February 20, 2006
“We don’t teach values.” Sex educators fond of promoting condoms and birth control to teenagers are also fond of making this claim. “We are values-neutral!”
It’s never been really clear to me just why they take such pride in these claims. It seems to be a sideways admission that one has lived on the face of the earth for nearly forty years and has been unable to come to any conclusions about what really matters.
This prideful admission that no values are important enough to single out for passing on to our children was birthed in the 60s. Bored with tradition, and encouraged by our relationship with science and the brave new world of space flights and men on the moon, America launched into an artistic love affair with hopelessness.
I distinctly remember crashing into this dark fantasy in 1969 as a freshman at Arizona State University. A group of us freshmen on the sixth floor of Manzanita dorm packed into a car one Friday night and headed for the drive-in to see Midnight Cowboy.
From beginning to end, watching the movie, I couldn’t understand why this film had won the heart of America. While viewers found it elevating to see the naive male prostitute Joe Buck and his sickly friend Ratso struggle to survive on the streets of New York City, they had to overlook the fact that Joe Buck and Ratso were lying, thieving thugs.
Their story could have been more cheaply and honestly told by standing a camera in the middle of the worst, dark New York crime infested streets and filming the muggings, beatings and killings that hurt people and landed perpetrators in jail.
In one case, real-life criminals were given cells and prisoner numbers. Their attitudes and behaviors were considered hostile to civilized society, and they were expected to reform.
In the other case, celluloid criminals wore fancy duds paid for by wardrobe, showed up in Hollywood limos for a red-carpet walk down the aisle between the rich and famous, and walked away with an Oscar.
Our love affair with the crass and dark and hopeless and brutal and profane is also a love affair with failure. We are failing to stake a claim on what our responsibility is for raising the next generation of Americans…our children.
The latest episode of focusing on failure is taking place at Orono High School in Maine. Out of the hundreds of thousands of books available for educating freshman, the English department settled on “Girl, Interrupted.” The school is defending their choice as “real.” These memoirs of author Suzanna Kaysen’s hospitalization in a mental institution at age 18 contain graphic descriptions of sexual acts and suicide.
Is this the best picture of the “real” we can offer our children in a literature class?
Then, after freshman English, do we send our children to sex education for a lesson on how to put on a “real” condom because we tell them “real” children in the “real world” are going to have sex anyway.
And, finally, when parents come to school to demand answers and a change in the message of what “real” is and should be, do we tell them they are pushing their values on a school system where values should never exist?
Values? Is there anything we do or say or think in our entire life that doesn’t involve making a value choice? Values-neutral? Who are they kidding?
If love makes the world go round, when are we going to elect this value as worth consideration in our movies, our songs, our English classes…and, most importantly…our sex education classes?
If you live in Orono, Maine, or in any other city where you care about the values we are teaching our young people, there is a great book to recommend to your high school English teachers. The Art of Loving Well is a new and novel idea for many educators. It is a book that knows the values that matter and takes the time to make them matter to young people.
This 340-page anthology of ethnically diverse selections, includes short stories, poems, essays, drama folk tales and myths that elevate the values that matter most for the happiness and future of our young people.
Values-neutral? Impossible! The Art of Loving Well lays claim to its responsibility for passing on worthwhile values to our children, helping adolescents learn responsible sexual and social values through good literature which reveals the complexity of life and love relationships.
English teachers…teachers of all kinds…are always teaching values. “Reality” is a poor excuse for defending the kinds of books and movies we offer our children. We offer it because it is real?
Love is real. And if we want our children to be successful in love, then it’s about time we started teaching the values that matter most…the art of loving well.
October 10, 2005 – Wonder Love
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