Is masturbation an OK topic for high school lit class?

A high school teacher in the Bronx has been suspended after assigning his 11th grade class a short story about masturbation.

The story is “Guts” by “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk. I’ve heard of “Fight Club” the movie – Brad Pitt, Edward Norton. I’ve never heard of “Guts” or that specific author.

Here are two different stories with information about what happened:

The first is from Gawker and has an actual quote from the book so you can judge whether the content was appropriate or not.

The second is from the Gothamist and focuses on the reaction to what happened.

You need to read the quote from the book on the Gawker site to be able to fully participate in the discussion. I’m pretty sure I would get into trouble if I posted the actual quote here.

If you’ve read the quote consider a couple of points:

First off, I’m confused. Does that act qualify as masturbation? To me that takes it to a different level than say in Judy Blume’s “Deenie,” where the character talks about rubbing herself in the bathtub.

Secondly, do you think the appropriateness of course work should be determined by geography? It was suggested several times on the Gothamist blog that it’s the Bronx not Kentucky – those kids should be able to handle it.

Is masturbation an appropriate topic in a high school literature class? Does it depend on where the students are physically located? Does it depend on how explicit the masturbation is described? Should this teacher have been suspended? Should he be fired? What would you do if this story was on your child’s curriculum?

124 comments Add your comment

lakerat

November 11th, 2009
7:24 am

You know, this is getting to be too much (I was going to say out of hand, but that would be an inappropriate comment, so to speak) – I am no prude, but these high school topic are just too far out there to even be discussed, yet they are true.

Yesterday I was reading about how many high schools have have gay and lesbian clubs – my question is, when I was in school, we wondered about sex and how to go about being successful “getting some”, both guys and girls – today, at the age of 13 – 18, how do kids “know” they are gay when they really haven’t had the chance to even know what physical sex is really like?

Now, today I am reading about how a teacher assigned something that has to do with masturbation. We all know kids and adults do it, but do we really have to teach about it in the classroom?

As you can probably tell, I am in utter shock that this is a topic for us parents to discuss, much less to have high school students discuss in a formal classroom setting! Yes, the teacher should be fired, and if he/she is not, then the administrators at that school and in that district should be fired, too!

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
7:26 am

I know it is 2009 but I personally do not think masturbation is a topic for kids in school….maybe just me. I also realize that my opinion probably will not count.

What happened to the days...

November 11th, 2009
7:26 am

…when June Cleaver said to Ward Cleaver, “weren’t you a little hard on the beaver last night”, and no thought anything other than that she was saying that he may have yelled at their son too much?

Vork

November 11th, 2009
7:37 am

I think any topic that gets teens to open up, get off their iPod and engage in actual conversaton is a good topic. Even if that topic is controversial.

Vork

November 11th, 2009
7:40 am

I also think that some of you have become soo old that you have outlived your usefullness on the planet.

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
7:50 am

@Vork you may be correct but some of us older folks are still paying taxes and they seem to be useful in a day and age where getting is popular and giving is not.

Like I tell my kids…there is not a magic tree that money can be picked off of for all the government sponsored programs….if decisions are made to give things to a lot of people, then LOTS of things will be taken from others.

Unless you are ready to give more and more, you need to VOTE. Of course, you can just sit back and get….if that floats your boat.

It appears my taxes are still useful and looks like they will be for a while! Theresa…are we talking about PUBLIC taxpayer school hear…I assume so!

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

November 11th, 2009
7:50 am

Vork — did you read the quote — that’s far more serious stuff than just the run-of -the mill teen masturbation.

DB

November 11th, 2009
7:58 am

*sigh* — Vork, why do you deliberately try to antagonize? Is this blog your daily bit of mental masturbation?

I’m just trying to figure out the teacher’s lesson plan for this particular story. Silly me, I thought that English Lit was to explore various writing styles and types of self-expression, and to appreciate different story-telling techniques and classic methods of expression. I would NOT go to English Lit and expect a discussion on various methods of masturbation (especially one that can actually cause physical damage). That’s for sex ed, psychology, biology, human sexuality — whatever.

Just because it’s written down, doesn’t mean that it’s LITERATURE. Methinks this English teacher likes to shock just a little too much. What, exactly, is he “teaching”, here?

Vork

November 11th, 2009
8:04 am

@Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

Yes I read the quote and again nothing suprises me anymore so I say again so what? You are focusing on ONE QUOTE from a book that is getting teenager’s to talk in open conversation with each other…..I see NOTHING wrong with this.

