I once heard a story about a rugby coach from my high school showing the rugby team some porn on the bus trip back to school. I guess they played well and he wanted to reward them? Today it would be a sackable offence, but back then I guess it wasn’t such a big deal.
This week, Dame Jenni Murray (a journalist and broadcaster from the UK) has publicly advocated for showing pornography to students in schools. But unlike that rugby coach, she isn’t just trying to reward the boys; she has an educational argument.
Her rationale is simple. She says that we need to help young people analyse pornography so as to minimise its educational power. She argues that sex education that simply focuses on biology and plumbing is failing our students. Just as we analyse Jane Austen, so too we should analyse pornography, considering its power and ubiquity.
Now, to lay my cards on the table, I think the idea of showing students pornography is unwise in the highest order. Perhaps Dame Jenni Murray is giving an extreme suggestion to make a point. Either way, to show porn to minors is illegal in Australia, and we teachers (most days) would like to keep our jobs and our freedom.
However, I don’t think we should throw away everything she says.
Firstly, she’s right when she argues that sex education that is simply about plumbing is failing our students. She’s right when says that pornography is a powerful teacher that needs to be countered. And she’s right that we need to help students analyse the pornography we watch.
So if we’re not going to sit down in class and analyse porn, what can we do?
Here are a few suggestions.
We can talk about porn. Finding appropriate ways within the life of a pastoral or well-being program to sit and talk about porn would help many young people. Sure, it’s not as simple as sitting down and talking about it, but open conversation brings something hidden into the light. We can also talk about it in PDH/PE classes and religious education classes.
We can equip students to analyse the porn they watch. We don’t need to watch and analyse porn in the classroom with them, but schools can, in a range of subject areas, teach their students to critically analyse the media they watch. They can pull apart other types of media, and be challenged to apply the same critical mind to pornography, and see if they agree with the message. We can teach skills in critical analysis regarding the images that portray gender and relationships so that they are equipped to be critical of the message of pornography.
We can teach students about the harms of pornography, especially when consumed habitually. Helping students understand the harms will help them to consider their own behaviour.
So before we consider breaking the law and watching porn with minors, there is a multitude of things we can do in our schools to help young people make healthy choices for their own well-being.