Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sex Ed and the Radical Left

What's a good definition of a sex radical? Someone who thinks that the Sexual Revolution of the 1960's was never completed. It's a good term to describe Maureen N. McLane who writes a review of three books that describe the ongoing culture war over public sex education in American Schools. McLane is is a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard University, and offers up a typically leftist analysis of the cultural war over sex, which purporting to be "value neutral" and objective is anything but. The first glimpse into the lefty mind is provided by a short bigraphical background by McLane:
Sometime in the mid-1990s I attended a workshop on basic video techniques at the public-access cable station in Chicago. I had come with another sex educator and activist from the Coalition for Positive Sexuality, a direct-action sex-ed group, in hopes of producing public-service announcements. CPS envisioned itself as providing near-peer sex education for teens (though some of us were rather long in the tooth to be near peers). Many of its founding members were very young veterans of Act Up demonstrations; and all were concerned about the lack of a coherent sex-ed curriculum in the Chicago Public Schools. (That the Coalition for Positive Sexuality and the Chicago Public Schools shared an acronym delighted us.) CPS sponsored a number of projects, some officially sanctioned—like sex-ed workshops at local colleges—and some guerilla—like distributing condoms along with a bright-green informational booklet titled “Just Say Yes!” and pasting posters designed by member artists on city streets and in subway cars (“Cum Prepared!”).

I'm convinced that people who renounce war as a solution to any problem end up sublimating their inner warrior by declaring cultural war on each and every social custom and tradition that they can. Why anyone would think that the 1990's represented a time of sexual repression requiring "coherent sex-ed" curricula in schools and guerilla public service campaigns to encourage people to have even more consequence-free sex than they were is truly puzzling, but totally in keeping with the leftist trope of continuing revolution after the war has been essentially won. Talk about piling on! (no pun intended) But maybe Chicago schools were a particularly recalcitrant bastion of reactionary Puritan repression in those days. It's just not a risk worth taking, is it?
For that Saturday video class, people with all manner of commitments had come from all corners of the city, including several women from churches—church programming being a mainstay of public-access cable. When our turn came to identify our project, one of these women nodded approvingly: I hope you’re educating them about abstinence. Well, yes, we replied, we discuss abstinence as one choice among many. That’s what “Just Say Yes!” means—yes to abstinence, or to sex with others, or to sex with yourself—a consensual, reflective, informed, safe-as-possible yes. From the expression on her face it was clear that this was not what she had in mind. Abstinence as a choice among choices was precisely the weaselly liberal (or, even more disturbing, radical) proposal that appalled many conservative parents.

If teenagers made reflective decisions about sex, parents would have no worries. This highlights one of the silliest aspects of leftist projects like this: the unwavering faith in education as a panacea for all social ills. They think that people smoke cigarettes because they were never taught that it is harmful, or that gay men get AIDS because they are ignorant about the use of condoms or the way that the disease is spread. Their faith in the rationality of people in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is itself a sign of extreme irrrationality.
A number of recent books have charted this transformation, among them Janice M. Irvine’s Talk About Sex, Jeffrey Moran’s Teaching Sex: The Shaping of Adolescence in the 20th Century, and Kristin Luker’s When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex—and Sex Education—Since the Sixties. All three share the view that the “sex in the schools” dispute is (in Moran’s words) “less a dispute over the curriculum than a ritual dance to signify a broader range of social and sexual attitudes.” Because sex-ed debates are, strikingly, almost always debates about sex ed in public schools—the last notionally communal bastion of American subject-formation—they unsurprisingly reflect conflicting ideas about the place of religion, parents, experts, and curricular reform. Perhaps most important, sex-ed debates allow—or reveal—a rhetorical convergence of fears: about young people and about sex.
Ever since G. Stanley Hall first theorized “adolescence” as a developmental category, in 1904, adolescent sexuality has been giving Americans trouble—or, more precisely, has offered Americans a screen onto which to project their troubles. As Moran emphasizes, the long 20th-century history of sex ed has been inextricably linked to the concept of adolescence: sex ed has always been about young people’s moral and political formation as well as their health. Keen to manage adolescent as well as pre-, non-, and extramarital sexuality, social hygienists early in the last century linked the sexual education of adolescents to public health, equating moral and physical hygiene. This link has persisted in all the permutations of sex ed since.

