Your right Trieste. There's something in me that won't allow me to believe this man thought his subject matter choices were innocent examples of controversy, and assigned purely for the purposes of enriching these children's critical thinking skills.
The assignment was to produce various debate positions, which makes it doubly odd to me that you would use this as a standard of proper education... "Innocent examples of controversy" ? Where could we find such things? In the social sciences, real controversy means prior positions and conflicting interests. What are your
conditions for maintaining innocence or purity? This is a time when Obama speaks of repealing "don't ask don't tell" and asks Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. These are whole institutions that seek to bar gays from public life and federal funds. They are institutions that cultural conservatives claim are reasonable, often, based upon a notion that same-sex acts are somehow unnatural and therefore
undesirable or morally reprehensible. That is just one sort of demand for social "purity" and the "protection" of childhood from awareness of difference.
Both the conservatives and the gay rights movement have often tended to seek some kind of proof
that sexual orientations simply must
serve a function "in the wild" as it were. At this particular level of the debate, neither side precisely speaks about personal values or choice -- except the value of submitting to nature. How we all gather when Nature is speaking and not nature through People, is a potentially curious part (see Bible thread perhaps? heh
). The LGBT as a movement want to find proof in their genes or brains or among peacocks; the conservatives want to find it in studies of longevity and stress levels among heterosexual, ideally praying couples etc. (Just to grab a couple examples there.) Now, in this context... Given that there are many same-sex acts, if you will, in the animal world. This actuality has been cited to challenge a normative discourse shared among lots of fundamentalist Judeo-Christianity and modern "traditional science" (Darwin, Kraft-Ebing etc.) that sex acts are "naturally" all
about biological reproduction.
If you think that is apples and oranges - that humans are (bear with skepticism) not sexually at all "animal," then you already have suggested something for students to debate with. Or would you say they are simply too naive to argue with such an article, whatever its failings, and therefore
they must be protected from it? I would say that what exactly the contradiction between the conservative and gay rights claims about "sex in nature" could mean socially, or why
certain parts of those facts might be important in the present, are certainly open to debate. Since it is all about producing debate points, I think you also could allow that students might not simply recite points in the article. They may bring in some other concepts from their own experience or elsewhere in trying to add or subtract from specific, tiny points implied by the article. They might, for example, shrug off the gay scientist for failing to cover something important to them. (What about say, changing orientations, or personal choice?)
I think the lines blurred in this conversation between homosexuality in the animal kingdom, and homosexuality in the human world, and I wish they hadn't.
Here, I think you're onto something that the term "homosexuality" is tossed around unscientifically by everyone
. In an informed society, this would not be surprising. But we learn about rhetoric by batting around such topics. And science itself often must skirt present unknowables -- thus, the importance of debating which facts are technically unobtainable, and which topics are being socially hidden (again: too bad about purity).
The clinical term "homosexual" has a specific, narrow history in Euro-American science: Along with "pervert," homosexual was intended to mark people who did not maintain prescribed industrial families for the state as not only "different" but certifiably bad
. That is the "deviant" of Kraft-Ebing and Darwin's age, and the history of American sexology is centrally concerned with facing up to that. This lesson would be more sophisticated if a few pages of Foucault, Kraft-Ebing, Darwin, Spencer, Freud, etc. were introduced. But our "innocent" young are thought only capable or worthy of such ideas in college... And assuming they catch a bit of the news, this article deals with current issues that may catch their attention for a time such that they focus on the assignment. (Ditto for war and abortion.) That is contrary to the newspaper indictment of a teacher merely "allowing" them to read it as if otherwise, nothing of the kind would ever have brushed with their fragile young minds. Everyone knows kids are not interested in sex or orientation, right. [/rhetorical, sarcastic]
There is plenty of controversy around various spins on "homosexuality" (or just orientation
) for high school English students to find some interesting ways of debating. The article itself suggests that one might choose to back a revision of evolutionary theory, rather than the more radical reading of other animals as "homosexual." And students should really be encouraged at all points to ask themselves, what choices have not been mentioned in each of these positions. The overall focus on nature rather than society (or even, personal choice) leaves all sorts of gaps for a student to pick at or buttress various parts. It takes reading the whole article and seriously thinking about it. This is perhaps ambitious for the average high school class... But, I think college-bound seniors should
be able to begin asking questions and to imagine what kind
of arguments here work or fail for them.