Biology Professor Roughgarden Speaks On English Teacher’s Suspension

For those of you who haven’t heard, the Internets have been abuzz over the suspension of Dan DeLong, an Illinois honors English teacher who gave an optional assignment to read an article by Jonah Lehrer, a Rhodes scholar and writer featured in such publications as Wired and The New Yorker. The article in question leans heavily on Stanford Biology Professor Joan Roughgarden’s research into homosexuality as found in nature:

You’d think by now, several hundred million years after sex began, nature would have done away with such inefficiencies, and males and females would only act to maximize rates of sexual reproduction.

But the opposite has happened. Instead of copulation becoming more functional and straightforward, it has only gotten weirder as species have evolved—more sodomy and other frivolous pleasures that are useless for propagating the species. The more socially complex the animal, the more sexual “deviance” it exhibits. Look at primates: Compared to our closest relatives, contemporary, Westernized Homo sapiens are the staid ones.

The article continues,

Despite this new evidence, sexual selection theory is still stuck in the 19th century. The Victorian peacock remains the standard bearer. But as far as Roughgarden is concerned, that’s bad science: “The time has come to declare that sexual theory is indeed false and to stop shoe-horning one exception after another into a sexual selection framework…To do otherwise suggests that sexual selection theory is unfalsifiable, not subject to refutation.”

I emailed Professor Roughgarden to ask for a comment about Mr. DeLong’s suspension (and recent reinstatement) and she had this to say:

It’s been some time since I read the article in Seed Magazine. I do not believe the suspension was justified because the article was simply an article in a general-circulation magazine. Similarly, the school board should not discipline a teacher for assigning an article in Scientific American, Newsweek or any other general circulation publication. The article is perfectly appropriate for sophmores. And yes, I do think the action represented a condemnation of homosexuality. I agree with the assessment of Psychology Today that the incident sends a message that everything other than heterosexuality is irregular and unnatural. The facts that have been emerging for some time from field biology about natural variation in gender expression and homosexuality undercut the foundation of many anti-gay groups that are now likely to agitate for suppression of the evidence.

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