DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of Teenage Sexuality: Opposing Viewpoints; Esquith: Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire.


Author (or Editor):  Ken R. Wells, editor

Many contributors:  See table of contents at

Title:  Teenage Sexuality: Opposing Viewpoints

Fiction? No

Publisher:  Greenhaven Press/Thomson Gale, Farmingham Hills, MI

Date:  2006

ISBN:  0-7377-3326-4  0-737703363-4

Series Name: Opposing Viewpoints Series

Physical description: hardbound and softcover, 224 p

Relevance to doaskdotell: sexuality issues


“Those who do not know their opponents’ arguments do not completely understand their own.”

The Opposing Viewpoint Series, as conceived and explained in an introduction by David L. Bender and Bruno Leone, attempts to put opposing points of view about controversial issues down so that the student can readily compare them. In this book, and probably in other books, the Editor prefaces each essay in the anthology with homework study questions, sometimes referring to graphs or reference matter, as if he expected the book to be used in an advanced placement high school or undergraduate college setting.

I’ve actually tried to develop a database around this idea, and you can see a rudimentary example at  I have played around with trying to get this into MySql and readable with java jsp’s, php, and also with manipulating it with Visual Studio ,NET and Access or Microsoft SQL Server.

With this kind of effort, there is always a tension between intellectual objectivity and emotion. One can tell the brutal truth about something and still stir up a lot of anger and emotion and make oneself an enemy at the gate. It is easy to present ideas so that they trigger certain emotional responses that bypass reason, and it is easy to manipulate words so that they do. This book appears to be intended for use in an undergraduate college sociology course, and I can imagine philosophy or English (or even law) professors assigning term papers on how arguments can be manipulated.

This book is in four sections: (1) What factors influence teen attitudes toward sex? (2) Should society be concerned about teen sex? (3) How should society respond to teen sex? (4) What should teens be taught about sex?

I have a published contribution in section (4). It is called “Homosexuality Should Be Discussed in High Schools”.  The opposing side “Homosexuality Should Not Be Discussed in High Schools” is by Linda P. Harvey.

You can see my contribution, for which I granted non-exclusive rights, at this link. It has a different title on my original. The editor has emphasized this sentence from my piece with enlarge italics:

"The ostracism faced by many teenage homosexuals forces them to spend even more energy on their own comfort and drives them even further away from family or from citizenship commitments."

The editor believes that my essay emphasizes the idea that presenting homosexual issues will offend the religious sensibilities of many parents. It indeed will, but more to the point is the observation that many more "conventionally socialized" parents feel offended if children do now show them biological and filial loyalty; especially among men, homosexuality seems like the psychological equivalent of sports free agency, where the male wants upward affiliation into a "better" team than his own family. "Homophobia" becomes the equivalent of psychological socialism.  To my contribution the editor adds a political cartoon by Kirk Anderson and a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) study about how many high school students say they are gay, how many have gay siblings or family members, and how many know gay people.

 The rebuttal by Ms. Harvey gives a list of "programs" that would appear, as she reports them, to be aimed at emotional indoctrination with "gay values" because of some left-wing agenda or some perverted intention. One "experiment"  involves a Woodbury, MN high school where apparently gay students have "safe zone" areas. She makes a couple of remarks that I want to respond to. In one case she seems to support the idea that homosexuals can “change” and, at least, if homosexuality is to be presented, then ex-gay ideas should be presented too. I discussed that idea at this link (not in the book). She also suggests that openly gay teachers present poor role models to students and (particularly males) create an increased risk of making sexual advances to (underage) students. 

In fact, a quote (based on the Woodbury high school example) is

"There are as yet no openly 'gay' teachers at the high school who might pose a risk to students as poor role models, or worse--the threat of sexual molestation. People who profess a homosexual preference are much more likely to molest children and adolescents, especially males." 

The mention of males has some sting, because in old-fashioned views men bear the responsibility for initiative and for protecting women and children in their families (parented or not).


"The thousands of ex-homosexuals testify to the fact that homosexual feelings can be changed, and it is a betrayal of our children not to let them know about this hope."

Note the mention of "preference" and "feelings" as if they indicate a propensity for harmful action later (the military ban kind of thinking) and appeal to emotion. 

I need to answer this. First, as to the role model issue. Yes, sometimes, an "apparently" gay teacher, especially an older introverted male, may have difficulty disciplining lower income or less motivated or immature students (especially males) who may come from backgrounds that stress filial performance. This can be so even though the teacher never "tells" if he cannot share comforting details with students about having parented a conventional family of his own. At least, that was my experience, on a few substitute assignments. Certain kinds of students would not respect me, because I had somehow not paid my dues, as they see things. Again, I come back to this writer's mention of feelings and emotion. It seems as though she sees homosexuality (in men, at least) as a conflict between the capacity to connect with others in a way that society needs, and one's own personal desire to experience and implement one's own sensibilities, which can invoke certain paradoxes. She doesn't want to quite say it in therapeutic terms, but that might be important as an educational issue. I think an older term for what seems to be her philosophy was aesthetic realism. She would see (heterosexual) marriage as a collective resource for socialization, an institution when many young people are brought up believing it is "optional". 

