Why Did This Politician Hold Up This Sign?

The politics seem obvious.  In this picture, Representative Bob McDermott of Hawaii displays classroom notes from an eleven-year-old student.  The point?  McDermott hopes to convince voters that young children should not be learning these things in school.  To us at ILYBYGTH, the campaign illuminates two leading traditions among conservative educational activists.

Too much too soon?

Too much too soon?

The tactic is part of McDermott’s campaign against a new sex-ed program in Hawaii, “Pono Choices.”  Fans of the program insist that it is “medically accurate and age appropriate.”  Representative McDermott disagrees.  And in his activism, McDermott leans heavily on a couple of tried-and-true conservative traditions.

First, McDermott objects to the experimental nature of the program.  As McDermott complained,

Parents simply were not informed that their kids were being used as human guinea pigs for research. This is a monumental breach of trust between the DOE and the owners of the system, the parents.

The language of the “guinea pig” has long been a favorite of conservative educational activists.  Recently, pundit Michelle Malkin blasted the Common Core State Standards with precisely this same language.  “Our kids,” Malkin insisted, “are not anybody else’s guinea pigs.”

Just as central, McDermott is using the language of cultivated ignorance.  For just as long as conservatives have worried about their children being turned into guinea pigs, they have fought to ensure that children are kept ignorant of certain ideas.  In many cases, conservatives don’t dispute the truth of those ideas.  They simply insist that certain truths should be kept away from children of a certain age.

Obviously, one doesn’t have to be a “conservative” to agree that some images and some ideas are not appropriate for some age groups.  Films and other media are labeled by age-appropriateness.  Some video games come approved for “mature audiences” only.

But in culture-war battles over sex, the desire to keep children deliberately ignorant of certain facts becomes controversial.  In the case of sex education, some conservatives tend to fight for more ignorance for longer.  Progressives and public-health types tend to argue for more knowledge earlier.

In this case, Representative McDermott is clearly hoping that a little street theater will help his case.  How many parents, McDermott might ask, want their children’s school notebooks to look like this?


Leave a comment


  1. johnkutensky

     /  September 11, 2014

    The guinea pig comment seems especially odd, since the implied alternative is that education never changes ever. Surely any change, improvement, or addition has to have some children be the first to ever try it. What’s their plan? Eternal stagnation?


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