sex – encourage it, offer advice and suggestions, maybe even give kids advice about using illegal drugs while having sex – and then personally drive newly sexualized, pregnant girls from class to abortion clinics.

It’s hard to imagine what a feverish Bosch painting of hell these folks imagine our schools to be. This deep, sad state produced a bizarro-world series of arguments and amendments last week in the House debate over legislation requiring instruction on sexual health in schools.

It became clear that in the minds of the opponents – who are striving to enforce religiously framed, abstinence-only ideas that reflect a purely heterosexual world of married sex and retain a denunciatory attitude toward anything else – there is no depth of libertinism to which a school district might not sink.

The 200-plus amendments offered by Republicans – thrown up more as an effort to prevent a vote than to actually amend the bill – shine a bright light on the core nature of the concerns of opponents.

They included amendments that would:

Prohibit teachers from making students research genital size and appearance on the internet.

Ban teaching about “bondage, dominance, sadism, masochism, bloodplay, inserting vegetables into the anus, or similar sexual behavior.”

Prevent school districts from spreading sex indoctrination throughout all other classes, so even if parents have their children skip sex ed, they will never be able to truly avoid it.

Prohibit looking up porn or other material that requires the modification of internet protections.

Ban teachers from taking pregnant girls to abortion providers.

The truth is, the new law will require age-appropriate, medically accurate instruction on five occasions in the K-12 journey – once in grades K-3, once in grades 4-5, twice in grades 6-8, and twice in 9-12. Parents can opt out; they can also participate in the curriculum adoption process in their district, and help shape decisions there, as we saw in Spokane a couple of years back.

The bill was proposed in part because of the rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assault among young people statewide, and proponents argue it will help students protect themselves and stay safe. In the younger grades, the focus is on physiology and resisting inappropriate contact, with more mature subject matter coming in later grades.

Critics, almost all of whom argue from a conservative Christian viewpoint and see the law as an attack on their religion, say state officials actually intend to weave sex ed into all instruction. They argue it’s a heavy-handed, top-down state mandate (though each district is charged with selecting its own curricula, within the state guidelines).

They are worried school districts will teach kids that gender is fluid (which scientists say it is) and that teaching tolerance for differences is actually encouraging kids to switch genders. They seem to believe an unholy alliance of Planned Parenthood, teachers and Democrats is working to sexualize children, apparently as part of a conspiracy to increase abortion profits.

It’s hard to discuss real-world issues against horror-show fears. That’s plain in the amendments (many of which were filed by Spokane-area Reps. Matt Shea and Jenny Graham). They simply occupy a different reality than the legislation itself.

Other amendments would have:

Offered vouchers to parents who opt out of sex ed, and exempted charter schools.

Required the state to mail all course materials to parents and hold a statewide vote on which to use.

Prohibited any activity in which students role-play a different gender.

Banned outside speakers (Read: Planned Parenthood).

Prohibited schools from requiring that students visit any organization that lobbies lawmakers (Read: Planned Parenthood).

Banned schools from taking a pregnant girl to any organization that lobbies lawmakers (Read: Planned Parenthood).

Delved heavily into anti-abortion arguments, required teaching of the “consequences” to women of abortion, and mandated the viewing of a dramatic anti-abortion film that relies heavily on grotesque images of procedures that experts have called into question (Read: Planned Parenthood).

Required the production of a report to see whether the new sex ed leads to an increase or a decrease in sexual activity.

Mandated an “emphasis on the important differences between male and female dynamics, stressing the distinct differences in body form. Men and boys are generally bigger, stronger and, as they age, carry more lean muscle, have higher hips, larger hearts and greater lung capacity, all of which create a physical disadvantage for women, which, to an even greater extent, stresses the need for affirmative consent in sexual conduct and before a male enters a room where females are likely to be undressed.”

Required schools to “invite a conservative religious leader to participate in the classroom instruction and to discuss the religious perspective on sexuality.”

The slate of bad-faith amendments fell by the wayside one by one, and the panic will blow over too, soon to be replaced by another.

But as school districts find their way, with parents, toward a path for teaching this subject, I predict we’ll find the fears of porn in the classroom and sexualized fourth-graders and vegetable insertions were wildly and even intentionally misbegotten, our schools and districts do a responsible job, and the kids are all right.

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