In the previous post I established that the teaching of human sexual reproduction can hardly be classed as science and should not really be considered part of the science curriculum because at its most basic (for these young children) it is condensed into a series of half-truths masquerading as fact. Teaching should not be about the delivery of “facts” and the forced digestion of said facts by small people.
The counter argument to this is one that has never seriously been tackled by the Catholic community, it says something like this: well they have to know the facts of life.
The “facts of life” is a cliché that we rarely question. We rarely look at its meaning. I have already argued that it is important that sexual reproduction is studied at school but that this can be effectively confined to the animal and plant kingdoms and there is no need to venture into human sexual reproduction in biology lessons. It is also vital that puberty is handled sensitively and effectively. My poor grandmother was never told as a child what would happen to her and the shock of that first bleed was terrifying for her and left her nearly suicidal. Break the cliché down, however and it appears that the life forces we are talking about can be broken down into bullet points, “facts” like past FA Cup winners. Facts to talk about dispassionately, facts complemented with obscure anatomical names and badly drawn diagrams. Facts that deliberately diminish the sensitivity that should be shown to this subject.
I know teachers who get the pupils to shout out “penis”, “vagina” "fallopian tubes" etc at each other. Obviously, there is a lot of reticence on their part to do this and a lot of giggling when they do. Is this right? Personally I’ve never equated teaching to “working a crowd” and it is something I could not do. I am uneasy about that position of power that a teacher can suddenly find themselves in, I’m uneasy about milking a moment at the expense of the very real feelings and trauma that some of the young pupils may be experiencing. The issue is, that if we make it into “science” by learning the medical vocabulary of sex, we have started to dehumanise the process. We are also telling the young people that this is what sensible adults do. We are telling them that sensible adults have decoupled sex from emotion, sex is no big thing, just a bit if fun that grown-ups get a lot of pleasure from, but hey its scientific and biological so that makes it OK. Obviously the logical next step from bigging-up the science in sex is to then say how science can control/tame/manipulate sex for “our benefit”. We are now on seriously dangerous ground and we only got there by teaching some “innocuous” biology that everyone says is necessary: the “facts of life”.
So that is the compulsory education our children have to have in schools. Read the governments “Every Child Matters” documents and you will see that out of necessity, it is very much a lowest common denominator approach to children. The government has decided that as a lowest common denominator, that everyone can agree on, children can be viewed as emerging consumers; learning how to assess risks and make choices. The whole of the educational system is about children learning how to assess risk, make balanced assessments and make choices. It is as if this is all the freedom we have. The whole problem with it is that it relies on only one way of thinking that runs something like this: there is an argument for something, there is the counter-argument, weight the two arguments up and come to your own conclusion. It is a great structure for an essay but a crap way to live your life. We as Catholics live in a world of non-negotiables and immutable truths, we do not fit into this scheme and the sooner we realise how we are being squeezed out of society the better.
To be continued…