Gary K. Clabaugh, Emeritus Professor of Education, La Salle University
Americans have a secret love/public hate relationship with sexuality. Even though our culture is obsessed with sex, blue-nosed Puritanism is still very much with us.
This gives rise to some very strange phenomena. In the media, for instance, most American children are exposed to murder as “entertainment.” And parents rarely object. But imagine, if instead of gruesome murders, a network showed realistic sexual acts — enthusiastic intercourse instead of an exuberant strangulation, for example. The outrage would be so thick you could walk on it. In short, deadly violence is tacitly regarded as tolerable for youngsters; but portrayals of intimacy and mutual pleasuring are an abomination. What kind of wierd values does that represent?
When it comes to sexuality there also is a remarkable preference for ignorance over knowledge. Sure, most parents don’t want their kids to be sexually ignorant forever. But by the time they think their child is ready for the birds and bees, he or she could teach them a sexual thing or to — thanks mainly to the internet.
What are we to make of this American fascination with, and fear of, sex? There are a lot of possibilities. But one of them is spelled O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y. This is what demagogues and religious con men make of it. It’s a rare opportunity for picking the public’s pocket by exploiting their fears and secret longings. Mix the efforts of these unscrupulous flim flam artists with guilt-ridden religious fanatics and a healthy number of ordinary ignoramuses and you have a highly unstable compound that can, and does, blow up in educator’s faces if their lessons include sexual content.
What’s the moral of this story? Teachers, unless they are explicitly required to deal with it, should stay away from sexual content. The costs to them will very likely exceed any student benefits. In fact they might well be abandoned altogether by school administrators who are too timid and/or self-regardful to come to their defense.