Saturday, October 17, 2009

Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education for Safe and Drug Free Schools: Mr. Kevin Jennings

This week I heard from a favorite friend from high school, the one person I've pretty much talked to or written at least once or twice each each year since 1981. He had much to say and also asked whether the person torn limb from limb in a Dallas News column was the guy who made up 1/6 of our AP English class and other classes for our smarty-pants cohort. Yep; that's the guy: Kevin Jennings. I knew him well enough: he and I even spent the evening before our SATs chilling out together while everyone else studied (I'm sure), we made snide remarks about the literature we were asked to read and dissect. I think, in fact, Mr. Jennings is indirectly responsible for the introduction to my first "real" boyfriend... After much excitement back and forth about the recognition of our classmate's fine work in empowering gay students and beginning to make schools safer places for everyone, I took a moment to read the article Bill had found.

I don't live with my head in the ground, I know that Kevin has been a big gay target for the right media for weeks now. All kinds of things have been said about him; some may have a passing resemblance to the truth. For the most part, though, its so much more biased and deliberately misleading crap from the right, aimed at one thing: discrediting the decision making of the new President and his Administration. The only reason that position even exists is because so many people find it so easy to single out the gay guy: its a cheap shot. I don't think the conservatives are unique in having found their niches in the media and you know what kind of girl I am. I ask: seriously?---if you have to dig down to Deputy Assistant Secretary appointments, I'm a-thinkin' you ain't got anything very persuasive up your sleeve....

What frustrates me is that I find fewer and fewer sources of reliably bias-free, even slightly politically-neutral reporting. I'll offer my thoughts on some of the criticism's made about Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennings. I do not wish to perpetuate the claims made by that columnist so I'll summarize just enough to begin.

The columnist alleges that while serving as a teacher and sponsor of the school's Gay/Lesbian Student Association, a student confided in him the pertinent facts of a recent, and I would imagine troubling, experience which involved sexual activity with a previously unfamiliar person. The columnist reports that the advice offered by Mr. Jennings was that he should be sure to use a condom when he "should" have called the student's parents. The implication was clear: Mr. Jennings had been remiss in safeguarding that student's well-being.

I have serious reservations about the completeness of reporting on his counseling of that student...because as a public health kind of person I know that in the same position, my response would have definitely identified the need for a safe sex message as a primary problem. Equally, I would deliver a solid, perhaps stern, discussion about judgment and risk. The impact of unsafe sex in high risk groups (which is what brought the student to Jennings) is huge and sometimes fatal. But inasmuch as that student confided in Jennings in the context of Kevin's role validating and empowering gay sexuality---he'd have been acting counter to the goals for which he'd been made responsible, that very thing which encouraged the confidence from the student, had he gone to the parents. Indeed; I'm sure those goals were held not only by Jennings, but also the school in which he worked as the Association was permitted to operate and meet on campus.

What, then, do we have here? I'm sure Jennings *did* advise about the use of protection when engaging in sexual behaviors; he'd have been seriously remiss if not -- and would have been taken to task for the omission, I'm the very same people who criticize that advice now. So I think that part is probably true. Its more than likely that the account was not complete in a deliberate attempt to discredit Jennings and the Administration that appointed him.

In the end, I would be very unhappy were I persuaded that Kevin hadn't been cystal clear about the serious risks and lapses of judgment being demonstrated by that student but telling the parents? I would have a very hard time making that decision; I'd be very conflicted for sure. I don't have any reason to believe that Kevin isn't as concerned or as responsible as I know I try to be -- and I don't believe anyone who doesn't know him does, either. In the end, I don't think teachers typically call home when they become aware that students are sexually active or taking other risks ("Ms. Jones, I think your son might be running with scissors..."?). It may well be that there were other entities whose awareness might have been more appropriate in reducing the risks to which that student was exposed, but since we already have reason to believe we don't know the whole story, how could I possibly presume that such action was warranted and that it didn't occur? But this is exactly what the columnist wants all of us to conclude: they are saying Jennings' track record on "safe" schools is wanting and that some mid-level staffer overlooked something critical in the vetting process..."shame on YOU, Mr. President!". It is so clear that the attack isn't even directed at Jennings.

Its a sham. I believe none of it. Our time is wasted in these evaluations and arguments of what is true or not; our confidence evaporates. We become cynical and snarky and stop trying to understand those other people. Do we all need reminders of what happens when the citizenry believes that the media has been co-opted by the government or at least leveraged for a particular objective? Aren't we promised a free and government-independent media? Where on earth would I find that? Perhaps Jon Stewart or Ira Glass? They're the only people talking these days that are clear about where they're coming least Stewart cops to being ridiculous and half-truthful. Glass is a great commentator but he doesn't really bring news. Jim Lehrer is good yet I don't know of anyone who is trusted by most of the nation...without this we are perpetually in the position of cobbling together what we think is most likely based on what we are told---and what we are not...and we shout across the divide.

That is: if we think about it for ourselves at all....


Lyman said...

We want government to stay out of our lives! Unless of course a student confides in a public school teacher about a naughty, naughty incident of sex, in that case the public servant should call home and insert himself in family affairs directly.

As far as news, I read AP and Reuther's articles online. I don't know what's worse: government-run news or news for profit. Government-run in idea doesn't sound like a good idea at all (although the BBC is an excellent news source, the are one of the few) but news for profit has turned journalism into a complete joke. Britney Spears, petty partisan arguing, and opinion-reporting is all you get in the news these days.

KHM said...

Word, cousin. thanks for the info, too; I don't know why I hadn't looked at those two. Now I'll be pissed off much more often :)