You’re Teaching My Child What? An Ongoing Review

Two-tone image of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, captioned: 'Abstinence - Ninety-nine point nine nine percent effective'.
Not entirely related to the book’s content . . . but it amused me, so here it stays. Virgin births aside, abstinence is actually somewhat less than 99.99% effective under typical-use conditions. Image via This Is Your Conscience.

As promised, I’m going to get started reviewing You’re Teaching My Child What? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Harm Your Child, by Miriam Grossman.

I can’t even remember how I found out this book existed, but once I did, I put it on my list of “books I want to read”. (It is a list with many pages.) Not because it sounded wise and important, but because it sounded panicky and pearl-clutching

Call it my guilty pleasure: I like reading about the wacky things fundies think. I enjoy their moral panics and their narrow-mindedness. Linda Harvey, Tony Perkins, Ken Ham: they’re scary and awful, but I still find them amusing. It’s probably not good for me – I get so outraged by their ignorance, even though it was predictable – but it also feels good to sharpen my thinking against theirs, to consider their arguments critically so I can understand where they’re coming from and why I disagree.

See, I used to be a very conservative thinker myself. I used to hold a lot of the same assumptions and opinions I see in books like these, and I gradually came to see them as false, unskillful, and non-compassionate ways of viewing life. I return to these books because they give me an opportunity to see where I used to stand, and how I’ve changed – a bit like looking at a road map to see how far you’ve travelled, or counting how many items you’ve crossed off your to-do list to help you feel like you’re getting something accomplished.

It also helps me make sure I haven’t been brainwashed by the liberal media agenda. Reading the arguments of those I disagree with helps me reassure myself that I really understand what I’m rejecting, and I really believe I’m right to reject it. Or, if it should happen that I find something that makes sense in what they say, I can incorporate it into what I believe. (It hasn’t happened yet, but it would be unfair to rule it out completely.)

This blog series is about me sharing my knowledge and opinions about what’s presented in the book. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t comment on everything, and I’ll try to avoid stepping into areas I know little (or less) about. But I can comment pretty reliably on religious ideology, politics, and certain logical fallacies. As an added bonus, my student work has given me a decent knowledge of early childhood development, and that’s going to come into play in the chapters on gender identity and sex-role development. There are a few places I’m able to talk pretty specifically about some assumptions or misunderstandings in Grossman’s work, and to use that to inform some of my mistrust about things she doesn’t say.

What not to expect:

  • Citations and counter-citations. I’m a student, and the last thing I want to do is go scouring my course notes and textbooks to figure out exactly which studies were used to make it widely-accepted knowledge in my field that gender identity starts to develop during the preschool stage.  I get enough of that when I’m doing my coursework, and what’s the point in this project if it’s just going to feel like more work? If you’re interested, or if you doubt what I’m saying, the onus is on you to do more digging. Or, y’know, not.
  • Medical expertise. Some parts of the book contain technical information that I’m simply not knowledgable enough to refute. I can discuss my experiences and what I’ve been told by sexual health practitioners . . .  but then those are the same sexual health practitioners that Miriam Grossman sees as brainwashed and warns us not to trust, so I haven’t got much to say. When the defining characteristic of “expert” becomes “somebody who agrees with me, and any challenging evidence becomes amateur junk by definition, there’s no discussion to be had even if the countervailing evidence is very compelling. (I will admit that this is an ideal that science strives for but doesn’t always reach.)
  • Impartiality. I’m not going to pretend I’m going into this without an opinion; I have values and they inform how I approach this book. I’m willing to evaluate Grossman’s arguments as objectively as I can, but I’m not going to pretend away my knowledge and values for the sake of some ideal of impartiality. I’d rather state my biases up front (but then if you’re a friend or a reader of my blog, you probably know them already).

If you comment complaining that I’m starting from a liberal agenda or asking me to cite my sources, I’ll probably just refer you back to this page, so maybe try to avoid wasting everyone’s time.

So, let’s dive in.

The cover of the book features rows of children who are either wearing school uniforms or auditioning for The Village of the Damned. There are six children visible: three girls, three boys, and all but one appear white. (The odd one out is a fairly light-skinned brown girl whose exact racial make-up is not clear. She’s not even the token black kid: she’s the token black-brown-indigenous-Asian-Latina-other. But as for white people, the photographer made sure that blond, brunette, and redhead children were represented, because gingers will steal your soul if they feel left out, y’know.)

The back jacket copy features “praise” for the book from a former APA president, a professor of jurisprudence, and Dr. Laura. Perhaps it’s not too surprising that I don’t agree with any of them, and I find their remarks reeking of assumptions about how society should look and how children – that’s anybody under the age of 18 – should be. The idea that childhood is a time of absolute innocence and that abstaining for sex is indicative of morality . . . well, those are assumptions I don’t share. It’s hard to maintain that view of children as 100% asexual while learning about child development, and I’m well aware of the damage that takes place when your major criterion for morality is virginity.

A library copy of the book "You're Teaching My Child What?", filled with Post-It notes indicating statements I found objectionable or inaccurate.
I didn’t put a Post-It note on *every* sentence I disagreed with; I tried to keep it to one per page. Photographed by Sara Lin Wilde.

But now we’re getting into the meat of things, and as you can see from the number of Post-it notes I’ve laid down, it’s pretty meaty. (Memo to self: buy more Post-it notes.) I tried to limit myself to one sticky sheet per page, so some of those flags represent two or three points that drove me crazy. Buckle your seat belts; it’s about to get ranty.

Next stop: the introduction, wherein Miriam Grossman proclaims herself shocked.

3 thoughts on “You’re Teaching My Child What? An Ongoing Review

  1. eric keys says:

    “It also helps me make sure I haven’t been brainwashed by the liberal media agenda. Reading the arguments of those I disagree with helps me reassure myself that I really understand what I’m rejecting, and I really believe I’m right to reject it. ”

    I think this is wise.

    I used to be a genuine, bible-thumping right wing Christian. Even though I’ve left that behind, I feel like I am more sensitive to seeing two people or groups trying to engage in a debate and seeing how they are often speaking at cross purposes or attacking “straw men”. My current attitude is to try and keep a deep understanding of my opponents.

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