This week’s article summary is School Sex Education is Often Negative, Heterosexist, and Out of Touch.
The article resonated for me less for the subject of sex education and more as an illustration of the importance of student relevancy in the classroom.
As the article attests, most students (around the world) feel schools do a poor job teaching SRE (Sex and Relationship Education) because the content and delivery of the course do not reflect what students actually see and experience outside of the classroom.
This can include the following:
- Being sexually active when most SRE courses espouse abstinence-only strategies
- Knowing and/or being gay, bisexual, transgender when SRE courses focus exclusively on heterosexuality
- Wanting opportunities to talk confidentially about their lives when SRE courses are most often taught by school teachers rather than outside specialists
It’s not surprising that sex education is a controversial subject, not only in the United States but around the world, as it typically is filled with religious, social, parenting, and/or political beliefs and implications.
Yet the result is middle and high school kids not getting the information, advice, and counseling they so want and need.
And when kids don’t see relevance and connection to their lives in their classrooms, everyone loses.
The implication for Trinity, an elementary school, is to keep striving for both the ‘what' and ‘how' we teach to be relevant to our students and to their lives at the moment. Last year as we developed the six pillars of what drives our program, we included under Cherish Childhood "design experiences around what is important in the life of a child.”
Students would greatly benefit if SRE programs tried to do this.
In most countries across the world, school do not acknowledge that sex education is a special subject with unique challenges, and as a result are doing a huge disservice to young people and are missing a key opportunity to safeguard and improve their sexual health, conclude researchers.
They base their findings on 55 studies which explored the views and experiences of young people (age 12-18) who had been taught sex and relationship education (SRE) in school programs in the UK, Ireland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Iran, Brazil and Sweden.
The researchers synthesized the feedback and found that despite the wide geographical reach of the studies, young people's views were remarkably consistent.
Two overarching themes emerged.
The first was that schools fail to recognize the distinctive and challenging nature of SRE, for the most part preferring to approach it in exactly the same way as other subjects.
Yet the feedback indicated there are distinct challenges when teaching SRE: in mixed sex classes young men feared humiliation if they weren't sexually experienced and said they were often disruptive to mask their anxieties; their female class mates felt harassed and judged by them.
Young people also criticized the overly 'scientific' approach to sex, which ignored pleasure and desire, and they felt that sex was often presented as a 'problem' to be managed.
Stereotyping was also common, with women depicted as passive, men as predatory, and little or no discussion of gay, bisexual, or transgender sex.
The second principal theme was that schools seem to find it difficult to accept that some of their students are sexually active, leading to content that is out of touch with the reality of many young people's lives and a consequent failure to discuss issues that are relevant to them.
This was evident in what young people perceived as an emphasis on abstinence, moralizing, and a failure to acknowledge the full range of sexual activities they engaged in.
But it also manifests in a failure to deliver helpful and practical information, such as the availability of community health services, what to do if they got pregnant, the pros and cons of different methods of contraception, or the emotions that might accompany sexual relationships.
The evidence suggests that young people themselves want SRE to be taught in schools, using an approach that is 'sex positive' -- one that aims for young people to enjoy their sexuality in a way that is safe, consensual, and healthy.