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Kevin Jennings appointed to education department

Kevin JenningsKevin Jennings will become the assistant deputy secretary of education for the department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. That’s quite a mouthful. According to this article, “the office oversees financial assistance for drug and violence prevention and is in charge of developing program policy for the Department of Education.”

Among his many distinctions, Mr. Jennings has been the recipient of the Human and Civil Rights Award of the National Education Association, the Distinguished Service Award of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Diversity Leadership Award of the National Association of Independent Schools. He seems eminently qualified for the position.

So why do I bring this up? Well… Mr. Jennings is gay. Anyone with a finger anywhere near the pulse of the religious right knows that they seem to feel that being gay is equivalent to child molestation, sexual perversion, subversive indoctrination of children into the “gay lifestyle,” and other atrocities offensive to their god. I saw this attitude in full swing in a recent Facebook discussion.

I’ll give some examples of the discussion here, but without names attached to them. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission, so keeping anonymity is important, though the sentiments expressed should see the light of day to expose the homophobia, intolerance, and factual distortions.

Here are the objections raised against Mr. Jennings at the beginning of the discussion.

  1. He is the founder and former executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
  2. GLSEN is infamous for the “Fistgate Scandal,” a conference in which young teens were guided on how to perform dangerous acts of sexual perversion, including “fisting.”
  3. Mr. Jennings was quoted as saying “Fuck ‘em” to the “Religious Right.”
  4. Jennings wrote the forward for a book called Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities and Schooling.

The poster (I’ll call him “Poster Alpha”) was careful to say that he feels Mr. Jennings has the right to live his life however he wants… which is usually the kind of thing you hear when there is disapproval of the life being led. But here are some of his additional comments.

This appointment is just another example of the grossly poor choices our President is making. At the minimum it reveals very poor judgment. At worst, it is another example of how he and his administration are waging battle on core American values.

I’ve known about this dude for a while. He’s a despicable person, who has taken out his anger on, and focused his debauched standards on traditional family values – I say that without reservation. No one should defend or empower a person who wants to trump parental rights and inflict (yes I say inflict!) debauched sexual values on children. Where the heck is the defense of their purity?? I’m so glad my kids aren’t in public school.

And I might add, if the roles were swapped, and a Republican president were to have nominated someone with an ecclesiastic background, there would be no end to the caterwauling from the Left about imposing religious values in the public school system. Tell me, who is the real threat?

I’m not sure where Poster Alpha got his information, but I’m going to venture a guess that it was a site along the lines of WorldNetDaily or MassResistance.org or some other right-wing religious site. It certainly was not an impartial (or even factual) source. Sadly, Poster Alpha will not reveal his sources, even after being asked.

His initial objections were blatantly silly. The only one that really required much looking into was number two (the “fistgate scandal”), but that was easily done. Here are my reactions to each.

1. Jennings founded GLSEN

That boils down to “Oh my god! He’s gay!” So what.

2. GLSEN is infamous for the “Fistgate Scandal”

This is about GLSEN, not Jennings. In actuality, it’s not even about GLSEN that much. GLSEN was one of three sponsors of a “Teach Out” conference at Tuft University about teens and sexual behavior issues. The voluntary conference was for students age 14 to 21 and an attending student asked what “fisting” was. The teachers answered the question, but the conference was being (illegally) taped by a religious right group member and the tape was then used to manufacture a controversy. You can read about the issue here and here. A quick Google search of “fistgate” will bring up plenty of links, some more dubious than others. You’ll find self-righteous outrage along with more even-handed responses.

Jennings was not present at the event and was not responsible for the content of the conference… and GLSEN was only a sponsor, anyway. So bringing up the issue is just plain petty… and silly.

3. Jennings is quoted as saying “Fuck ’em” to the religious right

In actuality, he was quoted as saying “I’m trying not to say ‘Fuck ’em'” which is somewhat different. Either way, however… so what. I suppose it’s a matter of the religious right being piously offended. Somehow, I think they’ve probably given a “Fuck ’em” or two to groups they oppose.

