Pornography and education: Closing windows of wonder

In older days, a young woman was assigned her first teaching post in a rural Irish schoolhouse. Though a diligent and disciplined person, she had difficulty capturing the attention of her rowdy students.

Then one day, unruly as usual, she happened to say something about Cuchulain.

“Who’s Cuchulain?” one boy asked. The teacher began to tell of that hero and, for the first time, her classroom quieted. The children had never heard of the ancient tales of their land and were spellbound with wonder. After this success, the teacher told myths and legends every day. Her pupils were listening and alive.

But the superintendents had heard of her troubles, and when they stopped by only to hear fairy stories, they dismissed her on the spot. Walking home, the teacher passed an ancient potato farmer in his field.

“Everything all right, miss?” he said.

The teacher told the old man what had happened. He squinted silently as he leaned on his hoe and looked out over the green hills growing gold in the gloaming.

“Well,” the farmer said at length, “all you can do is open windows of wonder.”

He raised his closed hand and, drawing back gnarled fingers, revealed a butterfly in his palm. The butterfly shook out its wings and fluttered into the sunlight.

***

This mysterious anecdote, told me by the man who taught me to be a teacher, draws the mind to the vital importance of wonder in education—and its devastating loss. As such, it has much to do with the current crisis of education, the current age being so out of touch with the innocence of wonder. Without wonder, education is obstructed, obscured, and nothing contributes so much to the barring of wonder in these days than the cultural plague of pornography.

Pornography, and the rampant accessibility to it, degrades dignity and even divinity itself to a young mind, rendering beauty a dirty thing—nothing to take seriously, nothing to respect, and nothing to wonder over. For this fact alone, pornography and education are antithetical. Education rejoices in truth; pornography revels in falsehood. Education draws people out of themselves; pornography drags them within. Education is about permanent things; pornography is about disposable things. Education delights; pornography dominates.

Pornography is among the deadliest enemies of education nowadays for it distracts and dulls the soul’s faculties to regard, to receive, to retain, and to rejoice in the realities of goodness, truth, and beauty in a mode preliminary to wisdom. As a chimera, pornography is inimical to reality, and therefore to education, creating a barrier to perception by inhibiting wonder which, as Socrates taught, is the beginning of wisdom. Pornography breeds indifference to beauty, robbing people of their ability to be awed or to find pleasure in the beautiful, and hence in the good and the true.

Though pornography is all about the perversion of sex, wonder is obviously not particularly about sex at all. The educational issue at hand is that pornography attacks a specific and powerful window of wonder whose closing can cause the closure of many other windows. If sex is no longer sacred, what thing of beauty is? If intimacy is reduced to objectification and self-gratification, what hope is there for heroism, or sunsets, or a butterfly? If all is grinding noise, how will God come through in the grand silence?

The age of wonder is the target for the multi-billion-dollar porn industry. The sooner the abnormal is normalized and the senses desensitized, the better for its coffers and contrivances. The current average age that a child first encounters pornography is 12 years old. Filterless filth is always a click away, and its devices and baited lures are in the hands and before the eyes of children.

According to some statistics, at this very moment there are nearly 30,000 people looking at pornography on the Internet. They are among the 40 million Americans who access pornography frequently, 200,000 of whom are addicts. To suppose that people, especially young people, even from solid families, are not exposed to pornography in some form or another is, unfortunately, naïve. The presence of pornography is a given, as it is widespread, strategic, and insidious. That is the reality that must be faced before it can be fought—and one of the major battlefields is education.

Spoiled spirits, succumbing to a wonder-less world, are not very susceptible to formation, crippled as they are by eroticism, cynicism, hedonism, relativism, nihilism, and a host of other infernal “isms” that contribute to a defiled innocence with dread purpose, for the innocence proper to certain years of life is a vital factor in education, especially if that education is guided by the classical and Catholic pedagogy of wonder.

As it closes windows of wonder, pornography opens backdoors to child predators, chatroom stalkers, and other cyber threats. Even so, the windows remain closed. Though widely acknowledged as a health and safety concern, and often cited as a contributing factor in marital infidelity and divorce, pornography remains popular and shall be as long as an attentive intellect remains unpopular.

Youth longs for meaning in education, for wide-open windows that let in light and air. Yet the demeaning barriers that pornography promotes and pushes puts them at risk of never finding their way out of the cave of shadows, out of virtual reality, out of fantasy, and into the bright, beautiful world that God made good: a meaningful world filled with truths and mysteries where He can be found and where He can give fulfillment. All we must do is open windows of wonder.

SEAN FITZPATRICK is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and serves as the headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Elmhurst, Pa. He also serves on the Advisory Council for Sophia Institute for Teachers. His writings on education, literature and culture have appeared in Crisis Magazine, The Imaginative Conservative, and Catholic Exchange.

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