As a father of two small children I see nothing wrong with my kids discussing this topic openly in high school because I believe they will be mature enough to handle it.

It’s when people freak out and get all shock and awe that the topic really gets attention. Sometimes if you simply ignore it people will simply say, meh, and move on….no big deal.

@motherjanegoose

WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS TOPIC HAVE TO DO WITH PAYING TAXES, OR VOTING?????!!!!

Is this a case of you don’t have anything constructive to contribute but you feel the need to say SOMETHING so you decide to pull something out of your ass? Stay on topic dear…..focus.

guy

November 11th, 2009
8:13 am

if the only reason you are useful is because you pay taxes, you pretty much proved the guy’s point. and what the hell does this topic have to do with taxes, voting, and politics?

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
8:15 am

@ Vork…YOU are the one who said we are not useful…I PAY TAXES and they appear to be useful.

If ( as you say) we are all too old and out of date and you do not need our taxes…we would be thrilled. This topic alone has nothing to do with taxes but there are many of us who appear to have outlived our usefulness ( in your opinion) and are keeping the USA afloat WITH our taxes..plus I do believe this is a PUBLIC school. If it were private, then it is the business of those who pay tuition to send their kids to the school ….AHEM tax dollars pay for public school.

” I also think that some of you have become so old that you have outlived your usefulness on the planet.”

My original post was to the point …once you start stirring things up….I tend to have other things to share.

MomsRule

November 11th, 2009
8:16 am

Was masturbation the topic of the short story? While I personally don’t like the quote it is not nearly enough information for me to know what the story is actually about.

Vork, I enjoy your daily comments.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

November 11th, 2009
8:17 am

The story was apparently all about failed masturbation attempts. so I think at least according to that description there would have been more similar anecdotes of this guy trying —

Kathy

November 11th, 2009
8:17 am

I had the same thought as DB…..what was the actual purpose for using that particular piece? What was his lesson plan? I am sure there is another side to this story. Neither article made it clear about the teacher’s actual purpose.

Vork….I agree with you that anytime you get a teen to talk is good, but teachers have to be very careful about what controversial topics they present in the classroom.

This is off topic, but I just have to bring it up. What about the Barrow County high school teacher who had an inappropriate Facebook page (article in the Gwinnett Daily Post)? I am not a Facebook user but I am interested to know how other parents feel about teachers having Facebook pages. How would you react if you or your child found something inappropriate on your child’s teacher’s Facebook page?

Geez, Vork and Guy...

November 11th, 2009
8:18 am

…Vork wrote “I also think that some of you have become soo old that you have outlived your usefullness on the planet” –

motherjanegoose responded that she was STILL useful because she still paid taxes – her comment was directly related to what Vork had written -

Maybe you guys need to COMPREHEND the written word before you go attacking what someone else wrote.

Vork

November 11th, 2009
8:20 am

@motherjanegoose

When you start making sense I’ll acknowledge you exist. Until then you might as well be an adult in a Peanuts cartoon as far as I’m concerned.

madmommy

November 11th, 2009
8:26 am

I think the teachers point was to show in English Lit how creative writing can be used to get the reader to fully understand and visualize the situation. Granteed, I don’t think this was the best topic to do that in, but I do see the educational merits and they must have thought this is a topic the students would focus in on. These are 11th graders and most are 16-17 at this stage and I’m sure have thought about or attempted to be masters of their domain once or twice, so it might not have been a huge issue for them. Kids today are way more advanced than I was at that age, so while it might seem wild and crazy to me, it more the norm for kids these days. Don’t believe me, check out the Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult and get a real eye opener on how kids today are.

Uconn

November 11th, 2009
8:28 am

GOOD LAWDDDD… Did anyone ever read “The Catcher in the Rye”? This one line is nothing compared to what is in the book… As long as kids are reading what difference does it make? I went to a catholic high school and we had to read all the ones that are banned in other schools … These are 16-17 year olds who I am sure know more than this.

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
8:29 am

Thanks GEEZ. I thought I made perfect sense but apparently I did not. I use analogies all the time in my work and many tell me I am good at them.

GUY…here is a tip….MANY of us who pay taxes are working and earning money because of our USEFUL skill.. Perhaps that is too complicated for the posters who just take jabs

THOSE WHO ARE SIMPLY TAKING OUT MONEY FROM THE GOVERNMENT may not be as useful…in fact, if we got rid of them ….what difference would it make to the economy? We are providing goods and services and they are providing nothing. Guess there might be some use for us…..hmmmm.

