Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

Categories

Archives

Scott Cawelti Photo
Latest from Scott Header
  • The Truth about Masturbation, from Joclyn Elders

    • Posted on Dec 18, 1994 by Scott Cawelti

    12-18-94

    g causes more trouble--for all of us--than examining our own commonly forbidden customs and habits. Taboos, they're called, and we question them at our peril. They're ta-BOO!Scary. 
     
    Every culture has taboos. Every culture makes sure there are harsh punishments for those who break them, ranging from exile right on up to damnation and death. 
    In our civilized state, taboo-breaking can even mean a pink slip from the President of the United States. 

    Ask Jocelyn Elders. Ever since Ms. Elders became Surgeon General, she's been
    openly confronting various taboos. First it was fetuses. 
     
    "This country has got to get over its love affair with the fetus!" she proclaimed, and anti-abortionists went into cardiac arrest. How dare the highest medical officer in the land refer to a pre-born baby as a fetus! How dare she suggest that their position might amount to an obsession! 
     
    Trouble, with a capital T. President Clinton swallowed hard, though, and accepted Ms. Elders' comment, saying she had a mind of her own. Now, however, it's post-Republican victory time, and Clinton senses that Elders has become too loose a cannon for the deck of his foundering ship.   
     
    So he fired the outspoken taboo-breaker, the brash, uncomfortable, and now politically inconvenient Ms. Elders. 
     
    What taboo had she questioned this time? None other than masturbation, that time-honored low-level taboo that amounts to safe, albeit lonely, sex. 
     
    Elders suggested in public that sex education teachers might want to discuss masturbation in class.  It's out the door for her, truth and common sense be damned. 
    Years ago, I owned a 1903 edition of Webster's, and I happened to look up "masturbation," just to see how they defined it. 

    That weather-beaten old dictionary called it "Self-pollution." That was it. No fancy physiological terms, no long explanation of the mechanics or psychological side-effects. 
     
    Just self-pollution, a two-word definition designed to strike fear in the hearts of any curious girl or boy literate enough to own and read a dictionary. 
     
    After reading "self-pollution," they still wouldn't know what "masturbation" meant, except that it was something bad. 
     
    Ms. Elders, understand, didn't go so far as to suggest that 
     
    people ought to take time out of our busy workdays to masturbate, or that occasionally we should forsake conjugality in favor of self-pleasure. That's the stuff of revolution, and no one's about to advocate anything so radical. 
     
    No, Ms. Elders merely suggested that a subject that's probably already included in many sex education courses across the land, in fact, deserves to be included. 
     
    Conservative columnists are crowing, the sharks are feeding, and more than a few Democrats have been breathing a sigh of relief following Elders's departure. 
     
    What a shame. Anyone who dares to question taboos seems destined for national oblivion. It's especially a shame in this case, because she only told the truth. 
    I've never seen, heard, or read any evidence to suggest that Elders's point was wrong, ill-considered, or harmful to anyone in any way. We don't like to think she's right, but that doesn't make her wrong.  If masturbation causes problems other than guilt, no one seems to have discovered it. 

    Mainly it provides safe sex and relief from powerful sexual urges. Of course if those urges can be avoided or denied, great. Let self-discipline reign. But even celibates don't deal all that well with sexuality, as anyone associated with the Catholic church knows. 
     
    Nature, in her wisdom, has made sure that humans will reproduce. That means we have all been, and will continue to be, subject to desires that make us behave pretty much like chimps, sorry to say.  Chimps and chumps, at one time or another. 
     
    Any sex education teacher who teaches that masturbation causes acne, or hairy palms, or self-pollution probably ought to be drummed out of the classroom. The same with any sex education teacher who doesn't bring it up at all. 
     
    And any surgeon general who tells the simple truth will get herself fired in these newly self-righteous times. 
     
    Just a couple weeks ago, the president lauded Pete Seeger as an "inconvenient" American, praising Seeger for his willingness to stand up for what he thought was right, even though it meant certain blacklisting and national disapproval for some thirty years. 

    Well, I suggest that Ms. Elders has done precisely the same, and also has made herself "inconvenient."  Now if she can survive another three decades, we'll give her a national citation for courage. 
     
