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Tuesday, May 11, 2004


School bans Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, words which start with "iron". The article points out what is, prima facie, the funniest thing about this which is, of course, that the book is about the perils of censorship and the cultural enrichment the individual garners from reading diverse views. In fact, you could go so far as to say that the entire basis of the volume is to criticize the banning of books and music which one thinks might encroach upon the sheltered worldview the institution wants. This is not even to begin to explicate the desolation this specific practice would, if effected, rend upon the intellectual landscape of a school. The Diary of Anne Frank would be banned becuase of a passage describing sexual curiosity. Either of the Homeric epics would naturally be gone. If you really want to get into it, practically every great work which begins to delve into the nature of humanity at some point is going to get around to, at the very least, oblique references to human sexuality.

Even if a person naively believes that preventing pubescent teenagers from knowing anything about sex or sexuality is valuable, there's another catch. Namely, that it's completely impossible. Even if you were to erradicate every reference to intersex relations from their reading, there's television. Even if you install an S-chip in every television in the country, there's the internet. Even if you ban everything from the net, they have... each other. As abstainance-only education has taught us, even when you attach condemning value judgements to all sexual activity, the only consequence is that the experimentation is done without any information. A few parents uncomfortable with their kids hearing the word "breast" are not going to overcome ten thousand millenia of evolution. The moralistic dictates of even the most well-intentioned parents can't stop kids from finding out about all of this. The question they should be asking themselves is whether the description in Balzac is pernicious enough to be proscribed from the curriculum, to the point where they would prefer their kids learn about it from sites like Sex With Midgets.

Let's face it, the near-ubiquitous interpretation of male-female relations which exists in the popular domain is that of objectification. Someone who learned everything about our culture from shows like Friends or The OC would think that, apart from sex, the only reason we keep women around is... well, it's somewhat unclear. Possibly more sex, but with different people. Even in the instances where some emotional attachment is shown, it's typically consumated by sex or a pretext thereto. What's the earliest model any guy with a female sibling typically gets for the roles a woman ought to have? It's Barbie. Cosmopolitan doesn't do any better, as a magazine which touts a cumulative total of 11,394,216 ways to please your man (all of which are permutations of "do what he wants.") And that's pop culture. If we resort to some of the sites as above, a teen who is specifically looking for sexual material is likely to come across plenty of fake plastic models, prostrate and subserviant to some male aggressor. These are the sorts of things kids will learn about their world from, if this character of education is stricken from schools.

The main benefit of having schools isn't so that people can learn facts and figures. The thing which schools can do which will actually benefit people is act as a controlled social microcosm. The reason we shouldn't have all-gay schools or all-black schools or otherwise segregations which do not naturally exist, is that these interactions will happen anyway. By having them occur in a more tightly controlled environment than the local shopping mall, we can actually shape people's conception of other groups in a positive manner. We can actually use works like Balzac to show, as the book does, that entering other cultures and understanding other people is actually good. Like letting an arachnophobic go to a zoo and expose themselves to spiders through an inch of glass, rather than a more intimate interaction in a damp garage, taking people who are of a given culture and letting them interact with others who are not like them is actually beneficial. The same with literature.

Parents cannot stop kids from learning about all of the intricacies of sex. The only question is whether or not they want their kids to learn about it from sources which are tame, and in a positive way which they, as members of the community, can control. Schools should not be shelters from which children are protected from the real world, at their best they can be a filter through which young adults become well adjusted members of socitey. And that's infinitely more important than the ability to add and subtract.

cranked out at 2:29 PM | |

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