FYI…I AM NOT TAKING A JAB AT ANYONE WHO IS UNFORTUNATELY UNEMPLOYED….I AM SPEAKING OF THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN EMPLOYED NOR HAVE PLANS TO BE.
If you have worked….you deserve your benefits and I wish you well finding a job.

Have fun all!

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
8:31 am

@ Vork….ditto…I do not work for you….thankfully, and you do not have to pay me…I know that thrills you!

Mia

November 11th, 2009
8:32 am

First off, teens are reading the book. Not too long ago some people on here were complaining that their teens weren’t reading – careful what ye wish for! Secondly, this is a healthy topic that’s encouraging teens to have discussions and conversations, which can only be a good thing.

They’re 11th graders, they’re in the final stretch of school and preparing to venture out into the big bad world, where there’ll deal with a lot more pressing issues than masturbation. These kids are more sexually aware than we were growing up, why not let them know all the facts?

jct

November 11th, 2009
8:32 am

I read the quote but the whole story. I don’t want to over react without reading the whole story because we don’t have the entire context in what the lesson was about. Was it writing style? Type of short story? It is easy for us on a blog to try to Monday morning quarterback this situation. Is this any better than Romeo and Juliet? Remember Shakespeare? That is a very graphic piece of literature.

@lakerat – Your argument is flawed. Sexual orientation and sex have nothing to do with each other. You can be celibate your whole life and still be attracted to someone of your same sex. That does not make you any less gay. You don’t figure out your sexual orientation by having physical sex.

jct

November 11th, 2009
8:34 am

@Uconn…I have been meaning to ask you do you attend Uconn or you just a fan? I am class of ‘92.

Mia

November 11th, 2009
8:35 am

Oops typos………..”where they’ll deal with a lot more issues”

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
8:45 am

By the way….did anyone check out the wonderful resource Candi gave at the end of the babysitting post yesterday? Many were fussing on pricing but she provided facts about the topic that apply to all areas. I am all about opinions and do enjoy ( for the most part) reading them but when some of us get in a dither, it is good for posters to prevent some straight facts we can use as a
plumbline ( sp?)

I only have an opinion for today and stated it concisely before I was attacked. Perhaps some posters can come up with some facts we need to know.

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
8:51 am

ooops…present some straight facts…..

Uconn

November 11th, 2009
8:53 am

@jct – Graduated in 98… YAY!!!! A Fellow Husky!!!!

lakerat

November 11th, 2009
9:05 am

jct – I believe your thinking is flawed if you think sexual orientation has nothing to do with actual sexual acts. Why would anyone care to say they are gay or straight if they are celibate?

You are not “gay” or “lesbian” until you do the deed! You can be celibate, and if you are, you are neither gay nor straight, as you have NO SEXUAL inclination. Personal relationships are not the result SEXUAL preference, as many gays/lesbians have straight friends, and vice versa.

jct

November 11th, 2009
9:25 am

@lakerat. You and I will have to disagree.

Sexual orientation deals is who you are attracted to. You may be attracted to men and I may be attracted to women. I did not have sex with anyone to figure that out.

Celibacy is choosing not to have sex. You could choose not have sex because you are waiting for marriage or you lack sexual partner that you are attracted to. Again. This has nothing to do with orientation. You could be attracted to men but choose not to have sex that EQUALS celibacy.

I think that it is crazy to say you have to do the deed to be gay or lesbian. What about those experimental times that nobody wants to talk about in college or late teens. You kiss a girl. That does not make you a lesbian. That made you curious. What makes you a lesbian is that you are attracted to women and form relationships with women and have sex with women.

Friendship is a whole other realm that has nothing to do with anyone’s sexuality.

lakerat

November 11th, 2009
9:29 am

Well, at least you are correct that we can agree to disagree.

Hey, Uconn – is a “Fellow Huskey” different from a huskey fellow?

Andrea

November 11th, 2009
9:35 am

A controversial or not popular topic does not automatically make it any less worthy to be read. In hindsight, I am sure the administration would have probably sent home consent forms first. The purpose of English Lit class is for the kids to actually read and discuss books. It should not be to discuss books that are deemed appropriate by the self-appointed moral majority.

We can’t say that the teacher did not intend to discuss the literary style or some other aspects with the students. Obviously the book was longer than just the one sentence featured so there is room for other aspects of the book to be discussed.

One thing any parent SHOULD know by now is that you can either equip your child with good information or he/she will certainly get plenty of misinformation in the streets.

