Selfish gratification: teaching kids about masturbation is a woke thing
Our government is determined to be seen as modern, but really should focus on teaching our kids how to read
Somebody’s lying. Either the specialist consultants who helped craft the new life orientation (LO) curriculum. Or the spokesperson for the department of basic education who vigorously denies the media reports. Lying about what? That Grade 4 children will now learn about masturbation. Now before your parental blood pressure spikes out of control, let’s take a step back.
In most democracies there are three curriculum topics that get parents hot under the collar. Religion, evolution and sex. Religion, because conservative parents become very un-Christian when religious observances come under threat in public schools. Evolution, because for many Christians God created man, end of story. Sex in the curriculum causes the most friction of all. So when the Sunday Times headlined a report “Grade 4s to learn about masturbation in the new life orientation curriculum”, all hell broke loose.
If the media reports are accurate, I side with the parents but for perhaps different reasons. I do think that schoolchildren should learn about life and that includes sex. However, to introduce the subject of “touching oneself for pleasure” to children coming out of the foundation phase is pure dumb. But I suppose that’s what you get when the legendary “Dr Eve” is part of the expert input into the new Life Orientation plan; what else does she talk about?
Look, LO in most schools is a joke, a period wasted, and the children know that. As I often define this non-examinable subject in my public speeches, “LO is the klap your mother should have given you on the way to school”. Of course I do not believe in parental violence against children; my point is, there are things parents should do and things the school should do. Inserting topics of sexual intimacy into the LO curriculum is something that parents should teach their children.
If you wanted to sell newspapers, however, Grade 4s and masturbation as a bold headline will see sales skyrocket. But is this really a national priority? For the same Grade 4 class of SA, we found last year that almost eight out of 10 children cannot read for understanding. Teach the kids how to read, for heaven’s sake, rather than about touching themselves. Have we gone crazy?
Yes, there are important topics to teach high school children in our intolerant society such as gender nonconformity, alternative families and sexual consent. In the hands of a well-trained teacher with the necessary social sensitivities, the treatment of such topics could help build respect among youth towards those who are different from what we mistakenly call “normal” students. The truth is, most teachers do not have the skills or attitudes required for such sensitive teaching.
Teachers are themselves products of our conservative, intolerant society, and you do not “correct” deeply held beliefs through workshops on the new curriculum. So I am not sure that the “visionary” ideals of the curriculum makers with respect to sexuality will find much traction in school and society. Then there is the reality that when teachers encounter complex or controversial topics in the curriculum, they give it a miss rather than teach giggly teens about something the educators themselves feel uncomfortable about. Which raises the question: why is the education department even contemplating the subject?
Our government is determined to be seen as positioning our schools for the 21st century. In my academic writings I call this political symbolism. What this means is that the new policy has nothing to do with changing schools or improving lives; it is all about appearing modern or, in contemporary language, “woke” even if you’re not.
That’s why the authorities are trumpeting the fourth industrial revolution in every education speech when only the privileged schools have well-resourced, functioning laboratories. Long before the ill-treatment of sports star Caster Semenya SA has always been the one African country that embraced in public posture the notion of multiple genders or gay identity. That’s the posture; in practice we are as backward as every other country on our continent.
Good schools do the right thing rather than preach about it or wait for a government directive on it. Like the brilliant Wendy Horn does by incorporating artificial intelligence in the curriculum of Protea Heights Academy in Brackenfell. Or like the courageous Ann Morton does by creating toilets for transgender pupils at the so-called Red School in Pinelands. These two outstanding principals are leaders who understand the difference between political posturing and doing the work of transformation in the daily grind of public school education.