Boys, Porn and Education: What Can Be Done?

Problems are oftentimes more obvious than solutions. In a recent article, I wrote on the obstacle that Internet pornography introduces to masculine education by injuring the sense of wonder and the sacred. I recalled how the effects of this “drug” were ones that my old boarding-school headmaster was reticent to allow into the culture of a Catholic academic community; and that, as a headmaster myself now, I am faced with the same concerns exponentially increased since, nowadays, virtually all boys have been harmed by pornography. But this is not to suggest that those who have been wounded are to be thrown to the wolves.

In response to several commentators’ queries on what can be done about the effects of pornography and its interference with an authentic education, I offer three measures that my teaching staff and I employ—strategies that work with boys who have been victimized by a society swallowed up in the swirl of sexual perversion. At the outset it should be acknowledged that some of these courses are extreme and difficult to practice—but extraordinary problems call for extraordinary solutions.

If the Internet Causes You to Sin…
One way to eliminate the lure and lull of Internet pornography is to eliminate the Internet. At our school, a policy of technological poverty is mandatory and unmitigated. Boys do not have access to computers or cell phones. Instead they read in books and write on paper. Though the general purpose of this rule is not simply to avoid the presence of Internet pornography, it does achieve that particular purpose. Disconnected from the web, boys do not encounter pornographic imagery as often as they may when they are online, and certainly the temptation to access it is eradicated.

Digital technology is designed to distract, and online pornography is chief among these distractions. Provide the young with retreat. Give students eternal standards and values by which they may judge material conditions and systems in an environment that does not have to compete with the cacophonies and temptations of the Internet. Let them learn the proper use of these devices after learning the proper use of their minds and hearts. It is better to foster natural faculties instead of losing them to bad and addictive habits—like pornography. Young people tend toward abuse. Therefore, give them the chance to fortify themselves in intellect, principle, and discipline by removing them from the sway of online evils.

 

Though the Internet offers a multitude of goods, it is not necessarily a tool that is appropriate for the young, especially given the popularity and prevalence of Internet pornography. The power of the virtual world is one that renders it especially dangerous to those who are not yet equipped to wield its power. The Internet is the chief source of information today, and the chief source of pornography. Sometimes the baby should go with the bathwater. A person must be properly formed before he can make proper use of the tools available to him. The art of education is about the mysteries of internal and external reality, making virtual reality best left out of the picture together with its aspects that retard education, like pornography.

Talk Porn
Silence on the subject of pornography is among pornography’s greatest strengths. Few feel at ease speaking about pornography, so it goes unspoken; which is how it goes unhindered. Comfort in conversation, however, is often within the control of elders when speaking to youngsters. So long as the adult is confident and comfortable, that confidence and comfort can extend to a young adult. In my experience, matter-of-fact dialogue about pornography with teenage boys is met with a kind of gratitude rather than grief. Pornography is a given in the lives of boys and, if treated as such without hesitation or fear, adults gain a rhetorical advantage in discussion by dispensing the need for awkwardness. Pornography is taboo, but not as a subject of frank debate with those who are targeted by it and have been tainted by it.

Just as parents and teachers generally do not hold back from talking straightforwardly to youth in their care regarding homosexual acts, abortion, and other wrongs rampant in our culture, so too should pornography join these topics; especially since young men are more likely to encounter and be drawn towards pornography than any other given moral corruption. To avoid it is a failure in responsibility and a denial of the condition that all boys are in: a state of damage caused by the widespread violation of human holiness. Pornography is high among the diseases of the day and it must be addressed, even at the risk of some embarrassment.

Pornography is, at its core, a lie; and a surefire way to combat falsehood is plain, honest truth. Conversation about pornography that is blunt and levelheaded can repel its affects more effectively than any parental filter. Given that everyone has been exposed to pornography, Catholics have a grave duty to expose pornography and take it on as the enemy it is by talking about it thoroughly and unapologetically, especially to the young.

Teach Wonder
The final measure to correct the contortions of pornography is, in a way, the most difficult because it involves restoring, to a degree, that which is unrecoverable. Pornography destroys innocence, the inherent tragedy being that innocence cannot be reinstated. Once it is lost, it is gone. Some of the qualities of innocence, however, can be regained. Wonder is one of those attributes, and one that is essential in the art of education. To an adolescent whose virginity has been broken by pornography, wonder can seem a foolish, foreign thing. Teachers must, by example and demonstration, teach wonder.

Adolescence is a restless age that burns like fire, where the truths of childhood are somehow lost. The adolescent feels suddenly estranged and filled with longings for that inexplicable something, that ultimate good that has not been reached. Beauty becomes inaccessible, the material of impossible dreams and desires. This is the vulnerability that pornography takes advantage of, casting souls into jaded despair or doubt.

Nevertheless, it is an age primed for wonder, though so often robbed of the possibility to experience wonder purely. The role of educators is to renew and reanimate the activity of wonder. Wonder is a way for students to cope with their inward contradictions and help them comprehend the mysteries they are drawn to contemplate through wisdom. Teachers must reintroduce the act of wondering, and assist in providing what T. S. Eliot called the objective correlative, giving form and meaning to things that are sullied through the experience of pornography. Teaching wonder involves a transparent reaction to the poetic, openly savoring the sublimity of creation and emotion. There arises in adolescents an appetite for principles as well as for pleasures. This double preoccupation is often an effort to discover who they are and how they fit into their surroundings. Wonder wrestles with realities, and as such, is the reverse and remedy of pornography’s unreal revels.

Editor’s note: The image above titled “Boy Writing” was painted by Albert Anker in 1908.

Sean Fitzpatrick

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a senior contributor to Crisis. He's graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, Penn. with his wife and family of four.

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