Chapter 4: Moral Panics
What Are Moral Panics?
According to Stanley Cohen (1987), moral panics describe any sociological phenomena in which large groups of people suddenly become concerned that the values and principles that society upholds are in jeopardy. Usually some condition, person, or group of people is identified as being responsible for the lamentable state of affairs and is subsequently cast as deviant or in Cohen's terms, as a "folk devil." Although most moral panics are short-lived and are often inflamed by intense media coverage, there are occasions when the consequences and repercussions are so long-lasting and so much in the public eye that they can affect laws, regulations, and policies and even the way society perceives itself.
Moral panics about youth seem to recur with regularity, notably when a new technology is introduced (Lynn, 2010; Mazzarella, 2003). Over the years, everything from television, video games, computers, and more recently cell phones have been vilified as the latest threat to the why the moral fabric of society is in decay or why our kids can't read and write. For example, the Internet has been blamed for unleashing violence, bullying, and apathy in our schools. At times, even methods of teaching such as "whole language," inquiry-learning, and integrating the arts (Gannon & Sawyer, 2007) have been characterized as "folk devils" responsible for students performing poorly on international tests.
However, some of the concerns that preoccupy education are inflated and become overly pressing in spite of weak data and gaps in logic. The regularity of moral panics requires policymakers and educators to have some grounding in the history, philosophy, and sociology of education so that they can learn to reserve judgement when faced with moral panics and not be unnecessarily influenced by the passion and tenacity of what are sometimes poorly informed and irrational citizens. In this way, prospective teachers can learn how to counter overblown assertions and exaggerated claims and get on with the business of teaching.
Related Resources and ArticlesVideos, PowerPoints, and Podcasts
- Aaronovitch, D., O’Neill, B., & Russell, J. (2011). Moral panics or just panic? [Video recording]. Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/50229651 .
- Bavelier, D. (2012, June). Daphne Bavelier: Your brain on video games [Video recording]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/daphne_bavelier_your_brain_on_video_games .
- Crystal, D. (2010). Texts and tweets: Myths and realities [Video recording]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Boj8VYzDAy8.
- ETFO Provincial (2010). Is EQAO failing our children [Video recording]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3VqK4i4fFg.
- Gee, J. (2011). Games and education [Video recording]. Retrieved from https://vialogues.com/vialogues/play/9447.
- Rutter, J. (2010). Playing with moral panics [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/Jasieboy/playing-with-moral-panics.
- Bielski, Z. (2011, September 30). Teacher bans “bless you” for sneezing kids [Blog post]. The Globe and Mail Hot Button Blog. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/teacher-bans-bless-you-for-sneezing-kids/article617866/.
- Doctorow, C. (2013, December 30). Illustrated timeline of anti-fun moral panics [Blog post]. boingboing. Retrieved from http://boingboing.net/2013/12/30/illustrated-timeline-of-anti-f.html.
- Lukianoff, G. (2013, March 4). Emily Bazelon and the danger of bringing “anti-bullying” laws to campus [Blog post]. The Huffington Post Blog. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-lukianoff/emily-bazelon-and-the_b_3006539.html?utm_source=Alert-blogger&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Email%2BNotifications.
- Read, M. (2012, March 15). From rainbow parties to butt-chugging: A timeline of moral panics in the last decade [Blog post]. Gawker. Retrieved from http://gawker.com/5891061/from-rainbow-parties-to-butt-chugging-a-timeline-of-moral-panics-in-the-last-decade.
- Reisenwitz, C. (2014, May 22). Stop worrying about girls versus boys, public education sucks for everyone [Blog post]. Sex and the State. Retrieved from http://cathyreisenwitz.com/blog/2014/05/22/stop-worrying-girls-versus-boys-public-education-sucks-everyone/ .
- Berlatsky, N. (2014, September 2). Why do Americans love to blame teachers so much? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/09/the-war-on-teachers/379403/ .
