Friday, July 20, 2007

Bill O'Reilly and Me

I was on the O'Reilly show last night, talking about Senator Obama's support for sex education, beginning in the primary grades.

I was more than a little hesitant about saying yes, but as my readers know, I complain about the lack of progressive women religious leaders on network television and I thought I'd give it a try.

If you saw it, I'd love to know what you thought. (I have received several pieces of hate mail already, one calling me an evil evil woman for calling myself a preacher. So, please spare me those!)

I actually enjoyed myself. Mr. O'Reilly was surprisingly pleasant to me (must have been the collar and not wanting to yell at a minister), and I was able to make my points, even as he was talking over me. I wanted listeners to know that sex education in the younger years was about such sexuality topics as bodies, family roles, gender roles, sex abuse prevention -- and that it set a foundation for education in upper school. I wanted people to know that parents, schools, and religious institutions all have a role to play in sexuality education, and that religious denominations support public school sex education.

Mr. O'Reilly got a little hung up on my using the word "uterus" in describing where babies come from. He said using it would take away children's innocence and would be too complicated. In response, I told him that children needed to know the word penis and vulva too. He looked confused about "vulva." I wonder what he would have done if I had said clitoris or scrotum on air.

We're going to try to find a way to post it at utube. I'll let you know.


Anonymous said...

I look forward to seeing you on!

Anonymous said...

Rev. Haffner,

I completely disagree with your position on this issue. You would not teach algrebra or calculus in Kindergarten. Nor would you teach principles of economics or world history. A child in kindergarten would not understand what a uterus is. Nor would they understand human (or animal reproduction).

I agree with you that kids should be taught about adults who may try to harm them. I don't know how teaching boys that girls have a vulva or teaching girls that boys have a penis or that babies come from a uterus accomplishes this task. What do you tell a girl that asks why she doesn't have a penis or what a penis is used for? Or vice versa?

The fundamental problem I have is people like you wanting to bring these topics into the classroom. I do not have a problem with you doing it in the church or with parents doing it at home. Since you mentioned your negative expectations of appearing on the O'Reilly Factor (you must not have ever watched the show before), I thought I would mention my own expectations of what I thought you would say. I thought perhaps you would suggest that we teach kindergarten children how to put a condom on the half bananas they eat during snack time.

Kent said...

Dear Mrs. Haffner:

I am an evangelical, Bible-believing missionary and have served as such around eastern Europe and the U.S.

I believe strongly that the best education my children can receive on "sex education" can be found IN THE HOME. My wife and I are home-schooling parents and take our role in shaping our children's minds very seriously.

It is my conviction that we have a better feel for what our children need to learn and hear regarding sex than would an anonymous teacher! I was disappointed that Bill O'Reilly did not challenge this part of your proposal more vigorously. He seemed more interested in pointing out how you "diverged" on what is appropriate information, vocabulary, etc. for a teacher to share with young children than with the fact that you are proposing that teachers tell OUR CHILDREN what they think they need to know about sex.

I attended public schools so I do have some understanding about the kind of indoctrination one receives there. I am not anti-school; however, I do not believe that an unknown teacher, or sex educator, like YOU, should have significant influence in the life of my child on a very important subject like sex. Unfortunately, what political liberals and activists propose is that schools become a kind of "surrogate parent". To this, I say, "No thanks!"

I have witnessed politically-engineered socialism. I have lived in a place that not only devalues the place, beauty, and personal blessing of God-created sex, but has also undermined the value of human life itself. In those countries in which I resided, the average woman had had at least 2 abortions. You see, I believe when we, as evangelical Christians, allow outside "educators" to tell our kids what to think about sex, it opens a door for them to share more than just about sex (personal beliefs, philosophies, etc.).

I respectfully disagree with much of what you shared on the O'Reilly Factor. Because you are a Unitarian and I am an evangelical, I understand that we have an extremely different worldview.

My wife and I want to help our children form their own Christian worldview in order that they might combat the myriad of views and philosophies present in the world. In our day and age, it is not difficult for our children to realize that there are many diverging views on sex, abortion, terrorism, religion, etc. We are NOT sheltering children from other viewpoints; we are simply taking control of how our children filter all of these life issues.

