George Pyle: Ignorance porn on display in Utah

In this Oct. 8, 2015, photo, Justin Pace reads along with classmates during a ninth-grade Teen Talk High School class at Carlmont High School in Belmont, Calif. Sex education in some American high schools is evolving beyond pregnancy and disease prevention to include lessons aimed at curbing sexual assaults. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

Mark Twain

Ignorance is like sex.

Each is a significant part of all of our lives. Each of them can, depending on the circumstances and the individuals involved, be irrelevant, harmful, amusing or bliss.

In most cases, though, most of us have the decency not to display either in public. It can be embarrassing, perhaps even dangerous, both for you and for the odd onlooker.

There is a place — not, necessarily, the same place — to share each of them, ideally with a special person who will help us diminish our ignorance and/or express our sexuality without taking advantage of our vulnerability or judging.

Those who take inordinate pride in publicly flaunting their sexuality are generally not accepted in polite society. Though, if they are really good at it, they may make such behavior into a lucrative career, becoming well paid and sometimes well known, if not altogether well regarded.

Those who take inordinate pride in publicly flaunting their ignorance are usually seen in one of two venues. One is entertainment, where people who really are not as foolish as they appear say, do or mimic ignorant things for the amusement of others. (Don’t try this at home, kids.)

The other is in public life — politics, religion and civil society — where people who may really be as foolish as they seem not only put their own ignorance on proud display, but encourage others to do so as well.

It is the pornography of ignorance. A generally private, perhaps even shameful, thing put on public display by people who expect to gain something from it.

Utah’s purveyors of ignorance porn were out in force last week, bending the ears of the members of the Utah Board of Education, in aghast protest of a bit of the state administrative code, and of a Utah teacher’s guide to sex eduction written in furtherance of that law, that allows teachers in this “abstinence-based” sex education state to answer their students’ “spontaneous questions” about sex. Or was it questions about spontaneous sex? (Don’t try this at all, kids.)

Led by the Utah Eagle Forum and Pro-Life Utah, angry citizens and parents peppered the mostly mute board members with concerns that questions that are best answered in the privacy of one’s own home are allowed in public schools. With, they believe, the inevitable outcome of awkward, embarrassing, maybe even damaging discussions taking place in front of students who really didn’t want to hear all that.

One thing the protestors were unequivocally right about is that the home is the best place to learn about sex, intimacy, reproduction, family formation, all that gooey stuff. But none of this would be an issue if we had the least reason to be confident that all young people were comfortable asking their parents those questions.

Really. Think. Would any adolescent so much as consider asking a teacher — a teacher?!? — about birth control, personal body development, strange urges or unfamiliar feelings unless they had reason to believe that their parents wouldn’t want to hear the question? Or that the young person’s embarrassment at their own curiosity would leave them, and their parents, virtually unable to speak?

One might object to informing people about, oh, say, the workings of an atomic bomb, for fear that those previously uninterested may develop a sudden yen to construct one.

That analogy fails, though, when we are honest about the fact that every healthy human adolescent is already sitting on a ticking bomb, and that knowing how to defuse it — or direct it properly — does not involve pretending it isn’t there.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, had a lot of questions after seeing Natalie Wood in her Victorian underwear in “The Great Race” (1965).