Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The fight over abstinence at Harvard

How to stir up feminist outrage

At Harvard, it's sounding a lot like the '70s again. Thanks to the provocations of True Love Revolution, the university's three-year-old pro-abstinence club, brainy women are defending their right to have sex with whomever they want, whenever and however they want. "To say that a consensual sexual act is degrading to you is the complete opposite of feminism," insisted Silpa Kovvali when I spoke with her last week. "For women to take control of the sex act can be an incredibly empowering experience." Kovvali, a computer-science major, was echoing an editorial she recently published in The Harvard Crimson. (Click here to follow Lisa Miller)

TLR, as it's called, has irked and unnerved campus progressives since its founding in 2006. On Valentine's Day 2007, TLR representatives put a chocolate in every freshwoman's mailbox with a heart-shaped card that read: "Why wait? Because you're worth it." Feminists on campus went wild, accusing TLR of promoting a retrograde view of sex and relationships. Recently the group has drawn fresh ire because it added to its mission statement, which had formerly supported sexual abstinence as a lifestyle choice, a platform that seemed calculated to ignite a culture war on campus. The new statement asserted that sex outside of marriage is "harmful to both parties"; it embraced "traditional marriage" (that is, not gay marriage); and it argued that choosing abstinence is "true feminism" in that "it recognizes the natural characteristics, strengths, and abilities of women and seeks to affirm them in this identity." The back and forth in the Crimson and on various university message boards continues to be acrimonious. TLR's claim to "true" feminism draws special fire because it raises questions about the goals of the sexual revolution: Does female liberation mean being able to say yes? Or does it mean saying no?

I went to college in the early 1980s, when feminist arguments like Kovvali's were as ordinary as air: I think True Love Revolution is on to something. Not its platform, seemingly cribbed from the Christian conservative playbook, but its articulation of students' dissatisfaction with sex and sex talk on campus. Although the actual amount of sex college students are having may not be as high as parents fear —nearly 80 percent of college students report having had one or no sexual partners in the past year— students say the hookup culture is dominant and oppressive. A new student Web site called Harvard FML (F--k My Life) reads like a Judd Apatow script, all horniness, nudity, vomit, and missed connections. (A G-rated example: "I am a conservative Christian. I am going mad with sexual desire. FML.") Who wouldn't welcome a vacation from that?

Donna Freitas, a visiting scholar in religion at Boston University, studied attitudes about sex on seven college campuses and published her findings in her 2008 book, Sex and the Soul. She believes college students are not given an opportunity to tell the truth about what they want out of sex and relationships —desires that can include courtship, romance, and, yes, chocolates— without drawing the derision of their peers and even their professors. Their health service gives them condoms and lectures about sexually transmitted infections; their friends boast and complain endlessly about hookups real and imagined. "The average college student is miserable about sex. The idea of getting to step away from it is really appealing." Groups like TLR (and at Princeton and MIT, the Anscombe Society), are missing an opportunity if they don't invite a more nuanced conversation about sex.

True Love Revolution might do better, then, to leave aside the divisive and wrongheaded "one man, one woman" language and help guide students through this modern sexual wilderness. And though it is not a religious group, it has religious underpinnings, and it might look to religion for some of the most thoughtful (and, perhaps, useful) analyses of how liberated women and men can reasonably opt out of sex —or, at least, the kind of sex they don't want to have. Christine Firer Hinze, a theologian at Fordham University, believes that choosing abstinence can carry a strong countercultural message and a vision of personal fulfillment beyond immediate gratification. "A religious viewpoint can point you in a direction that says wholeness, integrity, enjoying life, even being a sensual person, can lead to a kind of fulfillment. Kids don't hear this anymore." Teaching kids that saying no can feel as good as saying yes—that's a revolution.


Another failure of British education

Adolf Hitler was Germany's football team manager, according to youngsters aged nine to 15

A study of 2,000 children which tested them on their knowledge of facts of both world wars found that 40 per cent of them did not know that Remembrance Day falls on November 11. Twelve per cent said the symbol of the day is the golden arches of McDonald's, rather than the poppy.

Some of the more disturbing results were that one in six children believed Auschwitz was a World War Two theme park. Only half knew D-Day was the invasion of Normandy - a quarter believing it was 'Dooms Day' and one quarter thought a nuclear bomb was dropped on Pearl Harbour which spurred America's involvement.

