Saturday, August 08, 2015

A Very Model Moral Panic

Preposterous charges against an L.A. preschool set off a wave of copycat cases—with dire consequences.

By Carol Tavris, WSJ
Aug. 7, 2015 4:44 p.m. ET

In the mid-1980s, a friend of mine testified on behalf of an elementary-school teacher who had been accused of being a pedophile. A child had told his mother that the teacher had taught them about “boobies and dicks” and had drawn a picture on the blackboard that sounded suspiciously to the mother like an image of an ejaculating penis. The police had raced to the classroom and confiscated the damning evidence: several copies of “Moby-Dick.” What the teacher had drawn was a whale and its spout.

Looking back, we can see that the only boobies involved in this case were the adults. But whenever we are in the midst of a moral panic, as we were in the 1980s, we feel that our alarm is reasonable and that punitive solutions are appropriate. Dicks? That child knew the word “dicks”? Cancel sex ed! Run that teacher out of town!

Waves of sexual hysteria sweep across our nation with depressing regularity. Each one seems to come out of thin air, wreaks enormous havoc, subsides and is forgotten. Each is regarded as an anomaly. I have no doubt that 30 years after the Salem witch trials of 1692-93, parents tried to teach their children about the Un-Puritan Activities Committee’s interrogations that led to the executions of 20 people, the imprisonment of 150 others, and accusations against an additional 200. “George, sit down here so I can tell you how Giles Corey was pressed to death by these crazy people,” I can hear a parent say. “Aw, Ma,” young George probably replied, “that was so 17th century.”

(More here.)


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