4. Jennings wrote the forward for a book

The book in question is called Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities and Schooling (Curriculum, Cultures, and (Homo)Sexualities). It’s only got one review at Amazon, but they have a good synopsis of the book. It doesn’t seem to be about what the title implies and seems like a thought-provoking, interesting book. However, because Jennings wrote the forward, the religious right seems to find him objectionable (again… “Oh my god! He’s gay!”).

The intolerance and bigotry were rampant in the Facebook discussion, punctuated every now and then with a rational response by someone not frothing at the mouth with homophobic mania. Poster Alpha himself ramped up the rhetoric when he added “traditional family values” to the “core American values” Jennings was supposedly assaulting… along with childrens’ purity.

Here’s a sampling of some of the other nonsense from the discussion. These are from one person. I call him Mr. Froth.

However, when people try to promote their own lifestyles upon impressionable youth, youth that are not their own children, that is where I draw the line.

If Mr. Jennings wants to have children and teach them how to “fist” or any other perverted and dangerous methods of “affection” that he practices, that is his own business. (although, one would have to wonder whether child services would get involved if this were happening) When he insists that teaching these methods to other’s children is “enlightenment,” all he is doing is trying to justify his lifestyle.

If I tried to enter the schools and teach my lifestyle of Christian living, I would be run out and probably sued.

Has our society degenerated so severely that teaching deviant sexual practices is acceptable while teaching Christian principles is not? Apparently, it has.

These workshops are no different than cult recruitment events. They are designed to increase the “membership” of Mr. Jennings following.

Overlooking this incredible atrocity to appoint the man to lead our nation’s education would be akin to overlooking a child serial murder’s past to appoint him as summer camp director simply because he had written some books […]

[Jennings] has his agenda and that is to force his views on others, starting with the very young. He is, in fact, developing a “cult” by trying to indoctrinate his beliefs in these youths.

Get this crap out of the schools and actually teach these kids reading writing and arithmetic! Why is that so difficult to understand? How’s that for enlightenment?

This poster seems to be so worked up in a frenzied, frothing rage that he creates all kinds of demons to attack. Promoting lifestyles? Teaching children how to fist? Perverted and dangerous? Justifying lifestyles? Cult recruitment events? Deviant sexual practices? Being gay is like being a child serial murderer? Forcing his views on others?

There’s so much misinformed bigotry and hatred here that I’m not sure where (or how) to start. I was actually surprised that a comparison to Hitler didn’t pop up because it seemed that’s where Mr. Froth was headed.

Evidently, Mr. Froth seems to think that teaching Christian principles is not allowed. In public schools, religious dogma cannot be taught, but it certainly can be taught in private schools, in churches, at seminaries, at conventions and at any other private events. He also seems to overlook the fact that Jennings did not teach at the mentioned workshop, nor was this information being taught in public schools.

And then the workshop in question becomes “these workshops” and are likened to cult recruitment events which are designed to increase membership… in the gay community? It’s an absurd notion and, with every word he writes, he displays an astronomical amount of ignorance and clouded thinking.

Another poster, like Mr. Froth, seems to think that the “fistgate” conference was taught in a public school as part of the curriculum.

[Jennings] has supposedly run programs about bullying; do his efforts to make schools safe from bullying include the bullying from the left and from the gay rights activists? I feel pretty bullied when the president appoints someone this divisive to such a powerful position over the education of children.

Please let me make myself clear, my objection to the man has nothing to do with his personal sexual choices.

[Children] are being taught by the popular culture to disdain the leadership and advice of their own parents […]. We are now politicizing the sexual and moral education of children.

I read things like that and wonder whether the religious right creates such clouded thinking or if such clouded thinking leads people down the path to the religious right. Here, an attempt is made to play the victim card… it’s not the gays that are bullied. It’s the straight people who hate the gays. Then to say that a presidential appointment is akin to bullying? That shows a complete lack of understanding and empathy for the victims of bullying.

Again, there is the claim of not objecting to the man’s personal sexual choices… while showing exactly the opposite. The claim of “it’s all about the children” only goes so far to cover up the homophobia and disgust.

There’s so much more of this type of talk that went on in the discussion. It ranged pretty far off topic from the original appointment of Mr. Jennings, but tended to focus on sex. It’s funny how the religious right tends to focus so much of their attention and talk on sex while claiming that they don’t care what people do in their own bedrooms.

