On Saturday morning, The Centre, along with the University's politicized teachers' training faculty, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), presented a symposium on childhood education and sexuality called "Bodies at Play."
The symposium provoked a controversy for its choice of keynote speaker, James Kincaid, a professor from the University of Southern California. Kincaid has written a number of books which postulate the highly contentious idea that adult sexual attraction to children is normal, or as he expressed in his book Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting,"..most adults in our culture feel some measure of erotic attraction to children and the childlike; I do not know how it could be otherwise."
|Professor James R. Kincaid|
For more serious critics, the issue was not alleged pedophilia on the part of Kincaid. The rancor his hypothesis stimulated is because it is filled with erroneous, unproven assumptions that may indeed give "aid and comfort" to those who see sex between adults and children as acceptable. Making matters worse was that the conference was to be provided to public school teachers of those young children who could easily fall prey to victimizers encouraged by what they perceived as approbation from Kincaid's theories.
The choice of the speaker and subject matter were even more bizarre and problematic, in that co-presenter OISE had only recently been the subject of unwanted attention when one of its senior academics, Ben Levin, was arrested on charges of producing child pornography, for which he is yet to be tried.
Tall, elderly, yet spry and impish, James Kincaid is affable, witty, intelligent and articulate. His ability to engage with an audience and the seeming speed with which his 45 minute speech breezed by suggests he is probably a very good professor.
All of what he said was well thought out, and most of it was rather uncontroversial. But much of it was of a nature that many would find disturbing if it was absorbed by your child's Grade 1 teacher and affected their approach to their students.
Aside from minimizing the threat of sexual abuse to children when describing the demonization of eroticizing children, he argues that the danger is exaggerated in part "to anchor the dubious notion of the nuclear family," and is "a conservative effort to maintain national unity."
Kincaid projects on society an "obsession with kids and sex," then poses the question of why do that and yet simultaneously be fixated on preserving their innocence.
He asked, "how can the sexual attraction (of adults to children) be both freakish and ubiquitous?"
The flaw in Kincaid's position became quite clear through the types of examples he provided to establish the supposed ubiquity of that attraction. Some of the examples he listed were more than a trifle creepy in that he was projecting eroticism onto popular images of children that most people would never think of in that way, and then extrapolating that erotic loading onto our entire culture.
A Professor of English Literature, Kincaid based his premise on the idea that the modern concept of the child was only invented during a period of European Romanticism and developed to its current state throughout the Victorian and contemporary periods. Based on the examples he provided as "proof" of his theories, it became obvious, to me anyway, that Kincaid's opinions on "the child" and child abuse are not derived from any evidence based in science, like biology or psychiatry, or on a wider survey of law enforcement statistics, but came almost entirely from a review of literature and popular culture.
I had a chance to speak to Professor Kincaid over a coffee immediately after his talk and asked him if his ideas were derived primarily from a literature review. Not only did he acknowledge that they were, but he seemed genuinely pleased that someone recognized his sources.
I mentioned to him some of the aspects of biology and zoology that differentiates adults from children in the animal world, as indeed we have them in humans in the development of facial hair in males and enlarged breasts in females. In some species certain spots or markings alter, in an evolutionarily developed signal the young transmit to adults to indicate they were not ready for mating until those changes have occurred.
Professor Kincaid said he was not aware of that.
It was quite odd to hear this. It's as if someone were basing an overview of 1950's culture entirely on reading Catcher in the Rye and watching the TV shows Leave it to Beaver and I Love Lucy.
I liked James Kincaid. He seems like a very nice man. Many of us would find his ideas silly, wrong, and distasteful, but he comes to them from honest beliefs. The shameful aspect, if there is one, to his engagement by the organizers of the Bodies at Play symposium is not Kincaid's but theirs.
His views would be entirely appropriate at a philosophy symposium, or one for psychology or English literature. But OISE, which is notoriously pushing a hyper-sexualized curriculum, was completely irresponsible in presenting theories in a symposium for teachers that could in any way be interpreted as validating adults' sexual attraction to children.
Kincaid noted the over-inflated fear that our culture has about children being molested by strangers. He correctly noted that most sexual abuse of children comes from people they know; from relatives and friends. The one category of frequent abuser he omitted from his list was in the room.
It would take a lot of space to list the many high-profile cases of educators abusing their authority and position to sexually abuse children we have seen in the news lately. As people in the legal and law enforcement professions know well, that abuse by teachers happens far too often.
Overwhelmingly, public school teachers are deeply committed to the well-being of children and are reasonably intelligent, capable people. But the particular type of teacher that would be attracted to the Bodies at Play symposium and the faddish pedagogical nonsense which is characteristic of OISE's ideological biases is not going to be the sharpest crayons in the box, so to speak.
The conversations I heard among the teachers attending the event did nothing to dispel that concern.
No, the Bodies at Play symposium was not a "Yahoo! Let's celebrate pedophilia event" as the Bonham Centre's Director, Brenda Crossman, used as an example to dismiss the alarm of TV evangelist McVety. It was, however, another example of OISE finding a way of disseminating to the public school system more of its unscientific, inane ideologies that in the end diminish children's education and place them in harm's way. And in some ways, that's almost as bad.