- Kush, L. (2011, February ). Teen sexting phenomenon a growing concern. Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved from http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/teen-sexting-phenomenon-a-growing-concern-115625264.html?path=/local&id=115625264&sortBy=oldest.
- Rosin, H. (2014, October 14). Why kids sext. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/why-kids-sext/380798/#disqus_thread .
- Semple, M. (2011, October 24). Dear Mountain Room parents. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/10/24/dear-mountain-room-parents?currentPage=all .
- Teitel, E. (2011, October 11). Bullying 2.0 is more like a drama class. Maclean's. Retrieved from http://www.macleans.ca/general/bullying-2-0-is-more-like-a-drama-class/.
- Walters, P. (2011, February 17). Teacher who called kids “lazy whiners” suspended. Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved from http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/world/teacher-who-called-kids-lazy-whiners-suspended-116386684.html.
Journals, Book Excerpts, Monographs
- Bennett, S. (2012). Digital natives. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of cyber behavior: Volume 1(pp. 212–219). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2364&context=edupapers.
- Bradley, J. (2011). False accusations: A growing fear in the classroom. Education Canada, 51(1). http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/false-accusations-growing-fear-classroom.
- Downs, A. (1972). Up and down with ecology—The “issue-attention cycle.” Public Interest, 28, 38–50. http://www.unc.edu/~fbaum/teaching/articles/Downs_Public_Interest_1972.pdf.
- Gannon, S., & Sawyer, W. (2007). “Whole language” and moral panic in Australia. International Journal of Progressive Education, 3(2), 30–51. http://www.inased.org/v3n2/gannonsawyer.pdf.
- Hasinoff, A.A. (2012). Should teens have the right to sext? Privacy, consent, and social media. In J. Greenberg & C. Elliott (Eds.), Communication in question: Competing perspectives on controversial issues in communication studies (pp. 159–165). Toronto, ON: Thomson Nelson. https://amyhasinoff.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/no-right-to-sext-chapter-scan-2012.pdf.
- Hasinoff, A.A. (2015). Sexting panic: Rethinking criminalization, privacy, and consent. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press. http://www.amazon.com/Sexting-Panic-Rethinking-Criminalization-Feminist/dp/0252080629/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414761523&sr=1-1.
- Herdt, G. (2009). Moral panics, sexual rights, and cultural anger. In G. Herdt (Ed.), Moral panics, sex panics: Fear and the fight over sexual rights (pp. 1–46). New York, NY: NYU Press. http://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Hj_PMQkULyoC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=moral+panics+sexual+rights+cultural+anger+herdt&ots=yWlNTdj0WK&sig=PdTgI-NmUb6zSslJN0R9Eewr4XM#v=onepage&q=moral%20panics%20sexual%20rights%20cultural%20anger%20herdt&f=false .
- Kostogriz, A. (2006). On strangers, “moral panics” and the neo-liberalization of teacher education. Presented at the AARE Annual Conference, Adelaide, Australia. http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/2006/kos06253.pdf.
- Lindberg, S.M., Hyde, J.S., Petersen, J.L., & Linn, M.C. (2010). New trends in gender and mathematics performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136(6), 1123–1135. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057475/.
- Nieftagodien, N. (2011). Youth in history, youth making history: Challenging dominant historical narratives for alternative futures. Yesterday and Today, 6. http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2223-03862011000100005&lng=en&nrm=iso
- Thierer, A. (2012). Technopanics, threat inflation, and the danger of an information technology precautionary principle. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology, 14(1), 309–386. http://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/144225/Technopanics-by-Adam-Thierer-MN-Journal-Law-Science-Tech-Issue-14-1.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
List of Cases
- A Place to Belong?
- A Stitch in Time
- Brave New World?
- On-Line or Off-Base?
- Bang! Bang! You're Dead!
- A Lapse of Judgment
- A Cougar in the Schoolhouse
- No Beeping Song!
- Gangster Fashion
- Character Counts