Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review of You're Teaching My Child WHAT?

Dr. Miriam Grossman, formerly Anonymous MD, has written another book, entitled You're Teaching My Child WHAT? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Harm Your Child. My thoughts about this book are almost identical to my review of her earlier book, perhaps because the books have nearly identical tone and content. As I stated in that review, "This evident alarmism --- PC is so insidious that the author must remain anonymous or risk Birkenstocks being thrown through her front windows --- that pervades the book may cause parents and aggrieved social conservatives to pick up the book, but it does no good for Dr. Anonymous's arguments and alienates people who might otherwise agree with her." As in her previous book, Dr. Grossman makes valid points in the most invalid ways, alleging cover-ups and duplicity and a single radical academic agenda when none exists.

I have three responses specific to this book.

First, Dr. Grossman refers multiple times to a controversy between parents and experts, for instance saying "The `experts' are wrong, and parents are right." presuming parents are opposed to the allegedly radical agenda of comprehensive sex education. In fact, nearly all parents, even very conservative parents, favor school sex education that teaches birth control: 89% of all parents, more than 80% of Born Again Christian parents, and 51% of parents who call themselves politically very conservative.

Second, Dr. Grossman identifies herself in this book as an Orthodox Jew. I find it strange that she spends an entire chapter lambasting the sex education advocacy group SIECUS for encouraging sexual experimentation rather than abstinence when the only sex education curriculum developed by Orthodox Jewish institutions is based on SIECUS guidelines (Life Values and Intimacy Education sponsored by Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future, published by KTAV, all institutions considered arbiters of "Authentic Judaism"). She does not try to reconcile this discrepancy, I suspect because that would blur the simple dichotomy she is trying to create between religion/parents/tradition (=good) and academia/sex education advocates/SIECUS (=bad).

Third, her chapters on homosexuality and gender identity, the latter entitled "Genderland", are problematic in ways beyond the scope of this review. She cites some legitimate research such as Lisa Diamond's fantastic 10 year longitudinal qualitative study of lesbian and bisexual women published in the 2008 book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire. Diamond found that nearly all of her women subjects' sexual orientations seemed to change spontaneously. Grossman uses spontaneous sexual orientation change among women to bolster the case for attempting to induce changes in sexual orientation among both men and women. Besides the spontaneous vs. attempted induced changes difference, Diamond looked only at women. Grossman lists many differences between men and women in the realm of sexuality earlier in her book, all of which would imply that a study of women's sexual orientations has no relevance to men's sexual orientations. Of course mentioning NARTH is a total non-starter.

This book does make some valid points and could be readable if all the alarmist bits were pulled out and the rest toned down. As I stated in my review of her previous book, I don't think that her points are repressed at the level of academic research, but as in many areas perhaps research simply is not adequately disseminated: this certainly wouldn't be the first area where quality of health care suffered because practitioners followed their intuitions instead of evidence-based guidelines or the evidence was never disseminated in the first place.

Cutting out the alarmism would make the book about 20% shorter but would give it a chance of being looked at by those she critiques. It seems like she's not interested in dialogue, just in fomenting alarm among the alarmed. Too bad. It could have been otherwise. She wrote this book while a recipient of a Clara Booth Luce fellowship, a fund that has funded moderate research by journalist Laura Sessions Stepp, also an affiliate of the moderate group National Campaign Against Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

What a wasted opportunity for dialogue.

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