News hit the web regarding the results of a new study coming from researchers at Birmingham City University and Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. The study entailed the evaluation and interviews of sex and relationship education (SRE) teachers across 8 Yorkshire secondary schools.
Although the SRE is expected to be inclusive of the relationships of the LGBT community, the study found that teachers were not living up to their expectation in this regard. In fact, these teachers “almost always constructed young people as heterosexual in their discussion,” and that they elected most often, to bypass the discussion of same–sex relationships.
The most interesting interview came from a veteran of SRE, coined as “White British,” a teacher of the subject for 8 years. Appallingly, she admitted with candor and no hesitation, that the classroom was not the place to cover homosexuality, and that the pupils who did so should “go to the nurse.” She stated further that “In terms of the promotion of homosexuality and lesbianism, we really don’t get into all that. If they openly want to discuss homosexuality, I don’t think the classroom is the best place to do it.”
Apparently, if the students have questions or issue about sexual orientation, “we have a drop-in clinic with the school nurse.”
Even though the teachers believe themselves to be appropriately handling the subject, the authors of the research found that their treatment of the subject of sexuality involved “reinforcing the presumption of heterosexuality, problematizing same-sex sexuality.” They were felt to be only inclusive of the subject in relation to homophobia. The authors of the study felt the teachers were only justifying their treatment of the issue, defending their own practice.
Lessons on same-sex sexuality were clearly not inclusive and prejudicial. Sexual health discussion only included heterosexual sex. The approach marginalizes the LGBT population even further, and sends a subconscious message to students that homosexuality is simply NOT okay.
A very salient point is that the UK has the right goal in mind, but the presentation of the subject material strips the concept of inclusivity from sexuality, which is the exact opposite of the country’s intention. Nonetheless, the UK has the requirement of inclusivity stated, yet has not further passed clarity in its legislation.
The lead researcher of the topic at Birmingham City University, Keeley Abbott, from the department of Social Psychology, has stated that the teachers’ approach “highlights a lack of understanding….around what constitutes real inclusivity.” She punctuates this with the critical issue that the LGBT students are “being left vulnerable here with a lack of any sex education provision that is relevant for them.” She calls for SRE curriculum clarity, and for the government to make “SRE statutory with a policy.”
The educators in the US are still grappling with the challenge of whether or not sex education can be taught in the classroom at all, and this is variable from state to state. In many cases, students need to have a permission slip signed, and parents can “opt out.”