    Meanwhile, hypocrisy, otherwise known as politics as usual, reigns. 
    Go comment!
  • Boys and Girls Together or Separate in Classrooms?

    • Posted on Nov 20, 1994 by Scott Cawelti

    11-20-94

    The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the French put it,  only in French, of course.

    The newest evidence: American educators want to at least consider segregating students by gender on the grounds that boys and girls learn better apart.

    Ah, back to "boys only" classes. Even now, some forty years later, I can't help but grin at my own memories. First came boys' home economics class, a noble experiment that caused daily convulsions among the boys involved. Convulsions of laughter, that is.

    The idea was to teach the junior high male something about cooking and grooming. There was no need for girls in class, since they had mastered the material probably a decade before.       

    The boys needed help in these areas, in the form of regular instruction in the kitchen and in front of a mirror.

    So, while the girls went to shop class to make ashtrays and paperweights (or both!) we went to the school kitchen to learn cooking, and to classrooms with mirrors to learn grooming.

    In the kitchen class, we began with something simple: French toast and oatmail. Not a huge challenge there.

    Yet try as he might, my goofy tablemate could not seem to get the egg-mix for the French toast right, and his oatmeal grew steadily more tragic.

    So the egg-mix ended up mostly on the floor, and he discovered that his oatmeal looked precisely like pus.  This he exclaimed loudly and gleefully to the other boys, who quickly gathered around the bowl to agree and offer suggestions.

    Of course he couldn't eat it, so when the teacher looked away, he flipped the entire runny contents of his bowl out the classroom (third floor) window, followed by his dried-up piece of toast.

    I laughed so hard I nearly threw up, and even the teacher's lips seemed to be trembling from suppressing a giggle. Or maybe her lips just trembled all the time around junior high oafs.          

    But the real benefactors of all this boys-only hijinx were the kids on the playground below. Some of them watched the whole mess fly out the window, and they gathered around the blob on the asphalt, exclaiming and hooting.

    A great moment in gender-segregated education.

    Then there was sex education, always segregated, and always good for a gut-wrenching laugh or two. We were shown scratchy old films of tadpole-like creatures swimming earnestly toward round amoeba-like creatures.

    My friend Johnnie kept me entertained with a running commentary. "It looks just like my little brother," he whispered.

    When the teacher said there was nothing funny about it, we laughed like maniacs. Actually, even normal adults would find those films funny, since it was all a cartoon, and the little wiggly creatures seemed unstoppable.

    Had the girls been there, we wouldn't have laughed half so much. In fact, we probably wouldn't have laughed at all, since we wouldn't have known what was so funny.

    Boys alone find stuff funny that they don't even notice when girls are around. Strange but true.

    So segregated classes made education, for me, far more engaging and hilarious, just because I didn't have to worry about pleasing the girls.  I may not have learned as much, but I sure liked going to class.

    So too with girls. When they don't have to worry about seeming too smart for some would-be admirer, or too much like a tomboy for knowing all the math answers, they just learn the subject matter.

    Although actual research on this point still hasn't come in, when it does, I'll bet a case of chalk that it will support classroom gender segregation.

    The only problem I can see with segregation is that the boys will end up having mostly fun with each other, and the girls will end up not knowing much about socializing with boys.

    In other words, neither boys nor girls will get much in the way of life-knowledge.                                         

    Boys will remain oaflike clods, unable to do much more than exercise their slapstick senses of humor. Girls, on the other hand, will grow ever-more certain of their superiority, and ever-more unable to communicate with boys.  Some of them, anyway.

    School, after all, teaches not only subjects, but life. And life involves learning how work with, persuade, and at least begin to understand, members of the opposite sex. Families can't teach this, nor can churches.

    Only life teaches it, as found in regular classrooms, with all the problems that boys and girls together have to face.

    So on balance, I'd say have a few segregated classes so the boys can laugh, but keep most classes mixed. My most memorable classes for learning occurred when boys and girls together hashed out a problem, and everyone offered their occasionally gender-biased two cents worth. 

    Girls have to learn to jump in with superior logic and evidence, and make their case. Boys have to learn to shut up and listen. That's life; that's education.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Education
Contact Scott Header
Contact Scott Photo
Brothers Blood Book
James Hearst
Landscape Iowa CD