The "molestation" issue is much more objectionable. I may have added fuel to this fire by a short screenplay script that I authored (in screenplay format) and place on this website for viewing for most of 2005. In the proposed short film, an older gay male substitute teacher has a heart attack at school, a student saves his life with CPR; but in the ensuing “Patricia Highsmith”-like plot, he gets (falsely) accused of improper involvement with the student and sent to prison, where he dies. There is more in the story than I will say here, but it created a stir that led to my resignation at the end of last year. (It is possible at this point that I might go back, but no more comment about that right now.) The teacher does not have sex in the story (which is fiction, and is dramatic, with little physicality). But the point here is about “desire” and “inclination.” Unfortunately, the “gays in the military” debate in 1993 has made the idea of “propensity” to engage in some illegal act itself legally significant.

To be honest, teenagers (both men and women) sometimes do look like young adults, and will often seem to be “attractive” when compared to some much older (and socially age-appropriate) people. But what is the point of such a statement? An older person in a stable marriage is not as likely to “notice” this, perhaps, or become tempted. But not always. Plenty of convicted and registered sex offenders have been married men with kids of their own. Some have been women. There is no reliable rule, there may be somewhat unreliable statistics and speculations, especially from the “Religious Right.” Remember, before the eyes of God, all sin is the same, and all temptations are the same. Jesus was tempted and overcame temptation. By the same token, a man does not necessarily act on his temptation. Libertarian moral theory teaches “harmlessness” to others as an objective fact, not a matter of speculation. Unfortunately, the legal climate sometimes forces military commanders and school administrators to pay attention to speculations about “propensities” and “rebuttable presumptions.”

With all that, however, there is still the original question: should high school students be taught about homosexuality in an "intellectually honest" or candid fashion, as just part of the sociological universe?  The opposition would maintain that even by giving homosexuality a place at the table (intellectually or culturally) one offends the very essence of biological or familial loyalty. 

The book presents a number of other duopolies. For example, there is a debate over enforcing statutory rape laws. (As a point of law, there does not always have to be intercourse for an offense to occur, and there is even debate in the book as to whether oral sex is really “sex” in the eyes of teens.) The discussions cover laws like the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Act in California, and the Sexual Predator Act of 1996 in Delaware.  There is an interesting essay about the way teenagers get information from the Internet ("The Internet Influences Teen Sexual Attirudes," by Kaveri Subrabmanyan, Patricia M. Greenfield, and Brendesha Tynes)  , and that piece points out that teens are often inadvertently exposed to pornography. Over 70% of teens use the Internet at home or school or both, and most go into chat rooms (and many now have profiles on social networking sites like, and that is creating controversy). The visitor will want to know that I am a litigant challenging the Child Online Protection Act; go to this lin

There is even a faceoff "Teen Sex with Adults Is (Not) Harmful," with Michael J. Basso affirming the view in America's rather draconian and uncompromising laws regarding sex with minors, and Judith Levine advocating a more European style and flexible policy. It should be noted that American public sentiment against and ostracism against those having sex with minors (whether in gay or straight settings -- the overwhelming majority of actual cases are heterosexual, religious right claims notwithstanding) or even displaying a propensity for such interest is quite extreme now, not only reflected in vigorous prosecutions in our legal systems based on the use of decoys in chat rooms, but by media pressure as with NBC's "To Catch a Predator" series.

The Amazon link for this book is this link.  Needless to say, developing this kind of tool to understand social and political theory is hard to do without $$$ (whether in books, movies, or databases), so the visitor can help by buying more books like this through e-commerce channels.  

A somewhat related book is Reichman, Henry. Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools. American Library Association, 2001, which the author discussed at the COPA trial in Philadelphia in Oct 2006. See this link. I have not yet had time to obtain and read.

Blogger entry here.

Rafe Esquith. Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire. The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56. New York: Viking / Penguin, 2007. ISBN 978-0-670-03815-2, 244 pages, hardbound, 17 Chapter, 3 Parts.  The author is a fifth grade teacher in an inner city Los Angeles school, and the book certainly reflects the view that teaching is a life, not just a job. The title comes from an incident in a chemistry experiment where he helped a student and his hair caught on fire, literally. He certainly is concerned about the idea that a teacher is a consistent role model, has a consistent practice of discipline, and can teach students to develop their own independent sense of "doing the right thing."  His classroom is called Hobart Shajespearians, named after his Hobart Elementary School.  Blogger discussion.

 Related: NBC "To Catch a Predator" Dateline series


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