Novato Advance Viewpoint on "That's a Family"
May 14, 2003


Viewpoint: Too much, too soon?

By ABBY WONG
Special to the Advance

On behalf of the Novato Parents & Family Coalition (NPFC), I am addressing the concerns of our community about “That’s A Family,” the diversity video and guidebook, soon to be piloted in all fifth-grade family life classes.

NPFC is a grassroots group of Novato parents and residents who are committed to “keeping academic excellence paramount ... for our children.” Over 1,600 Novato citizens have signed our petition in opposition to the approval and use of “That’s A Family.” We also represent many others who have applauded and encouraged our efforts — though privately, out of fear of being labeled or harassed.

Many have already found “That’s A Family” to be objectionable for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Its racial stereotypes of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans;
  • It raises emotional and/or personal issues not suited for a classroom setting;
  • Its message is not consistent with abstinence outside of marriage;
  • It is not age-appropriate;
  • It is not respectful of our role as parents.

Here are just some examples from the video and guidebook (which quotes the video and contains optional classroom activities) that illustrate people’s concerns:

  1. The guidebook has a crossword puzzle (p.20) that includes, among other things, the word “transgender” as an answer; its corresponding clue says, “when the sex a person is born with doesn’t match the sex they feel like inside their heads and heart.”
     
  2. The Grandparent/Guardian segment features an African-American family involved with drug use (p.31).
     
  3. The Gay/Lesbian segment includes this quote (p.35): “The way we became a family is our two mothers were friends and they decided they wanted to be more than friends. So they got into a relationship with each other and they started to fall in love. After that, they asked a man to be the father of their baby ....”
     
  4. The Separation/Divorce Segment includes these quotes (p.38): “They feel happier now because they’re not seeing each other any more and they are like, ‘Now we won’t have to fight anymore’” and “‘The hard part is when I’m with my dad, I always want to be with my mom.  And when I am with my mom, I always want to be with my dad.’”
     
  5. The Single-Parent Segment features a Hispanic family and includes these quotes (p. 41): “And sometimes, people like my mom just decide to have a baby even though they aren't living with the other parent” and “When you just have one parent, if you get into trouble, only one person gets mad at you and only one person nags at you. So I think I’m pretty lucky!”

These kind of concerns were publicly presented to the NUSD on Jan. 14 and posted on our web site. Likewise, over a dozen NPFC representatives of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities expressed similar concerns to the board last August (samples of those public comments are also on our web site).

We strongly encourage all fifth-grade parents to view the video and guidebook to make an informed decision. But we know many parents are unable to attend parent previews. That is why we asked NUSD in January to send guidebook excerpts to all fifth-grade parents along with the opt-in forms, and why, on April 29, we offered to pay for, and mail, such excerpts ourselves.

In the weeks ahead, NUSD will need to address questions like the ones below that were included in our Jan. 14 letter:

  • How much of the guidebook material will be used?
  • How will the pilot test be measured?
  • What role will parents who want to provide feedback play in the evaluation?
  • What information will the NUSD board use after the pilot test ends for its subsequent vote on whether or not to adopt “That’s A Family”?

We invite you to join our efforts, sign our petition, and help us find common ground (as per our “Principles for Public Dialogue”). Please also visit our Web site, www.novatoparents.org, view our videos/guidebooks, e-mail us at npfc@NovatoParents.org. We appreciate your taking the time to examine all aspects of a curriculum that will impact our schools, our families, and most of all, our children.
______________________________________________________________________________ 

Abby Wong is a Novato parent and a member of the NUSD Diversity Advisory Committee since October, 2002.  

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