Pornography and Education Part 2: Reopening Windows of Wonder

My school was recently visited by two monks from the Benedictine Monastery in Norcia, Italy. After talking to our students joyfully about the monastic life, they told the faculty gravely that one of the main reasons they turn down their many applicants is the problem of pornography. They gave us their opinion that there is no one, no boy particularly, who has not been exposed to the innocence-shattering evil of pornography—and that it is a problem that keeps people from God and from education.

In a recent article for the Journal, I wrote on the obstacle that pornography introduces to education by wounding the sense of wonder and the sacred. As a follow up, I here present three strategies to face and fight pornography’s interference with education—strategies for students who have been victimized by a society swallowed in the swirl of sexual perversion. Some of these courses are difficult to practice, but extraordinary problems call for extraordinary solutions.

One way to eliminate the lure of internet pornography is to eliminate the internet. At our school, a boarding school, a policy of technological restriction is mandatory and unmitigated—our students do not have access to computers or cell phones. Though the general purpose of this rule is not simply to avoid the presence of internet pornography, it does achieve that particular purpose. Disconnected from the web, boys do not encounter pornographic imagery as often as they would online, and certainly the temptation to access it is eradicated.

Online media is designed to distract, and online pornography is chief among these distractions. Education is the opposite of distraction. Students should be given, as Chesterton said, eternal standards and values by which they may judge material conditions and in an environment that does not have to compete with the cacophonies of the internet. Education is about the mysteries of internal and external reality, making virtual reality best left out of the picture together with its aspects that retard education, like pornography.

Though the internet offers a multitude of goods, it is not necessarily a tool that is appropriate for the young, especially given the popularity and prevalence of internet pornography. The power of the virtual world is one that renders it especially dangerous to those who are not yet equipped to wield its power. They should learn the proper use of modern devices after learning the proper use of their minds and hearts. It is best to foster natural faculties before subjugating them to bad and addictive habits.

Silence on the subject of pornography is among pornography’s greatest strengths. Few are at ease speaking about pornography, so it goes unspoken; which is partly why it goes unchecked. Comfort in conversation, however, is often within the control of elders when speaking to youngsters so long as the adult is confident. In my experience, matter-of-fact dialogue about pornography with teenage boys is met with gratitude rather than grief. Pornography is a given in the lives of boys and, if treated as such without hesitation, adults gain a rhetorical advantage in discussion. Pornography is taboo, but not as a subject of frank debate with those who are targeted and tainted by it.

Parents and teachers should never refrain from talking straightforwardly to youth in their care about other wrongs rampant in our culture and pornography should join these topics; especially since young men are more likely to encounter and be drawn towards pornography than to many other moral corruptions. To avoid it is a failure in responsibility and a denial of the condition that all boys are in: a state of damage caused by the rampant violation of human holiness. Pornography is high among the diseases of the day and it must be addressed, even at the risk of embarrassment. Pornography is, at its core, a lie; and a surefire way to combat falsehood is truth. Conversation about pornography that is direct can repel its effects more effectively than internet filters.

A final measure to correct the distortions of pornography is, in a sense, the most difficult because it involves reviving, to some degree, what is unrecoverable. Pornography destroys innocence and, once lost, innocence cannot be fully restored. Some of the qualities of innocence, however, can be regained. Wonder is one of those attributes, and one that is essential in the art of education. To an adolescent whose sense of wonder has been broken by pornography, wonder can seem a foreign or, worse still, a foolish thing.

Adolescence is an age that burns like fire. It is an age primed for wonder, though often robbed of the experience to wonder purely. There arises in adolescents an appetite for principles as well as for pleasures. This double preoccupation is often an effort to discover who they are and how they fit into reality. Wonder wrestles with realities, and as such, is the remedy for pornography’s unreal revels.

Teaching wonder involves a transparent reaction to the good, true, and beautiful, openly savoring and praising the sublimity of creation and emotion. Educators may thereby reopen the windows of wonder, providing a healthy outlet for students to cope with their inward contradictions and help them comprehend the mysteries they are drawn to contemplate through wisdom. Teachers must reintroduce the act of wondering and assist in giving form and meaning to things that are sullied by the poison of pornography.

I tend to agree with the monks: all boys have been harmed by pornography and something must be done. If indeed everyone has been exposed to pornography, Catholic educators have a duty to expose pornography and expunge it as the enemy it is aggressively and unapologetically.

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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