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How Misunderstandings Become Policy

December 17th, 2007 by Steven Gardner

The Bremerton School District has had some notable accomplishments of late with, particularly with early childhood education.

But Andrew Binion’s story on the district’s renewed inclusion of information beyond abstinence in its sex education curriculum must cause someone to wonder how the former policy could have been in place for eight years without anyone questioning it to the point of a policy change. According to the story, the best anyone can figure is that it became the policy because of a misunderstanding.

Although teachers had been teaching abstinence-only curriculum for about eight years, district officials are unsure of why the program had replaced the district’s previous comprehensive program.

The likeliest reason for the uncertainty, said Assistant Superintendent Linda Jenkins, was a combination of high turnover among district and school administrators and new officials not questioning the current practice.

Jenkins, like Superintendent Bette Hyde, was hired after the abstinence-only practice had been in effect.

The board of directors adopted a policy in August 1999 that said AIDS education was to emphasize abstinence as the only sure defense against contracting the fatal, incurable disease through sex.

Jenkins said that directive was likely construed as requiring an abstinence-only sex education curriculum and the policy wasn’t officially reviewed until the new law took effect.

“Practice became part of the culture and it was never really questioned,” Jenkins said.

How many other policies are out there that continue because of a misunderstanding creating a truth that no one questions?

At least one commenter to the story sees this as the religious right and “GWB” being the likely culprits, but if this really did start in 1999, then it was at least a year before Bush became president.

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8 Responses to “How Misunderstandings Become Policy”

  1. Bob Meadows Says:

    You ask: “How many other policies are out there that continue because of a misunderstanding creating a truth that no one questions?”

    The answer is: “So many, you could never count them all, much less find them.”

    That’s why my motto for years has been: “It was always done wrong before, even when I did it.”

    Unfortunately, the motto of too many people seems to be: “But that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

    You know that little parlor game in which a short story is whispered from one person to another, so that it changes a little with each retelling to the point that the end result is often humorous? Well, that’s life in a government bureaucracy, not just in the education bureaucracy.

  2. Charlie Burrow Says:

    Bob, wish I had your ability to know how many things I don’t know. You’d sure be doing a great public service by publishing your list of all those policies that the rest of us don’t know are based on misunderstandings that no one questions. And, given your estimate that there are too many such policies to count, I’d be more than happy to chip in on buying you a calculator. Thanks.

  3. Bob Meadows Says:

    Charlie, you appear to have missed the point. No one, including I, can know how much he doesn’t know. Therefore, I approach things with the thought firmly in mind that simply doing things as they have always been done without making an effort to find out how things are supposed to be done is a recipe for disaster.

    A metaphor I came up with many years ago is to compare the growth of an onion to what occurs when people simply do what they think has always been done. Each little mistake or misunderstanding makes a tiny difference, sort of like the layers of the growing onion. Eventually, you end up with something that is so big and smells so much that you can’t help but notice it. If you like onions, the thin layers added as it grows are good; but if you don’t like big problems, the tiny, almost unnoticeable changes are not good.

  4. Mick Sheldon Says:

    Good question Steve .

    Not only that , once a District adopts a policy you will see people defending it out of human nature if nothing else . Even if the policy is out of date .

    Disagreeing with any school policy is like insulting a person’s Mother to some people .

  5. Colleen Smidt Says:

    Mick, you are so right on with your last statement.

    There are some wonderful, out of the box thinkers at my sons school. Thank goodness he has one of them as his teacher. And then there are the others who are afraid of challenging the status quo even in the face of it’s obvious failure. They only take the historically easy and safe approach to any situation. Parents like myself who tend to bring this to their attention or offer other solutions are dismissed and coldly rebuffed. Fortunately I am not easily put off and tend to just find away another way around.

  6. Mary Colborn Says:

    Oh come on people, give these teachers a break. How much fun do you think teaching sex education is to other people’s kids? Seriously.

    And, say you did decide to be an “out of the box thinker” when it came to sex education and “crossed the line,” think about how much trouble you would get into.

    If abstinence only was the curriculum in use and you were a teacher, are you telling me you would add other information to the curriculum? I doubt it.

    It’s not a matter of taking the “historically easy and safe approach,” it’s a matter of dealing with very sensitive, personal topics that really when it comes down to it, should be taught by parents.

  7. Colleen Smidt Says:

    Mary, Atempting to read between the lines, also leads to many a misunderstanging. My response to Mick was directed at the topic of blog which is how “Misunderstandings Become Policy” and nothing to do with the topic of Sex Education. In fact neither Mick nor myself reference the topic of Sex Ed at all. In fact none of the responses posted here do. So I really fail to understand why you felt the need to be so insulting in your tone.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Steven,

    So, we are to believe no master binder which contains the District policies as well as a table of contents and index for those policies exists?

    And, we are supposed to believe the District Superintendent, School Board members et cetera do not each have a binder which contains a copy of each policy paper, as well as a table of contents and index for those policies?

    And, we are supposed to believe no annual or biennial expiration process exists to update those policies?

    And, we are supposed to believe Superintendent Hyde does not have the authority and responsibility for that management function (coordination)?

    WOW!!!!!!

    Sincerely,
    Anonymous

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