Concerned parents and media critics swatted the New York Times on Thursday after the newspaper heralded Justine Ang Fonte, a New York teacher who recently became infamous for her sexual education curriculum for children and young adults, as a “sex-positive educator,” and called her lessons “pornography literacy.”
For seven years, Fonte was the director of health and wellness at the Dalton School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In May, she was invited to teach two Zoom lessons on “pornography literacy and consent” to juniors and seniors at the Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School on the Upper West Side. Those lessons reportedly included some “masturbation” images, outraging parents and eventually leading to her resignation.
But the Times had a different viewpoint on the controversy and appeared to provide Fonte some backup.
“Pornography literacy classes are supposed to teach students how to critically assess what they see on the screen,” the Times tweeted, with a link to its report from Style reporter Valeriya Safronova. “But when a sex-positive educator taught her curriculum at two elite New York City schools recently, some parents were outraged.”
The Zoom lessons never used the term “masturbation,” according to Fonte. Instead, Safronova notes, “The lesson was about private parts being private and included a cartoon in which two characters use anatomically correct names for their genitals and say that sometimes it feels good to touch them. ‘It’s OK to touch yourself and see how different body parts feel, but it’s best to only do it in private,’ the narrator tells viewers.”
But the video reportedly outraged parents to the point that Dalton parents “bombarded” the school with more complaints about Fonte’s curriculum, according to the New York Post. Fonte would later resign from Dalton, with the school reportedly having no ill will toward her.
“Throughout her tenure at Dalton, Justine Ang Fonte has helped to develop an exemplary K-12 Health and Wellness program. Dalton — our faculty, staff, administration, and trustees — continue to stand firmly behind this program and those who teach it,” Dalton’s head of school, Jim Best, who also won’t be returning, said in a statement.
The Times acknowledges that Fonte has received backlash for her lessons, but noted “multiple sex educators interviewed for this article said there was nothing inappropriate about her classes,” and that her methods appeared to be in line with the National Sex Education Standards and CDC guidelines.
“Pornography literacy,” Safronova, argues, teaches kids “how to recognize what is realistic and what is not, how to deconstruct implicit gender roles, and how to identify what types of behavior could be a health or safety risk.”
Critics condemned the New York Times for pushing what they believed to be a premature – and dangerous – message to children.
“Porn is not ‘sex-positive,’” said pro-life activist Lila Rose. “That’s like saying rat poison is a vitamin. Porn is dehumanizing to everyone involved & damaging to healthy sexuality. Also—instructing 5 year olds about masturbation is sexual abuse & any adult involved should be criminally charged.”
Rose was one of many to argue that Fonte or the Times should face consequences for this type of messaging.
“Let’s add the New York Times to the list of periodicals that promote sexuality to children. Now [sic] way are kids supposed to learn about masterbation [sic] in the first grade,” tweeted Barrington Martin II, a former congressional candidate in Georgia. “These people are sick and need to be institutionalized or incarcerated.”
“Aren’t people who try to teach porn to kids also sex criminals?” asked Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor.
Many more questioned the Times’ argument or remarked on the seemingly troublesome state of U.S. education in general.
The New York Times’ apparent defense of Fonte is the latest controversy in the media in the debate over what is and isn’t appropriate for children.
Last week, the Washington Post published an opinion piece from a mother who argued that “kink” should be welcomed at gay pride parades and that she wouldn’t shield her daughter from any such sexual displays because it was a fine way for participants to “celebrate” who they were. Again, at the time, critics demanded the paper be in “serious trouble” and held accountable.
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