Academics rush to defend teacher who taught ‘pornography literacy’

Academics rush to defend teacher who taught ‘pornography literacy’
Justine Ang Fonte (Image via Twitter)

By Mary Margaret Olohan

Academics rushed to defend a former teacher at an elite New York City school who taught “pornography literacy” to high schoolers and showed first graders a cartoon about masturbation.

Justine Ang Fonte taught sex education at Dalton School in Manhattan for nine years, the New York Times reported, developing K-12 curriculums for students and speaking and offering workshops at other New York City schools. The sex educator sparked a backlash from parents when she taught two Zoom sessions to Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School on the Upper West Side in May to junior and senior high schoolers.

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The school’s head Bill Donohue told the Times that he understood the lecture would be under the topic “Healthy Sexuality Workshop,” but Fonte’s sex education prompted parents to take their grievances about her explicit material to the New York Post. The publication reported that Fonte’s slides discussed “incest-themed” porn, consensual or “vanilla” porn, “barely legal” porn, “kink and BDSM” porn, “waterboard electro” torture porn, and more.

Parents condemned a cartoon video Fonte showed first graders last fall discussing masturbation. Fonte defended herself by saying that the class never used the actual word “masturbation,” though the cartoon discussed how it feels good to touch one’s genitals.

“It’s OK to touch yourself and see how different body parts feel, but it’s best to only do it in private,” the narrator of the cartoon said.

“I equip them with a way that they can exercise body agency and consent, by knowing exactly what those parts are, what they are called, and how to take care of them,” Fonte told the Times. “That was paired with lessons around, what are the different ways to say ‘no’? And what’s the difference between a secret and a surprise? And why you should never have a secret between a grown-up and you. Because it’s never your responsibility as a child to hold a secret or information of a grown-up.”

Fonte left the school in June, the third high-profile staffer to depart the progressive school due to parental outrage.

But educators defended the teacher’s methods to the New York Times, saying that she did not teach anything inappropriate and that her methods were in line with both National Sex Education Standards and the World Health Organization’s International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, standards used in public schools in New York City.

The Times emphasized that many children have already been exposed to pornography by their early teenage years and thus profit from pornography literacy classes that teach students how to assess what they see.

Professor Jennie Noll of Penn State, who teaches second graders the names of body parts and healthy boundaries, told the Times that she doesn’t tell students, “You can touch yourself.”

“I don’t know that kids need to be told that it’s OK to masturbate,” Noll said. “But I don’t think kids need to be told that it’s not OK.”

Jennifer S. Hirsch, author of “Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power and Assault on Campus” and a professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, worked with Fonte while Fonte was studying for her master’s degree. Hirsch told the Times that “first graders need to be taught that other people don’t have a right to touch their bodies.”

“And just as importantly, they don’t have a right to touch other people’s bodies,” Hirsch said. “How many politicians have we seen in the news who never got that lesson?”

Former Cornell University professor Ritch C. Savin-Williams similarly said that Fonte’s sex education lessons were important but worried “that parents were not part of the process of deciding what needs or should be taught.”

Al Vernacchio, longtime sexuality education coordinator at the Pennsylvania Friends’ Central School, pointed out that children are getting messaging about sexuality from social media, from television, from YouTube, and from the popular amateur pornography platform OnlyFans.

Young people need to have the ability to critically examine those messages and to think about their own values and to make decisions about which of those messages they feel are really beneficial and which they want to question,” he told the Times.

A global research review of school-based comprehensive sex education programs, conducted by the Institute for Research & Evaluation and published in the Issues in Law and Medicine in January 2020, found very little effectiveness from these programs and instead found increased sexual activity.

“Perhaps of greatest concern, this new analysis found harmful effects on children and youth for roughly one in six school-based comprehensive sex education programs worldwide,” lead author Irene Erickson told the Daily Caller News Foundation in February 2020.

A former sex educator previously told the DCNF that many sex education programs, particularly those run by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “groom” young students for “promiscuity.”

“The sex education grooms them for promiscuity. Grooms them for STD treatment, and grooms them for abortion,” Monica Cline told the DCNF in 2019.

Comprehensive sex education, according to Planned Parenthood, is a term that refers to K-12 programs covering human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture — as opposed to sex education that only focuses on abstinence.

Comprehensive sex education examines both sexuality and gender and has come under fire from family advocacy groups nationwide, including in CaliforniaTexasColorado and Maryland.

The DCNF first reported video footage in June 2019 purportedly showing the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) instructing teachers on progressive sexual education and gender theory in collaboration with California school districts and Planned Parenthood.

The video, released by conservative organization Our Watch, allegedly depicts ACLU staff attorney Ruth Dawson instructing teachers on how to help students obtain abortions without parental knowledge or consent.

An ACLU spokeswoman confirmed to the DCNF in June 2019 that the ACLU was present at the meeting shown in the video, but maintained that the video was doctored. She did not elaborate on how the video was doctored.

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