Transmitting knowledge

Maureen Mullarkey on the soma of art and sex education, relating an event that is to my perhaps naive perspective a culturally diminishing event: “…when a grown woman plays… by herself in the Musée d’Orsay, under lights, and in full view of other grownups, we know we are not in a playroom anymore.”

I’m not interested in getting into the specifics of that event, but Mullarkey offers a critical perspective on our present sex ed approach:

Children will hear nothing of courtship or tenderness. Instead, there will be much about prophylactic measures to avoid pregnancy and HIV. Brian Evoy, president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education, tells The National Post that “our organization is very much in favour of the curriculum and all of the changes that will be made.” By the time Ontario’s little scholars reach puberty all reticence will have been vanquished. Steeped in government run sex-ed, they will understand sex as a value-free, mechanical activity, a recreational choice like any other. They will know all about the social construction of “gender” but nothing of morals, self-control, or commitment. Any lingering sexual shyness will have been coaxed out of them. Sexual shame will be the only sin left. Children will enter adulthood as the free, consenting, rutting species that Huxley anticipated.

We’ve reached the point where any conversation of this sort is so calcified between the poles of abstinence on one side, which supposedly many remain intent on advancing, and a necessarily value-free, scientific/mechanistic perspective on the other.

Another problem is that it’s more or less impossible to discuss this subject as an advocate for anything other than value-free immersion without being cast as a would-be paragon of chastity or sexual integrity. Which is to say in most cases, anyone who advances a particular set of values is suggested probably rightly so to be something of a hypocrite.

And that’s the problem with values, and with advocacy of ideals. It’s human nature to fall short of our values. It’s also human nature, since hatred remains one of our indelible aspects, to respond with sanctimony rather than tenderness toward those we disagree with especially when we know they advocate for something which they themselves do not consistently achieve.

Yet I’ll risk these things to affirm Mullarkey’s point:

When we promote sex education, are we promoting a comprehensive approach?

Are we conveying the values of genuine personal commitment in addition to the medical, chemical, and scientific approaches toward resolving issues inherent to personal longing and fertility?

Are we advancing not only knowledge of reproductive prevention, but also knowledge of the productive roles of courtship, tenderness, ethics, responsibility, and charity within the context of loving relationships?

If not, we’re not really transmitting an education that’s inclusive of the scope of human knowledge about sexuality. We’re just advancing our team’s version of the normative, which we’ll justify through whatever means we’ve lately decided.

Which is as dogmatic and fundamentalist as anything that yesterday’s advocates of restraint alone should be rightly criticized for.