Kent said...

Mrs. Haffner:

As an evangelical Christian and missionary, I believe that sex education should be addressed BY PARENTS IN THE HOME. My wife and I home school our children and consider the home to be the proper domain for sex education.

I do NOT want an anonymous teacher indoctrinating my children regarding sex. My wife & I know our children best. We do NOT need a public school educator to be a surrogate parent to our children!

I do not know all of your views and do not want to assume that we are diametrically opposed on every part of this issue, but I am certain that you put more faith in public schools than I do. I attended public schools and am convicted that the public school sphere is NOT healthy for my children.

Regarding your appearance on the O'Reilly Factor, I frankly was disappointed that O'Reilly chose to focus on areas where you "diverged" (e.g. what words teachers should use with 5 year-olds) instead of challenging you on the legitimacy of public schools educating our children on issues of such great importance as sex.

My wife and I are committed to shaping the worldview of our children so that they can combat effectively the plethora of views, opinions, and philosophies of our age. No, we do not want to shelter them; we want to equip and encourage them. We want them to understand the beauty of Biblical, marital sex. We also want them to understand the consequences of violating God's law for healthy sex and sexuality.

By the way, our children already understand well the need to beware of adult strangers. My wife and I diligently instruct them on how to watch for danger. No, we cannot protect them from all of the evils of the world. However, we think we are the best equipped to prepare them for the world in which we live.

fausto said...

As a fellow UU blogger and firedoglake lurker, you go, girl.

I'll concede there's a problem with sex ed in many public schools systems, but the problem is that it's not comphehensive enough, and it's too focused only on the mechanics and not enough on the interpersonal and ethical issues, not that the school is usurping the function on the family. I do not fear for the children of evangelicals, whose learning in the schools can be supplemented by further home tutoring in their own religious views on sexuality, especially youthful sexuality. The problem of kids who do not receive good sexuality education at home is a far greater threat to both society at large and the kids affected than the problem of kids who receive education at school that conflicts with what they learn at home.

Although curriculum materials should be age-appropriate, I also do not fear for children who learn the technical terms for certain body parts or their functions too early as much as I fear for thse who do not learn those things until it is too late. All of the concerns about the possible harm of exposing kids to mature issues before they are ready are chaff in the wind compared to the real harm that occurs when kids reach puberty and are placed in sexually fraught social situations without the necessary intellectual and emotional preparation.

I know evangelicals who agree 100% with me on these points. A through curriculum taught at the beginning of puberty in seventh or eighth grade that includes both the "nuts and bolts" biology and a moral/ethical/interpersonal dimension, much like the Our Whole Lives curriculum that we UUs developed together with the UCC, would do far more to inhibit early teen sexuality, the frequency of abortion, and the incidence of STD's -- all goals of the evangelical movement -- than home-tutoring-only policies, abstinenece-only curricula, or nuts-and-bolts-only curricula.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Haffner,

You may have set a new indoor world record for smugness, self-righteousness, and condesension. Like many self-proclaimed "progressives," you apparently believe that anyone who disagrees with you is an ignorant little child who needs to be taught.

LaReja Izquierda said...

Hi Debra,

I completely agree with your position on sex education and I am here to lend support as I have no doubt you will be getting plenty of grief over this from people who somehow think that knowledge equals loss of innocence.

"Anonymous"(Thu Jul 19, 11:22:00 PM EDT) says "You would not teach algrebra or calculus in Kindergarten. Nor would you teach principles of economics or world history." No, you would not, but you teach then the fundamentals from an early age: their math tables, simple calculations, what a map is, what money is and how to identify differnt coins and bills. Likewise there is nothing wrong with identifying naming parts of the body at a young age. As a mother I know that when questions come up I can give age-appropriate answers and that's all the kids want.

My 8 year old son came home the other day and informed me that babies come out with poo (he had been given appropriate information by me when he was younger but apparently the new "information" gven him by a friend carried more weight!). I told him no, they don't at which point he said "they come out with wee???? OUCH!!! That must REALLY hurt!!!" So I explained that there is another opening where the baby comes out, and that inside the body there are places for each and that on the outside there is an opening for each. I gave him the appropriate names, which he couldn't care less about. The earth didn't swallow us up and he didn't grow horns or run off to shag the nearest 8-year-old girl. Instead he picked a dandelion and asked me if the wishes you make when you blow off the fluff really come true.

