"Abortion, birth control, sex deviation -- these things are red flags," said Dennis Younger, the curriculum director of Anne Arundel County's schools. "You can get by with VD (venereal disease). Human reproduction is okay. Once you get into motivation, you're in trouble."
With that remark, Younger explained the tightrope that county educators have been forced to walk as they prepare to introduce in elective sex education course into anne Arundel's high schools, almost nine years after the state ordered them to do so.
The question of what books and films to use in the course -- a question that the county school board is scheduled to resolve tonight -- has polarized the attitudes of many county parents and several members of the clergy.
At the center of the debate are a film, "Are Your Ready for Sex/" -- which opponents say fails to make the case for premarital chastity -- and two books, one a textbook and one a teachers' aid.
The textbook, titled "Human Sexuality," is opposed by more conservative parents and clergy because they claim, it challenges the concept of virgin Birth, presents homosexuality as an acceptable alternative life style and offers an uncritical view of incest and pornography.
These parents also object to a book for teachers. "Learning About Sex," which, they say, contains objectional language and passages concerning bestiality.
These three items are among a variety of course materials recommended by a citizens committee that, ever since the board agreed last July to institute the course, has been considering what materials should be used by the teachers and students involved. committee that, ever since the board agreed last July to institute the course, has been considering what materials should be used by the teachers and students involved.
In the course of deciding on their recommendations, a bitter division developed within the committee, with 12 of the 15 members agreeing to the proposed materials and three vociferously dissenting. These three have since made great efforts to rally other parents to their cause.
Those among the committee majority say their opponents are taking the contents of the books and film out of context and are trying to impose their own, more conservative values on the course.
"It's like the abortion issue," said Nancy Rosenshine, a member of the committee majority who is affiliated with the Anne Arundel County Federation for Human Sexuality Education. "If you feel sex is not healthy or expected and is abnormal, it's awfully difficult to discuss."
"I think a lot of it looks good on paper," said Joy Anne Fox, who gave up her job as a legal secretary to devote all her time to the issue, "but I think there are a few in the field of education who have a philosophy antithetical to what a lot of parents feel, you know, Middle America."
What it's all about, said Fox, a committee dissenter, is "secular humanism.One of the tenets of secular humanism is feminism... I think they should give the kids the basics on plumbing and hygiene but shouldn't get into values."
"Anything you bring up decisionmaking, you bring up values," said McShane Glover, a county social worker and a committee member supporting the majority's proposal. "My point of view is there are options, and I believe in everyone's right to be fully informed to make intelligent decisions."
"There are pockets of opposition all over the country," said Thomas J. Paolino, a sixth grade science teacher and a member of the committee majority. "Basically, the objections, are from fundamentalist groups."
The controversy's religious overtones spilled into the local papers here last week. Half-page ads appeared criticizing the material, signed by 17 Glen Burnie ministers. A letter to the editor signed by several Annapolis clergy endorsed the course contents. During the course of the months-old debate, several clergymen also have expressed their views from the pulpit.
At a meeting of the Glen Burnie clergymen last month, several ministers said they were also worried about who will teach the course, but decided to sidestep that issue. "I'm 100 percnet in on this and I want (the curriculum's opponents to succeed," said the Rev. John Hill, of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Glen Burnie, "but I don't think we can touch this thing. We're gonna hurt ourselves if we get into this teacher thing."
The clash of life styles and philosophies extends even to the way curriculum committee members are listed by the school board. All women's names are prefaced with "Ms."
"I'm very proud to be Mrs. George Grimes," asserted Peggy Grimes, a dissenter. "I don't want to take away her right to be Mrs.," said McShane Glover. "I don't want her to take away my right to be ms."
Just before Christmas, School Superintendent Edward J. Anderson recommended that the board drop the controversial materials. "If something is offensive to one moral or religious belief, we should not get into it," he said. The board can accept or reject his view.