Mr. Froth and the others have gotten the notion in their heads that there is some “gay agenda” that is being forced into the public school curriculum which isn’t fair since “Christian values” cannot be taught there. It shows an astronomical amount of ignorance on their part. I suppose they think that gays are trying to recruit more people as gays.

The objections raised by Poster Alpha to the appointment of Mr. Jennings are petty and irrelevant. They all stem from a basic feeling of homophobia and a desire to keep children from knowing about “alternative lifestyles,” as if they might somehow become victims of a gay plot to rule the world.

With all the accolades and awards Mr. Jennings has achieved in his career, it seems to me that he’s a fine choice.

This is encouraging.

Here’s a short video of President Obama speaking about science and once again putting it at the top of our agenda as a nation. It’s so nice to hear a president speak about the importance of science with what seems to be at least some modicum of understanding of the scientific process and what it means.

Here are a few bits from the video.

Today more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It’s time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America’s place as the world leader in science and technology.

That was a great start, but what really got to me was this next quote.

Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources. It’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say even when it’s inconvenient… especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth, and a greater undrestanding of the world around us.

Free and open inquiry? Evidence not twisted or obscured by politics or ideology? Listening to what scientists have to say? Searching for truth?… via science?! Why, Mr. President!… that’s almost blasphemous!

Seriously, though, I think it’s refreshing to hear. It’s a direct hit against the wave of anti-intellectualism that’s been threatening to poison this country for quite some time. It’s definitely a direct hit against the Bush policies of the past eight years. If only President Obama’s stated goals for science can be achieved, I think it’ll make a huge difference in the success of our nation.

I’d like to add one more, if I may. I’d like to see science promoted in our educational system without the chains of dogma attached to it. Let students learn about the scientific method and about scientific theories without the undertow of religion dragging them down. Teach them what science is and what science does… and what it doesn’t do.

But don’t corrupt it. Don’t water it down and cheapen it by introducing artificially manufactured doubt. Don’t try to pass off superstition and unsupported proclamations as science. Don’t try to skew the evidence or make up evidence where none exists. It only confuses the issue and is educationally unproductive… and counterproductive.

Science comes with its own healthy allotment of doubt and skepticism by its very nature. It’s part of the process. It’s how theories are formed. Let the evidence mitigate the doubt. Let the facts assuage the skepticism. Teach students how to develop their own critical thinking skills so they can determine the validity of existing scientific theories… and create new ones.

Here’s hoping.

Swearing on the Bible

Steve Wells over at Dwindling in Unbelief has a great post about Obama’s second round swearing in.

During “Take Two” of the Oath of Office, there was no Bible used for the ceremony. “So help me God” was still tacked on the end, despite the words’ glaring absence in the Constitution, but the lack of a Bible was a step in the right direction.

As Steve puts it…

The Bible, of course, is worse than useless when it comes to consistent advice on morality. But the New Testament (to avoid confusion, ignore the Old Testament on this one) is pretty clear about one thing: Christians shouldn’t swear. Not to God and not on the Bible or on anything else.

He then quotes Matthew 5:34-37

34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

…and James 5:12

12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

…to back up his argument. That seems pretty clear to me. Not only shouldn’t the Bible be used (according to the Bible itself), but the swearing in shouldn’t happen at all! Evidently, it’s a pretty UN-Christian thing to do.

So if our Constitution requires our President to take an oath of office, which is contrary to what the Christian religion allows, does that mean that our country isn’t a Christian nation?

I love irony.

Seriously? He is?

I’ve read quite a bit recently about Barack Obama being the Anti-Christ. There’s a chain email (in multiple versions) going around giving the Biblical predictions for this. It’s been covered on Snopes, but I just wanted to re-emphasize the nonsensical nature of it because I personally know someone who claims this to be true, citing the email as one of the pieces of evidence to back up her claim.

Here’s the gist of the email.

According to The Book of Revelations the anti-Christ is: The anti-Christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal…. the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything. Is it OBAMA??

Read the Snopes post for the full debunking, but there are a few points I want to reiterate here.