Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Once the epitome of childhood innocence and joy, the Disney Corporation has gone full “woke,” endorsing and supporting a dangerous grammar-school curriculum that exposes prepubescent children to inappropriate sexual information. Pressured by activists, including Disney employees, Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek publicly renounced Florida’s recently passed Parental Rights in Education law––dishonestly labeled by critics the “Don’t say gay” law–– which forbids curriculum from kindergarten to third grade from including content on “sexual orientation or gender identity.”
This assault on childhood innocence in the name of “tolerance” and identity-politics activism marks a dangerous escalation in the decades-long ideological transformation of sexual mores away from common sense, faith, and traditional morality. This escalation puts at risk children’s sexual development and psychological health by exposing them to materials and information they are not ready for, while sidelining parents’ responsibility and right to oversee this vulnerable period in their children’s lives.
This episode highlights several cultural and political developments that have been going on for many decades. The attempt to usurp parents’ right to raise their kids according to their morality and principles reflects the progressive technocratic hubris that they, rather than families or churches, are better suited for properly raising and educating children. The irony is, it hasn’t been science that supports that claim, but scientism: disciplines like psychology and sociology that oversimplify human nature and motivation, and impose ideologically loaded paradigms and practices on public schools.
The consequences have been the concentration of power in government agencies that create laws and regulations reflecting these ideological and political biases; and the subsequent constriction of citizens’ freedom to manage their personal lives according to their beliefs, morality, and principles. Moreover, this usurpation of parental authority and agency serves a broader political agenda: weakening our political order of unalienable rights, separated powers, and state sovereignty that were created to thwart such concentrated intrusive power.
So it’s no coincidence that Florida, a key state in national elections, and its firebrand governor Ron DeSantis are being attacked. National polls show majorities––in one poll 61%–– support Florida’s law, and a looming midterm election that already looks dismal for Dems, threaten the progressives’ ambitions to expand the scope and reach of their power in order to further weaken civil society, private life, and federalism. Schools are critical to these efforts: after all, from the Jesuits to the Bolsheviks, controlling education has been the best way to shape people to conform to one’s ideology.
The second development has been the hyper-sexualization of our culture that started among cognitive elites in late 18th century, flourished during the late Victorian era, expanded in postwar years, and rapidly accelerated and widened in the Sixties. That’s when “sexual liberation” was hijacked by cultural Marxism and marketed as political liberation: As Sixties pop guru Norman O. Brown wrote, “The life instinct, or sexual instinct, demands activity of a kind that in contrast to our current mode of activity can only be called play. The life instinct also demands a union with others, and with the world around us, based not on anxiety and aggression but on narcissism and erotic exuberance.” Thus sexual license and hedonism were legitimized as a liberating political act.
Bestowed with such intellectual authority and respectability, sexual license spread throughout the culture, especially among the cognitive elites in universities, publishing, and Hollywood. Sexual preferences and acts once kept hidden or considered perversions became public and celebrated in popular culture. Movies, cable television, and later the internet distributed sexuality throughout the culture. And greater secularization turned traditionalists, people of faith, and conservatives into repressed witch-burning Puritans, or “Republican troglodytes,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. Sexual license became a sign of cosmopolitan sophistication and intellectual superiority.
Worse yet, sexual awareness and practice started appearing at younger and younger ages, as Tom Wolfe noted in his brilliant 2000 essay “Hooking Up.” The “sexual revolution,” Wolfe writes, had become a “lurid carnival.” Soft and hard pornography colonized public life and popular culture from movies, magazines, and television to the internet and mainstream advertising. Perversions like sadomasochism became chic, its appurtenances fashion statements, and later its practice the theme of a best-selling series of novels and popular movies.
Meanwhile, Wolf goes on, sexual stimuli bombarded the young so incessantly and intensely they were inflamed with a randy itch long before reaching puberty. At puberty the dams, if any were left, burst . . . From age thirteen, American girls were under pressure to maintain a façade of sexual experience and sophistication. Among girls, “virgin” was a term of contempt . . . The term “dating” was now deader than “proletariat” or “pornography” or “perversion.”
In other words, for at least four decades childhood was being sexualized, a process endorsed and promoted not just by bottom-line corporations who know that sex sells, but leftist activists eager to get a head start on reshaping the next generation of the masses before their reactionary parents politically deformed them.
The promotion of sexualized curriculum in the first four years of public education is, then, a logical progression. Public sexual license by its nature must continually expand into more forbidden or exotic practices. Consider how nudity and sexual acts in even sedate, highbrow series like Outlander are de rigueur. There was a time when seeing a woman’s breasts on television was an exciting novelty. Now even teenagers are blasé about them, given the sexual smorgasbord spread out on media and the internet 24/7/365.
Children are the next frontier both for the sex industry and proselytizing progressives. Exposing young children to sexual material––a tactic of pedophilic grooming–– used to be a crime; now it’s a curriculum, and one defended by politicians, teachers, professors, and celebrities. Ignored are the 50 years of experience with the wages of the “sexual revolution”: venereal plagues, the breakdown of the family, increases in teen pregnancies, millions of abortions, broken homes without fathers, and the general degradation, especially for women, that comes from reducing people to fungible objects of another’s carnal pleasure.
Finally, this long deterioration of our sexual habits and mores reflects a much older cultural trend: the idealization of sexuality that began during the Romantic period and flourished among the Victorian elite. In high culture like Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther we begin to see even illicit sexuality idealized for its power to fulfill and express one’s sensitive and passionate identity, one superior to the vulgar bourgeoise who by “getting and spending lay waste [their] powers” as Romantic poet William Wordsworth put it.
But as the Greeks, the Romans, and the Hebrews understood, sex is a dangerous, volatile power, a “killer,” as Sophocles called it. As such it requires cultural guardrails in the form of public mores, laws, customs, religious strictures, virtues, and institutions like marriage to keep sexual passion from becoming destructive. It wasn’t Helen’s beauty that “burnt the topless towers of Ilium,” it was her preternatural sexual power that drove her into an adulterous liaison that cost thousands of Greek and Trojan lives.
This targeting of prepubescent children by “woke” schools may be one dangerous absurdity too far. The attack on Florida’s law to protect parents and children is much less popular than the support for it, especially with parents, 67% of whom support the law. Along with other power-grabs in public schools like Critical Race Theory and ethnic studies, requiring sexualized curriculum in kindergarten exposes the pseudo-scientific arrogance and intolerance of the “woke” Dems.
If such rank absurdities––on top of rampant inflation, the porous border, and the suicidal war on carbon that has damaged our economy and left the West hostage to Putin––are all the Democrats have to offer, November 8 will be another electoral shellacking of the Democrats.