Uconn

November 11th, 2009
9:40 am

@lakerat … Yep… jct is A husky … not husky … The husky is Uconn’s mascot

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
9:46 am

@Andrea…you are absolutely correct about equipping. I have been very frank with my own two.
I will answer any question they have.

How about this….let’s say you are not a religious person….yet your child is friends with a family who are religious zealots. You have stated your opinion clearly to your child. Are you comfortable with them spending time with the family of the friend? Or would you be uncomfortable. Same as those parents who may be uncomfortable with a masturbation discussion in a HS class.

Would a Muslim send their child to a Catholic school? I realize I am talking about religion and that this is a public school but parents ( who pay taxes) of these children may need to be informed of controversial subjects.

Would this be much different than an art class studying nudes? I am FULLY aware that children can see most anything on the internet today but would not want my school aged children in a class where nudes ( while this is art as the above is literature) are being displayed.

Can we use the excuse; IF IT GETS THEM TO APPRECIATE ART….then good. You may have lots more teen boys in THAT art class.

I KNOW SOME OF YOU WILL NOT GET THAT ILLUSTRATION…some will!

Outta here and will check back in later….have fun!

HB

November 11th, 2009
9:48 am

I don’t think books should be automatically disallowed from the curriculum because they include references to masturbation, or anything else for that matter. Without having read the full story and lesson plan, I don’t know if this work was approprate or not fot the class. It could be that this teacher went overboard in trying to shock the students and get them interested in the class, or the work and the accompanying assignments he gave may have had merit. I think the real danger in these situations is that often parents and admins will be quick to condemn a teacher at the first hint of controversy rather than dig a little deeper to find out what was really being taught. I’m not saying that’s what happened here (I have no idea), but it is a problem.

The Barrow County teacher’s FB page is a great example. It was deemed inappropriate, in part, because there was a picture of the teacher drinking alcohol — not abusing alcohol, from what I’ve read, but drinking a glass of wine while on vacation in Europe. Are high school kids really that fragile? Can they not handle knowing that people drink alcohol? I mean, if she were doing keg stands or had a beer funnel, I could see someone feeling she set a bad example, but a glass of wine?

MJG, my ill father has not been able to contribute directly to the economy in 30+ years, and only spent 5-7 years in the workforce. Many struck with his disease will never work at all as it often hits in the late teens to early 20s. And yes, he receives government benefits that ensure he is sheltered, fed, and on meds that keep him from wandering around homeless and talking to himself. I have never, ever thought of him as useless, though. Thanks for the enlightenment.

lakerat

November 11th, 2009
9:48 am

If Uconn is the “Huskies” then is there really a singular for Huskies?

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
9:48 am

@ uconn…are we disputing HUSKEY vs HUSKY….now I am confused with your last post…hahaha!
Hugs to you…I am not jabbing…..

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
9:56 am

@ HB….I am not talking about those in your father’s situation. I am talking about those who are able to work….I apologize if I offended you.

I know that you and I disagree on the realm of those out there who are taking when they could be giving. I see it all the time and educators continue to affirm that there is a growing trend of those adults and children who think that they are owed something when they are not willing to contribute….even if they can. Adults who have a chip on their shoulder against the rich folks who pay taxes…IMHO need to get over it. I am not rich. Maybe Becky might add some insight on a few folks who could be working…I believe she has mentioned that she is related to them.

I work and pay taxes and like Andrea said:

One thing any parent SHOULD know by now is that you can either equip your child with good information or he/she will certainly get plenty of misinformation in the streets.

I have equipped my children with the fact that no one owes them anything…contrary to popular belief. If they are able to work, then they need to do so. Our society is built on those who can make a contribution and we owe assistance to those who REALLY cannot.

We rarely agree and when we do, I find it an interesting day….again, I did NOT mean those who CANNOT work, such as your father.

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
9:58 am

@ Becky….I KNOW you are a hard worker and am just recanting what I feel you have already shared….hugs to you!

JATL

November 11th, 2009
10:01 am

I really can’t believe anyone who has any clue about high school students today would think this was so horrible and shocking for them to read. Almost all of them are sexually active themselves or REALLY trying to be. They read raunchy books for pleasure that have a lot more graphic things than this in them, not to mention what they see on tv and in movies. I used to be a high school English teacher, and I wouldn’t personally choose this because I know everyone stands on their heads over such trite nonsense -and often it isn’t because parents complain, but because some busybody at the school overhears something and complains! Still, to FIRE a teacher over something like this is insane! It’s a line in a story. At least knowing about it may get some kids interested!