No, it isn't a ritual dance, it is about the curriculum. And yes, it is about fears about young people and sex. You know that you're hearing leftie speak when they bring out the bogeyman of fear. Fear as a tool to opress. George Bush uses the War on Terror to spread fear. Of course it's about fear. Any parent that didn't fear for their child's welfare related to how and where they will have sexual encounters is not doing his or her job.
The health aspect of sex education is only one consideration. Of course it is an important aspect, but focusing on it alone ignores the very important moral aspect of sexual education. Since many parents cannot agree on exactly how morality and sexuality are intertwined doesn't mean that this intertwining doesn't exist. Which is why a "values-neutral" approach to sex education is not possible. Which is why the job of attitude formation regarding sex belongs to parents and not schools.
In the ’50s, sex ed typically appeared as one small precinct of “family-life education,” aimed primarily at training young people for monogamous, rigidly gendered, companionate marriages in a booming consumer culture. In 1964 Mary Steichen Calderone launched SIECUS—the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States—whose agenda reflected Calderone’s own combination of libertarianism and commitment to family. SIECUS recommended a comprehensive, K–12 sex-ed curriculum, featuring age-graded information about growth and development, reproduction, contraception, masturbation, and sexual response. The founding of SIECUS—along with Roe v. Wade (1973), panic over teen mothers in the ’70s and ’80s, and the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s—appears as a watershed in most histories of late-20th-century sexual education.

Is there any need for masturbation education? Has there been a single male born since Adam that hasn't figured this out all by himself? And again with that oppressive word "panic". Teen pregnancy may lead thousands of young girls to welfare dependency, poverty and children who grow up into a culture of underachievement and social pathology, but there's no need to panic.
In her most trenchant remarks, Luker notes the complex intersection of economics and gender in these debates. Her sexually conservative, activist women tend to be those who thought they were in one sex-marriage game and found themselves to be in another. “Revolutions have winners and losers,” Luker writes, “and in this case [the sexual revolution] the losers were women who looked forward to marriage and family as the most enticing and life-affirming future.” Men no longer had to promise marriage to get sex, and the women raised within the old socio-sexual regime found themselves less able to bargain for the lives they wanted. “My interviews indicated clearly the declining fortunes of women who would prefer to be married mothers but who have fewer resources than before to make that happen,” Luker writes. As Luker sums up her own and others’ research, “When a new technology [in this case, contraception and abortion] allows some women to reduce their dependency on (and their preferences for) marriage and intimate relationships, those who can’t or don’t want to are disadvantaged.” The destigmatization of premarital sex, increasing normalization of single parenting, and relative ease of divorce: these in combination have eroded the status of marriage as well as traditional gender roles and expectations. Luker’s research suggests that, in these communities at least, the strongest supporters of abstinence-only curricula tend to be these embattled defense-of-marriage women, as well as the usual run of evangelical pastors.

And these are the women who are having the children who need to be educated about sex. Don't you think they have the major stake in this debate. Do the nontraditional women having no children have any stake in it?
Sex-ed debates are a way of not thinking about sex. The old aim of conservatives (indeed, of most adults) was expressly to minimize the amount of air time, mental space, and bodily energy that youth could devote to sex. Those who opposed any form of sex education—a stance, as we have seen, less common since the late ’80s—opposed such with good Foucauldian instincts: sex ed was simply a way of putting sex into discourse—and thus into minds, nervous systems, and bodies. Discourse is a form of power-knowledge. And one main strand of opposition to comprehensive sex education stems from the conviction that talk leads to action; information stimulates expression; more talk, more sex; earlier talk, earlier sex. Advocates of sex ed have too rarely addressed this concern, yet it seems to me a completely reasonable one: one aim of sex radicals, for example, is precisely to make available, visible, and discussable a range of sexual options and practices that otherwise lurk in the wings or remain invisible. Thus Pat Califia, one of the sharpest, most controversial writers and sex radicals of the past 30 years, made plain in 1980 the implications of a radical enlightenment commitment:

There is a paucity of accurate, explicit, nonjudgmental information about sex in modern America. This is one way sexual behavior is controlled. If people don’t know a particular technique or lifestyle exists, they aren’t likely to try it. If the only images they have of a certain sexual act are ugly, disgusting, or threatening, they will either not engage in that act or be furtive about enjoying it.