Says it all, I think.

Part of God revealing himself in the person of Jesus Christ - in human form - is to show us that creation is good, and that includes our bodies. It is not the information about the body but what one DOES with the information that counts. The information about a body part is factual. The facts can be given and parts can be named wothout damage to innocence or moral values. Morality can be instilled along with the factual information about form and function.

It's worked in my home. My daughter, who is now 16, was always given truthful and age-appropriate answers to her questions, and also had sex education at school. I was told the other day that her friends admire her for sticking to her guns and not indulging in careless sexual activity. One girl said to her, "I wish I was more like you. You're right to wait. I wish I had".

If anything the sex ed comes too late. A lot of girls in this community are sexually active by the age of 14 but contraceptive information is not included in sex ed until they are 16. And are their parents (most of them church-goers, and many of them Evangelicals) giving them the information? No.

I am a Christian too, and I applaud you. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for your logical, common sense, Christian approach to age appropriate sex ed for children. Ideally parents should teach their children the issues of sexuality but the reality of the matter is that many do not because it makes them uncomfortable, they don't feel they will express themselves well or that they think talking about it will make the child actually think about sex more.

Because so many parents shirk their duties in this area, school personnel should be trained in age appropriate ways to discuss sexuality with children. If healthy, honest discussions are not had, children will learn about sex from misguided peers, grow up with misconceptions, fear of talking about it with adults and/or feel that it is dirty or something to feel guilty about whenever they think about sex.

I was surprised to see O'Reilly do a bit of a freak-out when you said uterus. It is very common for children to start asking "where do babies come from" at the kindergarten age. They express confusion and concern because they think the baby is in the mommy's stomach where food goes. Telling the child that the baby is in a different part of the mommy's body and that body part is called the uterus is not being overly sexual. It is a good place to start the child with regards to the differences between boys and girls. Children know there are differences and some gentle but straight talk (age appropriate, of course) about those differences can actually help with their future thoughts and questions about sexuality. The issue of a child understanding that touching in certain places and the display of genitals (such as if a man should expose his penis to a child) is NOT okay is vital for the safety of our children.

I'm sorry to hear that you are getting hate email from O'Reilly viewers (though I'm not surprised; that comes with the territory when one goes on these type of TV shows). I guess all this was started by Obama's remark and it's now turning into a political matter with Obama getting criticized for what he said.

But for those who didn't watch Hannity & Colmes (which comes on after O'Reilly), I would like to note that the conservative candidate, Mitt Romney who said (in response to Obama's remark) “how much sex education is age appropriate for a five year old? In my view, zero is the right amount" also signed a Planned Parenthood questionnaire saying that he agreed that there should be age-appropriate sex education for kindergarteners. This happened 5 years ago. So which Romney do we believe? This Romney or that Romney?

Politics aside, it's more important that our children learn to have a healthy, honest understanding of sexuality and the responsibility - emotional and biological - that comes with it. Keep up the good work, Rev. Haffner.

Anonymous said...

I was clicking through the dial and came upon you on O'Reilly--a show I never watch, ever. But I watched and listened (or tried to listen) to what you had to say. As I came in late, it was about the time you mentioned "vagina" and O'Reilly seemed to go apoplectic on just the word. You did really well. Smiled appropriately and I loved when you invited him to your church to see what you are doing. He didn't know what to do.

You were great and I whole-heartedly agree--as a parent and a UU and as a person concerned with the health and safety of the world's children--teaching children words will not make them more vulnerable. It can only keep them safer, smarter, and better informed.

I'll echo another poster: You go, girl! (and I loved the collar--way to protect yourself!)

Lilylou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pensieve said...

You're a brave womyn! Bill O'Reilly, and his cohorts, don't deserve any attention in my opinion. It sounds if you were able to get your points across. That's a feat in itself!

I will watch it if you can get it onto YouTube. It'll be the second time I've given O'Reilly my precious time.

My husband just said "Bill O'Reilly is concerned with taking children's innocence away from them hu? Why don't we NOT go to war. Nope, wait. That makes too much sense."

