Friday, June 22, 2007

David Brooks On Sex Education

(Yeah, I had that thought as well.)

In When Preaching Flops, a rambling editorial which suggests that Brooks recently read an essay on object relations theory, Brooks sneers,
A little while ago, a national study authorized by Congress found that abstinence education programs don’t work. That gave liberals a chance to feel superior because it turns out that preaching traditional morality to students doesn’t change behavior.
I'm not sure who supposedly felt superior, but it wasn't exactly a surprise that "abstinence only" education failed. To the extent that "preaching traditional morality" translates into "Do as I say, not as I did or do," or, "Virginity is really important... for the girl you marry," who could be surprised by that?
Deciding is conscious and individual, but perceiving is subconscious and communal. The teen sex programs that actually work don’t focus on the sex. They focus on the environment teens live in. They work on the substratum of perceptions students use to orient themselves in the world. They don’t try to lay down universal rules, but apply the particular codes that have power in distinct communities. They understand that changing behavior changes attitudes, not the other way around.
And let me guess... they were created by people Brooks would describe as liberals. As Brooks seems to agree with them, though, perhaps they're Hamiltonian liberals.


  1. Geez, why so snarky? I knew as much, too. Lot's of us know as much, but Brooks still wrote on some complex ideas about how the mind works that rate far better than one typically sees in the popular press. And, more specifically than object relations theory, he's drawing from self-psychology and the notion of pre-relflective unconscious structures proposed by Stolorow and Atwood -- these theories are gaining increasing support from the emerging neuroscience.

    Brooks was not offering an everyday understanding of the matter which you would know from the blank look on the average person's face when discussions of these sort are raised to counter prevailing folk wisdom in any number of areas of human behavior.

    Obviously, he just read something about this, or perhaps had a cocktail party conversation with an analyst or a neuroscientist. So what? Would you prefer the perpetuation of folk theories, or would you rather people accept your opinions undergirded by nothing but black box explanations?

  2. Why so snarky? You should ask that of David Brooks. As you should have noticed, my criticism of him was not that he is (finally) recognizing the faults with such ideas as "abstinence only" sex education, but that he sneers at "liberals" who disprove of "morals-based" sex education, before finally getting around to endorsing programs that were unquestionably created by people he would denounce as "liberals". People who presumably were also not impressed with the notion of substituting a contrived "morality" for an educational approach based on psychology and neuroscience.


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