The study was conducted by war veterans' charity Erskine in the run-up to Remembrance Day. Major Jim Panton, chief executive of Erskine, said: 'Some of the answers to this poll have shocked us and it has shown that Erskine, amongst others, has a part to play, not just in caring for veterans but in educating society as a whole.

The survey questioned the children on their knowledge of key World War triggers, events, people and dates. A quarter admitted they don't stop to think about the soldiers who sacrificed their lives but just over half do know where their local war memorial is located. Twelve per cent of the 2000 students surveyed assumed the McDonald's golden arches - not the red poppy - symbolised Remembrance Day

Encouragingly though, it emerged that 70 per cent wish they are taught more about the World Wars at school. One in 20 thought the Holocaust was the celebration at the end of the war and one in ten said the SS was Enid Blyton's Secret Seven, not Hitler's personal bodyguards. And one in 12 said The Blitz was a massive clean-up operation in Europe after World War Two.

Each year, Erskine cares for over 1,350 veterans, many having served in World War Two and who are more than willing to share their firsthand experiences and memorable war stories with younger generations. Following the survey Erskine will work in partnership with Their Past Your Future, a UK-wide educations project, to develop the charity's schools pack on the back of the survey results. This will enable Erskine and Their Past Your Future to start educating young people online about the sacrifices made during World War Two.

Andrew Salmond, TPYF Scotland Project Manager for Museums Galleries Scotland said: 'This initiative offers a fantastic opportunity to inform young people about the experiences of war - both at home and abroad. 'Some, we know, will convey wartime loss and suffering, others will speak of daring and inspiration. 'However, all will be of great educational value, offering an insight to what previous generations have endured in times of conflict.'


Cambridge University study finds children too young for school

What rubbish! It all depends on the IQ of the kid. Smart kids can not only handle the work better at an early age but tend to be more socially adept too -- typically playing with kids older than themselves. There should be minimal rules about age to start school. It should depend on an individual assessment of the kid. Comment below from Australia, where the present NSW laws seem about right

CHILDREN in New South Wales can start school as young as four but an international study says enrolment should be delayed until they are at least six years old. A Cambridge University study recommends children aged under six engage in a year of play-based learning before they start school. It found younger students are not emotionally, socially or developmentally prepared to tackle the rigours of a curriculum. The findings are at odds with other research which suggests four and five are the ideal ages to start school.

Children in NSW can enrol in the first year of school, called kindergarten or Year K, at four years and six months. They must be enrolled by the age of six. Kindergarten students are taught English and maths for at least 12 hours a week. Their lessons include reading, writing, spelling and counting as well as simple addition and subtraction. From next year, all public school kindergarten students will be tested in basic literacy and numeracy for the first time.

Most European children don't start school until they turn six and in Sweden, Poland and Finland, they begin at age seven.

Cambridge Primary Review co-author and chairwoman Gillian Pugh said forcing subject-based learning onto four-year-olds could dent their confidence. "They are not going to learn to read, write and add up if you have alienated children by the age of four and five,'' she said. "If they are already failing by age four-and-a-half or five, then it's going to be quite difficult to get them back into the system again.'' The authors call for a "full and open debate'' on the issue.

Child psychologist Dr John Irvine warned that accelerating children's learning could backfire. "Play is the way a child learns what no adult can teach them,'' he said. "But we're trying to cut short children's childhood to fast-forward them into this manic anxious state where they get learned early. "In time, the brain will turn off something it's not enjoying so they'll be at school in body, but missing in spirit.''

Primary curriculum officer at Sydney's Catholic Education Office Franceyn O'Connor said children should be assessed individually. "The idea that six, or any age, is the magic number when all children are ready to embark into the structured world of formal education does not make sense,'' she said.

National president of advocacy group Early Childhood Australia, Margaret Young, said children would be disadvantaged if the starting age changed. She said delaying the start of kindergarten worked in Europe because they had strong transitional early childhood education programs, something lacking here. "That's why we're reluctant to say `let's move on to this model'. It's really dangerous to impose one without the other,'' she said.

Western Sydney mother Monique Fenech held back her eldest son, Nicholas, who turns six next March, from school this year because she felt he wasn't ready. "The extra year has given him so many more skills. It means that when he starts school, he's going to enjoy it a lot more,'' she said.

An Education Department spokesman said the NSW Government had no plans to change its enrolment policy or lift the school-starting age.


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