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  • Reverend James Squire

Sex Education And The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison’s book, The Bluest Eye, published in 1970 was removed from a local school district’s library recently, but continues to be discussed in many school districts. The English teacher who was teaching it cried when this occurred as she was forbidden to teach it. Toni Morrison is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her book, Beloved, written in 1987. Her distinct style of writing uses stream of consciousness, multiple perspectives, and deliberate fragmentation. She taught at Princeton from 1998 to 2006.

I am sure many others like me read for the content of the narrative but also for the author’s ability to capture our hearts and minds as we fully enter into the power of the story. I appreciate the detail in describing the character and the rooms into which the people in the story move and have there being. I also enjoy a good story that I will remember past the reading of the last page. I want to experience some degree of change as well as emotion. I want a page turner.

All of these things are irrelevant to those who censor books. In the case of The Bluest Eye, it was deemed unlawful by DeSantis and other anti-woke censors. It has been banned because it depicts a rape. Those who ban books overlook the quality of the writing that results, in Morrison’s case, in the way she handles language. Teachers have been accused of grooming students by the use of books such as Morrison’s. They fail to learn that according to the Department of Human Services 80% of the rape of children is done by a parent and not a teacher. What we should be worried about is the rising anti-intellectual movement that is growing in America. When we taught the book at EA, I can’t remember any student titillated by the content. It was another book to analyze.

Once again, we have parents and politicians who don’t fully understand kids making these decisions to ban books. The censors assume that kids have never heard about rape or anything else under the category of sex. Their faulty decision making is based on the misunderstanding that if an adolescent reads or hears a word such as rape that they will become preoccupied with it or act on it. If they read about a gay person, they will become gay. Mention the word transgender in a classroom and my child may want to be like that.

I have always operated from the premise that “no student I know wakes up in the morning and says I think I will become someone that will make my life difficult today.” They want to blend in more than they want to stand out with certain exceptions.

Let me introduce you to an unorthodox approach to dealing with sexual issues in literature. I thought about this approach during an event that I sponsored at EA with some other faculty.

Today EA and other schools and universities including Princeton have included a winter two weeks term for the teaching of non-traditional classes that aren’t covered in the curriculum.

We were ahead of the times at EA when we sponsored one day referred to as April Day to explore topics that we thought would interest the students and be taught or arranged by members of the faculty. One of the courses was on sex education. It was the highest subscribed course offering. That should surprise no one. There was just one problem. I mandated that every course should have a faculty member in it so that we could make sure that the students were being appropriate particularly with out of school parents or resource people teaching it. I couldn’t get anyone who was willing to be in the room with some 60 students to learn about sex. I am sure that wouldn’t be true today. So, I had to be the teacher in the room with them.

The sex education person proceeded to name every slang word for the male and female sexual organs and the many ways that sex could be experienced. She wrote them all of the board for all of us to see. One of the coeds voiced her disapproval by saying, “You can’t say those things in front of the Rev.” The sex educator simply responded, “I am sure that he has heard all of these.” I wish I had Ron DeSantis with me as well as the book banners for they would have learned something important about kids and processing controversial information.

One of the premises of group therapy which I experienced and learned about at Duke Medical Center is once you name a behavior or something else in the group that you don’t like, naming it takes its power away. As soon as you point out that a member of the group is too dominating, they stop dominating the group discussions. In my case, from the outset I was competing against the therapist who was running the group. When he pointed this out, I stopped!

When the sex educator stated and wrote all of those slang terms for sex and body parts, she identified the “elephant in the room” as sometimes kids are so enchanted by sex as seen in the subscription that they almost feel that they invented it. Once the sex educator did what she did, the students relaxed and she was free to talk about the importance of responsibility in the sexual experience as a primordial emotion and should be treated in a sacred non casual way. She talked as well about what real intimacy means. She couldn’t do that until she got the “elephant” of teenage slang that would produce giggles out of the room.

Given books for appropriate age groups, banning books with sexual content leaves the student without awareness of what is already happening in their world. I would rather have a teacher assisting them in processing disturbing information. They need to know that sex is about communication and intimacy but in The Bluest Eye it can take the form of power, violence, and oppression.

My problem with DeSantis and the book banners is that they encourage the elephant in the room to stay there so that paradoxically our children are less safe as they move through life and are also missing an opportunity to read some great literature. Knowledge has always found its way into the darkest corners to shine a light on life.

Like group dynamics when you name it, you raise awareness to change behavior that is more helpful to others. Princeton will never be the base for left wing politics in spite of what the anti-woke folks promote. We should be frightened to death that books are being banned instead because it is the first step into the dark ages of ignorance.

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