This is not the kind of thing to reassure concerned parents, and Califia doesn’t give a flying f***(asterisks mine). Califia flew under bold, anti-normative libertarian colors: “The family, conventional sexuality, and gender are at the top of my hit list. These institutions control the emotional, intimate lives of every one of us.”


Radical enlightenment commitment? No, this is called "posing", something done by a "poseur". McLane's true colors come out of hiding here by endorsing this anti-social fruitcake Pat Califia. To think that someone out to destroy notions of family and gender has any place in a conversation about the sexual education of children and adolescents is deplorable. Here the cloak of values neutrality has been stripped away. McLane want's the state to usurp the role of parents in the area of moral and sexual education by negating the very idea that sexuality has any moral component and to instill in young people the value that sex should be practiced in as many variations as possible. How is it that in a time when sex in all its permutations is practically jumping at young people from every computer monitor, tv, movie screen and grocery store checkout magazine rack that anyone can imagine that there is a dearth of emphasis on sex?
Califia’s infernal trinity—family, conventional sexuality, and gender—are exactly what Luker’s sexual conservatives wish to defend, and indeed what many sexual liberals hold most dear as well. Califia’s writings—reissued in 2000 with a new preface—offer a strong antidote to liberal bromides and to the mainstreaming of former deviance and perversion, most notably homosexuality: Califia had no patience with gay normals, bourgeois sentimentality, womanism, antiporn feminism, or paternalism, and Califia shared with other sex radicals a profound mistrust of the state. No looking for gay marriage here, that is to say, though Califia, like many other radicals, has consistently argued for the equal sexual and civil enfranchisement of all regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

From one angle, Califia’s work—which early on featured defenses of man-boy love—is a gift to right-wingers, full of material and positions so apparently outlandish as to make former Senator Rick Santorum drool. From another, Califia’s sex-positive embrace of critical sexual thinking, wherever it might lead, remains if not a model an incitement.

Califia’s stringent critique points up the ideological blind spots in work such as Luker’s—work that claims to analyze but at crucial junctures reproduces social beliefs and convictions. Luker maintains, for example, that “a key point of this book is that we often don’t know our deepest values.” Her book seems rather to demonstrate that her informants are extraordinarily articulate about their deepest values; what they can’t do is historicize or theorize them, or have higher-order conversations about them.

Why is a Harvard professor giving any creedence to such a dangerous radical in a discussion of sex education? Oh right, she's a Harvard professor. Note the pseudo-intellectual blabby-blab: sex-positive embrace of critical sexual thinking; historicize, theorize or have higher order conversations about sex. These kinds of people want to use children in a socio-political experiment. The highest order thinking about the sexual lives of young people is being done by parents. These academic twits, despite their flighty rhetoric, are firmly in the gutter.

4 Comments:

Blogger erp said...

Sex education in the public schools in our Connecticut town began when our daughter was in the 7th grade. All the parents dutifully went to hear all about it. There was a little film starring Tinkerbelle being shown only to the girls that more or less told the tale.

One of the fathers went berserk. The rest of us sat there shaking our heads and thinking how foolish he was.

Turns out almost 40 years later, he was right. We controlled our own schools in those days and we should have put a stake in the heart of sex/ed and killed it dead then and there.

March 25, 2007 1:24 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Considering what consequence-full sex is getting us (open Little Green Footballs almost any day of the week, or attend a Catholic school), I'd say consequence-free sex is a definite step ahead, though perhaps not the most desirable approach.

March 25, 2007 4:55 PM  
Blogger monix said...

On Saturday I'll be running a training day for volunteer youth workers. The subject is children's spirituality - not necessarily in a religious sense but their awareness of their own value and that of others, their sense of awe and wonder, delight and despair and the sensing of transcendence or mystery.

My opening statement is: 'The adult world into which our children are inducted is more often than not destructive to their spirituality.' The article you have posted on here illustrates this perfectly.

March 27, 2007 4:28 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

The other thing it demonstrates perfecly is that the Left has only one writing style: crushingly dull.

Even when it comes to sex.

March 31, 2007 4:37 PM  

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