Alice Dreger is a faculty member of the Medical Humanities and Bioethics program at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Feinberg is located in Chicago, but Dreger and her family live in East Lansing, a small town in Michigan. Back in April, after Dreger's science-minded, data-loving 14-year-old son told his mom about his awful sex-ed class, Dreger decided to exercise her parental right to sit in on her son's next sex ed class.
Dreger was there to observe the class, not speak during it, but she shared her real-time reactions to her son's sex-ed class with her her 2,200 followers on Twitter—mostly other academics and sex researchers. Her funny and sarcastic tweets documenting the sexist, sex-phobic, slut-shaming statements being made by a pair of abstinence "education" clowns from a group called Pregnancy Services of Greater Lansing, an anti-choice stealth religious organization, quickly went viral. (You can read Dreger's tweets from that day here.) By the end of the day, Dreger had picked up 11,000 new followers on Twitter.
To be honest, for a while I was wishing I could put it all back. Wednesday night, I had written the piece for The Stranger but was suddenly soaked in doubts about publishing it. It all seemed to be spinning out of control. My friend Dan Savage gave me a good talking-to; he pointed out both that it was already "out there" and I couldn't put it back, and that we need progressive parents to fight back just like conservative parents do. But again, when I woke up on Friday morning to an e-mail informing me I was on the front page of the Washington Post over this, and an angry tweet from a parent in the district saying I had "brought shame" on the school... well.
Well, I had to call the mate. (I had stayed in Evanston, Illinois, overnight.) His response was as sane as ever. "Maybe what you're seeing is that there's been a national need for someone to call out this bullshit. Maybe people have needed you to do this?"
Dreger took a deep breath and kept calling out the bullshit. She stayed in the fight—a fight that brought unwelcome international attention down on her East Lansing school district, a fight that saw Dreger banned from entering her son's school without an escort, a fight that revealed that the school district's sex-ed programs were violating state law—and guess what happened next? Dreger won. The lying liars from Pregnancy Services of Greater Lansing are being kicked out of East Lansing's schools.
East Lansing schools will suspend the use of an outside contractor who helped teach the district's sex education curriculum. The vote Monday came three months after the district came under fire for its sex education curriculum at the high school, which has an abstinence-only component taught by a group called Sexually Mature Aware Responsible Teens, or SMART, which is affiliated with Pregnancy Services of Greater Lansing. The pregnancy center counsels women to avoid abortions.
Alice Dreger, the mother of a freshman student, college professor and local activist, received national attention for her 45 tweets, some profanity-laden, of a class in mid-April by instructors from SMART. Dreger, who attended one hour of the four-day SMART program included descriptions of an exercise where students rolled dice until everyone got pregnant and was handed a paper baby, apparently based on a high failure rate of condoms.
Thanks to Dreger's profane tweets—and thanks to her willingness to stay in the fight—students in East Lansing will no longer be subjected to a sex "education" curriculum that makes using condoms seem like a waste of time (because they're going to fail anyway) and explicitly encourages male students to only seek sex from girls who don't want to have sex (because "no" means "keep trying," right?).
More liberal, progressive, science-and-sex-and-data-loving parents should follow Dreger's lead: Sit in on your kid's sex-ed class!
UPDATE: Here's a text Dreger sent to a reporter—not to me, silly, to a reporter—about the school board's decision:
Getting rid of SMART is a critical first step for our district. Not only were they misleading our kids about the importance and effectiveness of condoms, they were slut-shaming our girls with stories of how "the girl who says 'no' is the girl you want." We need scientifically accurate, respectful sex ed that teaches how sex can be a positive, responsible experience, not right-wing shame fests in our public classrooms.
I have now heard from many parents who tell me they complained about SMART coming to our schools—complaints spanning 20 years! I am shocked my tweets are what it took to stop this. It speaks to the power of social media as an agent of change, but also speaks to the importance of progressive parents going to classrooms to see what's really being taught and to tell other parents.