Washington Post covers (so to speak) the cucumber story

I will eat my hat if someone comes up with -- ahem -- hard evidence of a public school teaching 10th graders how to put condoms on cucumbers. . . .

Posted by: Jeff Sharlet | December 5, 2004 05:14 AM

Sorry, but I have been on the road the last two days, down to an amazing Ethics & Public Policy Center mini-conference in Key West, Fla., entitled "Toward an Understanding of Religion, Politics and Public Life." Some of the materials from this -- including large segments of White House speechwriter Michael Gerson's talk on religion and presidential rhetoric -- will be available online or in newsletters sooner or later. I seems that several of the two dozen mainstream journalists present have plans to write about one or more of the presentations at some time or another. Watch David Brooks and E.J. Dionne Jr. for starters.

But I did want to respond a bit to the earlier cucumbers and condoms thread, including the comment by The Revealer's Jeff Sharlet.

As I noted in the comments section, the Washington Post has weighed in on this story after it received quite a bit of attention from the Washington Times. So at this point, the reality of the controversy is no longer in question.

However, various reports -- including the broadside from Maureen Dowd's brother referenced earlier -- debated a key fact in the story. What is the age of the cucumber-sheathing female in the public-education video? There may be an element of suburban legend to this.

For some people, it would seem inaccurately, she is a 10th-grade girl. The Post says she is a "young woman." Another reference says it is a very young looking college student. The latter seems like the best bet to me, when you consider where these kinds of educational materials seem to originate.

In the Post, reporter Rebecca Dana describes how this Montgomery County (Md.) School Board controversy seems to be gaining strength (I am frantically seeking safe adjectives) rather than fading. Right in the lead, the story stresses that normal people -- they don't even have to be religious! -- are upset about the cucumber-and-sexual-identity thing. Here is one of the key passages:

Under the changes, 10th-graders -- except those whose parents opt them out of the sex-ed portion of the required high school health education class -- will see a short video demonstrating how to apply a condom. Also added will be a one-week instructional segment on sexual identity, including discussions about homosexuality and bisexuality. This segment, proposed for eighth- and 10th-grade health classes, will be tested in the spring at three middle schools and three high schools, not yet chosen.

The school board president, Sharon W. Cox (At Large), said the strong feedback was expected. "The response did not surprise me, either in its tenor or volume," she said.

Some people say the heat is related to the election results, of course. Maryland is a unique blend of ultra-red and ultra-blue zip codes. As the story notes, with a sniff: "In the region, some school districts do have leaner sex education curricula." In one nearby county they use a wooden phallus -- no word on the type of wood -- instead of a green vegetable. Just another day in real-world classrooms.

Stay tuned. I am sure the HBO special report (or Frontline) will be lively.

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