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Thoughts on Kevin Jennings & the GLSEN Reading List

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 3:56 am - December 5, 2009.
Filed under: Blogging,Gay America

A number of our readers have e-mailed Bruce and me, asking for our commentary on the latest revelation about Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools.  As Michelle Malkin put it in introducing her post on the story,

Doing the investigative work the dinosaur, Obama-enabling media won’t do, Scott Baker and a collaborative research team have waded through the sexually explicit reading list endorsed by safe schools czar Kevin Jennings and the group he founded — GLSEN.

For the record, I had been in a communication with a representative of that team and have been aware of the story well before it hit the blogs.  They have done their homework, identifying numerous sexually explicit passages in a reading list Jennings helped design for children in Grades 7-12.

As I read those passages, I recalled the numerous gay novels I had read after I completed my own novel.  What struck me about most gay fiction was not only its self-pitying nature, but the poor writing, the lack of introspection and the absence of character development.  They all seemed to define their sexuality by its sexual expression.  Only a handful (notably the eloquent Jim Grimsley) wrote convincingly about non-sexual longing and emotional intimacy.  Most included gratuitous and graphic descriptions of sexual activity.

And the books on Jennings’ list were no different:

Book after book after book contained stories and anecdotes that weren’t merely X-rated and pornographic, but which featured explicit descriptions of sex acts between pre-schoolers; stories that seemed to promote and recommend child-adult sexual relationships; stories of public masturbation, anal sex in restrooms, affairs between students and teachers, five-year-olds playing sex games, semen flying through the air.

But, would I go as far as the authors of the report to say the books has less to do with “promoting tolerance” than they did with indoctrinating “students into a hyper-sexualized worldview”?  It may be, but I don’t know.  I haven’t read the passages in context of the books in which they appear.

Now, there is nothing wrong with sexual activity nor is there anything wrong to writing about it.  (I do, however, contend that it rarely enhances a work of literature.  If you don’t believe me, just go read some of the classics of Western literature (prior to James Joyce) and see how they writing about human sexuality, its complexity and its expression without describing the sex act.  But, this is a matter for another conversation and another post.)

Indeed, one could include a sexually explicit passage in a novel about developing a mature attitude toward sexuality.  One could show how a young gay man moves from expressing his sexuality in pure sexual terms, but evolves to understand the emotions behind the sexual attraction, that, in being drawn to a particular man’s body, he slowly begins to appreciate him for what lies beneath the skin.

Now, presenting that emotional journey may well make for a good novel, but is it appropriate to encourage for schoolchildren to read such descriptions?  Maybe for kids older than sixteen (tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades), but clearly not for students in Middle School (or their first year of high school in some states).

As we ask that question, let me pose another that the other conservative bloggers who have picked up the story have not considered:  is this the image of homosexuality we want to promote to adolescents struggling with sexual feelings of which they are just becoming aware? Of course, to get at this question whether or not those books present a more complex picture of sexuality, we’d have to look at the sexually explicit passages in context of the novels in which they are written.

And that is an endeavor in which I do not at present wish to engage myself.  Just reading the various passages reminded me how much “work” I found it to read gay fiction.

Now, to be sure, GLSEN contains an interesting disclaimer (in red) on its page recommending the books:

All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content. However, some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes. We recommend that adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability. The editorial and customer reviews listed at Amazon.com often provide information on mature content.

This disclaimer seems at odds with itself. They have been reviewed for quality and appropriateness, but they do recommend further review for suitability.  It almost seems someone didn’t do his homework.  I thought they were supposed to have reviewed the books.  Interesting what they consider appropriate content for twelve and thirteen year olds.

All that said, I don’t know that this is a much of a scandal as some of my conservative fellows are making it out to be.  But, taken in context of what we know about Kevin Jennings, it doesn’t look good for the Obama appointee.  And it does nothing to shake my belief that the best thing he could for the gay community would be to resign his position in the Education Department.

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51 Comments

  1. […] I’ve said previously and it bears repetition, we can’t make a final judgment on the nature of the books on the […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot — December 9, 2009 @ 2:54 am - December 9, 2009

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