Anyway, I don’t think it’s THE most appropriate material for a high school classroom, but often you have special classes who you know can handle certain things. I haven’t read the story, but perhaps this kid is questioning his sexuality and wondering if he would be turned on in this manner?

@lakerat -you don’t think high schoolers have experimented with sex? They start in middle school these days! I also don’t understand your reasoning about having to experiment physically with sex in order to know what turns you on. Did you not know if you were gay or straight until you had (presumably) straight sex for the first time? You’re attracted to people first, right? Well, if you’re a teenager and you’re attracted to the same sex, it’s still a pretty scary world to live in. The clubs exist because it gives kids an opportunity to band together and know they’re not the only people in their whole high school who feels the way they do. Suicide rates are extremely high among LBGT teens, and quite honestly they need all the help they can get. I’m not saying people don’t question their sexuality or experiment on into adulthood with all the physical stuff, but when puberty hits (and sometimes before) kids really start to have an inkling about who and what kind of person they like.

Uconn

November 11th, 2009
10:03 am

Hmmmm… Now I am confused. I have always spelled it “husky” and the plural was Huskies… You know drop the “y” and add “ies”, but if there was a vowel in front of the “y” a “s” could just be added. So I am going with Husky and Huskies… (sorry for the grammar lesson!) no offense taken.. Now I am going to figure this out!

Uconn

November 11th, 2009
10:04 am

Ok not that 99.9% of you care…. This is from Uconn’s website… Husky Pride. Huskymania.

lakerat

November 11th, 2009
10:06 am

jct -

You should have stopped when I agreed with you to disagree! You are completely misguided, so I will not comment further.

notgonnagiveit

November 11th, 2009
10:06 am

@ Theresa…is there any way you can stop idiots like Vork from commenting? Obviously Vork is a depressed teen who is living in the basement and struggling for validity in this world. The comments here are frequently inappropriate and rude and really add nothing to the discussion other than ‘this topic is not really worth discussing and you all are prudes for even thinking about it.’ It would do your threads well to be without Vork.

motherjanegoose

November 11th, 2009
10:07 am

One last thought and then I am REALLY out of here…

Yesterday, I was told to leave economics to the big girls…so

BIG GIRLS….if our country is made of 90% takers and 10% givers ( or 75% and 25%)….at what point does ‘OUR COUNTRY become useless? I am serious and will check in later.

As a business owner I do understand the economics of profit and loss.

This is from the UConn website...

November 11th, 2009
10:08 am

..the UConn Huskies…and from Wikipedia, “UConn, known as the Huskies”…

jct

November 11th, 2009
10:09 am

Lakerat – if Uconn and I hang out we would be HUSKIES. If alone I would be HUSKY. LOL

JATL

November 11th, 2009
10:12 am

@lakerat -just read your comments to jct, and I’m astounded at your supposed reasoning! You really think that anyone who is celibate cannot be straight or gay? People choose celibacy for a host of issues, but that doesn’t mean they’re never attracted to anyone! Some people also don’t “choose” celibacy, but they never have sex because of physical appearance, personality, unwillingness to pay for it, etc. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to have some type of sex!

Vork

November 11th, 2009
10:15 am

@notgonnagiveit

LOL yeah, good luck with that.

If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen.

Uconn

November 11th, 2009
10:17 am

@jct… Thank you! that’s what I was trying to say in a round about way! :) Funny how this went from a book with masturbation to how to spell huskies LOL…

Ah, motherjanegoose...

November 11th, 2009
10:19 am

…you lost all financial credibility yesterday when you stated that at a recent seminar where you were the featured speaker there were more than 100 extra people who attended, at $50 per person, but you did not make one dime more. In that instant you are not talking about economics or finance, but about contract law. Accordingly, if 100 fewer people had shown up, or if even no one had shown up, would you have refunded your fee? Hence, you were not due anymore money since more than expected attended.

You had entered into a contract to appear at such and such a time, for such and such money. You were there, they were they, and you were paid what you had agreed to via contract.

Hence, as stated previously, please leave the discussions regarding economics and finance to the big girls – just because you are a successful business owner does not mean you are a “fiancial guru”, or you would have had a clause in your contrat that would have allowed you to make more if the attendees at the seminar was above a certain % above what you were led to believe would attend, rather than trying to make us believe that it was altruistic of you to not seek additional compensation above what you had agreed to in writing. Hence, stick to the kiddie math that you are quite successful teaching.