Unknown said...

Contraray to an earlier poster who found you "smug," I found you charming and patient, qualities that would serve you well dealing with small children and O'Reilly.

Of course we have to tell children the names of body parts and what they're for; how else will they know? Age-appropriateness is key but to project his own sexual hang-ups onto the "shoulds" of educationg the next generation does not serve them well.

Parents can teach their religious and moral values but it is up to the schools to teach science. If people want to keep their children ignorant of science that is their right but they can't force their ignorance on the rest of the community.

I have a friend who teaches sex ed to teens at our local UU church and those kids are some of the most poised, respectful, confident kids I know. In fact, they are all still virgins because they take it so seriously.

Good job!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on a successful appearance on such a nutty show! I, too, look forward to the youtube.

Hopefully the event will show up on "UUs in the News."

Robin Edgar said...

Hi Rev. Haffner,

I am a little surprised that someone else has not yet posted the clip to YouTube. You can be pretty sure that even if you do not post it someone else will. There are plenty of other clips from the Bill O'Reilly show available on YouTube. Copyright issues may prevent you from showing the whole segment but you might want to consider making your own video that analyzes your appearance and includes pertinent clips. This should allow you to post most if not all of what you said, and how Bill O'Reilly responded to it, under "fair use" provisions.

I wonder what Bill O'Reilly would think of Dr. Anthony Perks' theory that Stonehenge was intended to symbolically represents the vulva of the Earth Goddess aka Mother Goddess? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your position. There's nothing wrong with teaching scientific information to small children, and O'Reilly's overreaction at the word "uterus" amused me.

I admire your ability to just smile and be kind, despite this obvious overreaction. Thanks for being so reasonable. Ignore all the hate mail!


Anonymous said...

I think it is quite clear that you did a wonderful job! I was impressed with how you managed to talk over him - if you hadn't, I wonder if you would have gotten a word in edge wise. I find it very strange that even the most conservative people believe in not teaching children the correct words for their body parts. As if kids can somehow understand elbow and hair and heart and lung but not uterus or penis. So sad. The sad thing is that so many children are so harmed by these approaches and ultimately suffer from lack of knowledge about their bodies and the feeling that the body parts related to sexuality and reproduction are somehow secret or beyond comprehension. You did a great job. You were friendly, yet strong. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you! Bill O'Reilly's point of view is why children go for years being molested or get pregnant at 15.

People need to teach their children from a young age about their body and not treat the human body and sex like demons.

I am 19 and a virgin and that is partly because my mom did not censor the world from us and told us the truth from the beginning.

I'm not sure if I ever got the stork talk actually. What she told me when I was 6 has stayed with me, and even though I have a lot of friends that are sexually active, I choose to not be because I respect myself enough to wait for "the one".

I would love to get a copy of your book and raise my kids to know that their bodies are not evil and sex is beautiful when done at the right time with the right person.

I always feel like an old woman because I see people maybe even older than me do things and I just have to think about how sad it is that youth turn out this way.

It's not just my generation for those that want to demonize people of my age and younger because teenage mothers is nothing new. The only difference is now we don't pretend it doesn't happen and that is a step in the right direction.

I'm not even talking about waiting for marriage (though I am a Christian), I just certainly think no one under 18 should even consider sex and one way to ensure that is to teach them from the very start.

It's the same with anything we do. We teach kids their abc's VERY young to lay the foundation for when things get more complex like diving into words and sentences and different kinds of words, etc etc.

Anyway, that's all I have to say.


Chesty Leroux said...

Watched this live and was very impressed. You did wonderfully, despite O'Reilly's persistent interruptions.

He is simply wrong that it is "beyond their capacity" -- children's, that is -- to understand body parts. Children can, and do, "process" complex information -- in fact, they thrive on it. They need it. Obscurantism only leads to confusion for the children, then and later in life.

I wish I had had strong leaders like you in my school and my life as a child. Thanks for standing up on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Haffner,
You did a wonderful job! Mr. O'Reilly's viewpoint demonstrates his own poor sexuality education that he must have recieved. Anyone who bristles at the idea of teaching their children the proper names of their body certainly has their own baggage they ought to examine. If it weren't so sad that there are too many other people who think like him, it would be very funny! Keep up the great work and know there are many out there that support you wholeheartedly!

carie said...

