Saturday, July 28, 2007


Wingnut obsessions never die. I can't believe we're still dealing with this. "Is masturbation and homosexuality appropriate for kindergarteners?" sneers Mitt Romney's flack Barbara Comstock, the woman responsible for smearing Al Gore's reputation on behalf of George Bush in 2000. "That's what SIECUS is, the group that Obama is, the group the Obama campaign has recommended as their guide."

So what the hell is SIECUS? Where is this bizarre rage against teaching kindergarteners about how not to be molested by grownups coming from?

Herewith, a special treat for Big Con readers: an excerpt from my forthcoming book Nixonland, on the backlash against liberalism in the 1960s. Read it to understand where this latest campaign tempest in a teapot is all coming from. Return with us, dear readers, to the summer of Woodstock...


Two weeks after Woodstock a conference opened at the infamous Hilton in Chicago, where across the street a rally was commemorating the victims of the 1968 Democratic Convention. It opened with a prayer for the Lord's blessing in the struggle against "the humanistic godless effort to destroy the sanctity of the home and the well-being of America." That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem. Then the chairwoman, a Mrs. Albert Flemming, asked the cameramen in the back to turn down the TV lights. The cameramen didn't respond. At which someone shouted out, "Who the hell wants the news media anyway?" The National Convention on the Crisis in Education had come to order.

There were delegates from 22 states, groups with names like Mothers for Moral Stability (MOMS) and Parents Opposed to Sex and Sensitivity Education (POSSE). The hallways burbled with talk of the recent "so-called protest music festival," Woodstock, the "unshaven faces and their tumbling blankets," of the gym class in which students supposedly went into a closet in pairs to explore what made boys different from girls; of the boy and girl who said they were performing a "scientific experiment" based on what they'd learned in class when found coupling in a toolshed; kindergartens where copulation was taught; the alleged move to coed bathrooms without partitions separating the toilets. The teacher in Minneapolis--or Wichita, Texas, or wicked New York City, or in Flint or Lansing, Michigan--who had screwed in front of the class in the interests of pedagogy. The seventeen boys who raped a sex education teacher after being aroused by her lecture. The classes that taught about copulation between people and livestock. The moral dissolution society was falling to as surely as snow to spring. And the villain responsible for it all: a woman named Mary Calderone.

The former medical director of Planned Parenthood, Calderone had come up with the idea for her organization, the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States, at a 1961 conference on church and family put on by the National Association of Churches. By the 1964-65 school year SIECUS's "Guidelines for Sexuality Education: Kindergarten thorugh 12th Grade" had been requested by over a thousand school districts. A typical exercise for Kindergarten was watching eggs hatch in an incubator. Her supporters saw themselves as the opposite of subversives. "The churches have to take the lead," Dr. Calderone, herself a Quaker, would say, "home, school, church, and community all working cooperatively." The American Medical Association, the National Education Association, and the American Association of School Administrators all published resolutions in support of the vision. Her theory was that citizens would be more sexually responsible if they learned the facts of life frankly and in the open, filling vacuum filled by the kind of talk that children picked up in the streets. An Illinois school district argued that her program would fight "'situation ethics' and an emerging, but not yet widely accepted standard of premarital sex." Even Billy Graham's magazine Christianity Today gave the movement a cautious seal of approval.

They didn't see it as "liberal." But it was liberal. The SIECUS curriculum encouraged children to ask questions. In her speeches Calderone said her favorite four-letter word ended with a "K":" T-A-L-K. She advised ministers to tell congregants who asked them about premarital sex, "Nobody can judge that but yourself, but here are the facts about it." She taught that people "are being moral when they are being true to themselves," that "it's the highest morality to live up to the best in yourself, whether you call it God or whatever." Which, simply, was a subversive message those those who believed such judgments came from God--or at least from parental authority. The anti-sex education movement was also intimately related to a crusade against "sensitivity training": children talking about their feelings, about their home lives, another pollution of prerogatives that properly belonged to family and church. "SOCIALISTS USE SEX WEDGE In Public School to Separate Children from Parental Authority," as one of their pamphlets put it. Maybe not socialists, but at the very least--someone was separating children from parental authority....

A science consultant to the Racine United School District opened a letter: "Dear Dick, I know you don't realize you're being used by Communists, but..." He picked up his phone: "You're nothing but a dirty Communist traitor." (In fact he was a Republican.) The district suspended the program "until misinformation and misunderstanding are corrected." Fifty miles to the north, in the rural town of Cedarburg, the farm wife whose chickens supplied the incubator cried, "If I'd known what the school was up to they never would have gotten their hands in my eggs." In Park Forest, Illinois, an eight-grader served a week's suspension for boycotting the science unit on plant and animal reproduction at the bidding of his parents; in Springfield Ohio, school administrators got death threats. That was four towns within a 140-mile radios. Reported the National Observer, "Put a finger almost anywhere on the map and chances are it will land on a town where the radio talk shows and letters to the editor are stoking the controversy over sex education in the schools."

...Liberals steadied their grip and harnessed their reason: "The venereal disease and divorce rates keep rising and these people refuse to understand," the administrator from Racine told the New York Times. "It's as if they were saying,' There's an epidemic of polio, but we're not going to let you do anything about it.'"...

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