Author: Frenchie Davis
No one will truly dispute that students who come from economically disadvantaged homes perceive life and education differently from students who come from more financially affluent homes. Despite this political-social truth not enough is done to diminish the educational barriers classism.
Most often we as sexual health educators are well seasoned in approaching group dynamics that consider age, race, sexual identity, and sexual minorities, but there’s still an important variable that goes unnoticed. How does this happen?
- We get comfortable in our esteem. We know that no one does it quite like a Widener Grad!
- We go to amazing conferences and receive updated curriculum books that continually use lessons created by white -middle class-suburban-women (Sue Montfort, Sharon Thompson, Eva Goldfarb Ph.D., and Anne Terrell just to name a few)
- We like the activities, so we believe that others will receive them too, and when they don’t it’s chalked up as a fluke. After all, the other students in the other “class” seem to like it
- A failed lesson is easy to ignore if you only have to give it one time and move to the next activity.
- Good attitude- check
- Prepped well- check
- Know the material- check
- Gender receptive -check
- Racially sensitive-check
- Age positive-check
A sexual health educator can have all the best intentions but provide the most disservice without being mindful of their audience and affluence. This greatly occurs because we forget to consider that class is such a vital factor in educating our most vulnerable audiences.
As sexual health educators we have the power to encourage health and emotional outcomes beyond the scope of truly comprehending since our time is often limited with students. We must value our meta-cognition and be mindful of our power and influence. Lisa Delpit author of, “Other People’s Children” discusses the issues of power enacted in classrooms, “those with power are frequently least aware of- or least willing to acknowledge-its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence.” (Delpit, 2006)
Class Lesson: Sexual health educators are encouraged to teach students to delay having children because it can derail future aspirations such as college, career goals and dreams. However, if young people in poverty (lower-class) are accustomed to tending to their younger siblings on a daily basis, they may regard themselves as a parental figure and not understand the implications and challenges of being a young single parent. Children in poverty tend to have more responsibility and often take on adult tasks to help support the family dynamic. Where family instability is commonplace we must be careful as educators to not assume that students understand its dysfunction or regard its challenges as a challenge. It is simply a way of life.
Class Lesson: Unequal Partners: teaching about power and consent in adult-teen and other relationships. (Montfort & Brick, 2007) Twenty-two-year old Anthony has begun going out with 13-year old Allison. Her parents are objecting to the relationship. What could Anthony do?
In this example the students are to discuss adult-teen relationships. It’s important to recognize in communities of poverty, teens might pursue adults as a means of financial and emotional support and would not conclude that this relationship is inappropriate. In fact, the parents might also support this relationship because of other financial burdens.
We must value the class our audiences reside in. Our means, perspectives and experiences are shaped in or out of the culture of poverty. Unfortunately we do not have the liberty of facilitating “monolithic” sex education when class is an under examined barrier between curricula, facilitators and their audience. “It is not differences that divide people but how differences are conceptualized and responded to,” says Audre Lorde (Gardner, Dean & McKaig, 1989)
So remember as you prepare your lessons. When class is in session, CLASS is always in session.
Delpit, L. (2006). Other people’s children. (1 ed., p. 64). New York: The New Press.
Gardner, S., Dean, C., & McKaig, D. (1989). Responding to differences in the classroom: the politics of knowledge, class and sexuality. Sociology of Education, 62(1), 64. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2112824
Montfort, S., & Brick, P. (2007). Focus on males. In Unequal partners teaching about power and consent in adult-teen and other relationships (3 ed., p. 127). New Jersey: Planned Parenthood.