Oh, I applaud you taking on Bill O'Reilly~ As a fellow UU and I teach K1 OWL, I've seen the youth at my church grow up so much more adjusted and know about themselves and respect themselves and they are also respected by their parents and safer. Until people themselves are educated about sexuality and what it truly means I dread to see what youth are harmed because of no knowledge of sexuality. The fact that my children in class along with their parent/guardian made a decision on who to go to if they are touched inappropriately is a big step. We all know most offenders are trusted individuals. Keep up the good work and keep talking!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for voicing a very clear and logical approach to sex education. Every organ in the body has a scientific name and it is important to teach scientifically accurate information from the beginning of the education process; regardless of the topic. If O'Reilly didn't have such a fear-based, knee-jerk reaction to the word "uterus", he would have essentially been in full agreement with you, me, and the majority of educated people.

Слінк Ядранко said...

I may be an atheist, but still the words I most want to utter having just watched the clip are - God bless you! Seriously, well made argument, and one that seriously needs making ('the hoo-hoo monologues' was itrenamed to in some small town?).

Anonymous said...

I absolutely applaud your appearance!! Many arguments that I have heard on this blog are that "sex-education should only be taught in the home" or that “it is simply the parents’ duty to teach their children about sex.” But I completely disagree: a PUBLIC school's duty is to teach CORRECT information to kids, information that prepares kids to function in society or the PUBLIC sphere (despite what the parents teach them at home).
And as for people that argue that teaching children “advanced” terms for the body is like teaching calculus to kindergarteners: I mean, what sane parent would actually complain about THAT, and what harm would that do? If you walked into your children’s class and their teacher was teaching them calculus…how exactly would that be bad? I myself was taught these scientific terms when I was very, very young, especially since my father used to serve as a US military doctor. Ironically, my dad actually did try to teach me principles of economics, physics, and biology, three subjects he was particularly interested in, when I was young as well. Did I actually absorb any of it immediately?? Of course not, but it did me no harm; in fact, I would say it benefited me. And I can tell you that these terms did not rid me of my childhood, or make me have sex before I was married. I did not suddenly stop playing hide-and-go-seek on the playground and think, “Oh my gosh, what’s a uterus?” If anything, these frank discussions when I was a young child, made broaching the topic of sex much easier when I was a teenager. That IS the purpose of learning terms like penis, vagina, scrotum, or vulva: it demonstrates to your child that talking about sex with your parents is not taboo and discourages the culture of fear surrounding the subject.

Anonymous said...

I'm not by any means a religious person, but I am certainly thankful to find a handful of people who actually have the right idea when it comes to comprehensive sex education.

To those of you who keep saying that sex education belongs in the home, you are somewhat right. Too bad that's not how things work out, and let's face it, the children in this country deserve better than "You're not supposed to have sex, don't do it."

Hopefully, regardless of those who are ignorant to this subject, something can be done.

Thank you for being rational, and reasonable. You don't find much of that these days.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Haffner,

Thank you for your good work. Both of my children have been through the Our Whole Lives program and I can't say enough good things about it. As I read through the comments I found I wanted to add a two points.

1) Sex education should only be taught at home--I disagree! Sex IS a social issue that affects all of us, from the most direct issues such as STD's to the more indirect one such as sexual violence. Also, children are often inhibited from asking frank questions of their parents out of embarrasment. If parents feel what is presented is not according to their religion they can teach their children why they believe differently.

2) One reader said they did not want an "unknown" teacher telling their children about sex. My children were taught this program in our church by people I know and trust. Yet my children were force-fed "abstinence programs" in our public school. In my home we discussed this with them that this was just one concept with limited success. Individuals outside the nuclear family can guide our children properly and respectfully.

I grew up Christian, and anything related to biological functions such as sex or elimination processes was repressed. I would not wish that on any child. Even a five year old is a member of society and cannot be harmed by a word like "uterus"

Thanks for doing this. I am hoping Bill can learn his manners someday and not talk over his guests--even a five year old knows that!