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What is Childhood Innocence?
Revisiting an old concept in an era of hyper-sexualization.
By JOHN LEAKE
lamented growing swell of anger and homophobia” in the United States and described several laws recently passed in Florida that curtail L.G.B.T.Q. rights as “disgraceful.”
What are these “disgraceful” Florida laws? According to Governor DeSantis’s office:
House Bill (HB) 1557, Parental Rights in Education, which reinforces parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children. The bill prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade and prohibits instruction that is not age appropriate for students and requires school districts to adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in services from the school regarding a child’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being. The bill builds on the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which was signed into law in Florida last year, and is part of Governor DeSantis’ Year of the Parent focus on protecting parental rights in education.
What is objectionable about prohibiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to children between kindergarten and the third grade? Why would any sane adult WANT to instruct 5 to 8-year-olds about sexual matters?
Those who had the good fortune of a happy childhood—before the onset of puberty and its attendant confusion, anxiety, and yearnings—may still have some recollection of that enchanting period between about the ages of 5 and 12. During this time in life, you could easily spend an entire day playing and exploring the world without a single thought about sex intruding your consciousness.
The arrival of summer here in Texas reminds me of long days of swimming, fishing, and playing in the creek. If, during one of these carefree days, an adult had approached me and started talking about sex, I would have thought him insane.
All I knew of sex is that it was something that adults seemed to be interested in, and I knew that I wasn’t an adult. Thus, I’m pretty sure I would have thought: “Why is this old weirdo trying to talk to me about this? Can’t he see that I’m a kid?”
What happened to our concept of childhood innocence? There was a time not so long ago when we celebrated it. Poets and novelists enshrined it in literature. My favorite book when I was a kid was Stevenson’s Treasure Island, in which Jim Hawkins is completely absorbed in his adventure of trying to find the treasure. His experience with the desperado pirates is a rite of passage into adulthood, symbolized by the death of his father, but even then, sex has nothing to do with it.
Later, when I read Tom Sawyer for the first time, I remember not understanding why Tom was so interested in Becky Thatcher. It was only later, with the onset of puberty, that I understood.
Years later, I also came to understand that our consciousness of sexuality is also closely related to our acute awareness of growing old and losing our looks and vitality. This latter trauma is yet another hard fact of life from which children can, to a large degree, be spared before the onset of puberty.
Other than adults who themselves have a sexual interest in children, WHO could possibly be interested in depriving children of this enchanting period of their lives?
In the United States, adults are free to pursue whatever sex life they choose with their fellow consenting adults. Like all reasonable adults who have retained their common sense and decency, we call on all those would despoil childhood innocence to mind their adult business and leave kids alone.