Class In Session

Author: Frenchie Davis

Monroe

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.

But something is missing. You just can’t put your finger on it.
Check mark

  • 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)

warning signWarning! Do not be the educator that teaches a one-size fits all curriculum.

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.

Unequal PartnersClass 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.

 

References

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.

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8 responses to “Class In Session

  1. I like how you bring class front and center to stress awareness to sexuality educators. You give examples of situations where the audience may have different views and understandings of certain topics. So as an educator, after making sure to pay attention to class differences among the participants, how would you begin to promote choices that may differ from their understanding. For instance, you discuss Anthony (22 years old) and Allison (13 years old). After taking into account that Allison may be seeking financial and emotional support due to her class experience, where would you go from there? Is that a healthy choice as a romantic relationship? How would you discuss this relationship with either of them if they were your clients?

    • My thoughts also lingered on the example of Anthony and Allison, which caused me to contemplate the idea of power dynamics in youth relationships. While remaining conscious of the biases that I bring to the table- usually with a goal of ‘protecting’ the youth- I regularly struggle to find the correct answer to the “do what I think is best” or “do what IS best” for the child conflict. Would it be in the child’s best interest for me to disregard their support (and therefore authority) to educate the youth about the dangers of dating out of your age group? Would this cause enough tension at home to wreak havoc on the child (physically or emotionally)? Or would it empower him/her to make a more informed decision later (and still essentially disobey the parent)? There are many children whose parents do not pay attention to the child’s best interest- be it by choice or inability. How do we navigate these waters? Thanks for making me think

  2. I agree, we seldom ignore the class factor when teaching lessons. When it’s included we assume, the worst. Many of the popular curricula that are on the market are for a certain audience, normally the audience that the authors affiliates with. For the example of Anthony & Alison, she is writing from a white middle-class parent. In Latino cultures that relationship may be deemed appropriate. Also in this lesson do they talk about the legality of that kind of relationship. I think we go to the extreme in our examples, which prevents our learners from grasping the actual lesson. What about a relationship in which both youth attend the same high school. What if Anthony was a 19 y/o senior and Alison a 13 y/o freshman, how would one perceive the relationship> We need to meet our audience where they are, not where we think they are or want them to be.

  3. I truly appreciate this blog. Class is often a contextual variable left out when focusing on being culturally aware and sensitive. Poverty affects every part of your life. Many negative stigmas in the US are associated with poverty especially teenage pregnancy, sexuality activity at an early age, and dating out of ones age range. brings in good questions and a perspective many might not think about. Adding in the vignette allows others to see this perspective.

  4. Frenchie,

    Yep, as sexuality educators, we should always remember to not stigmatize any experience, and remember where we came from and how our biases are formed.

    I am conflicted because of where the money for sex education comes from, we use “teen pregnancy” as a rational for why we do what we do. But, teen pregnancy does not hold a woman back from economic success as much as being impoverished does. So, are we remaking the oppressive messaging when we create education with the goal of limiting “teen pregnancy”?

  5. Reshaping the ways sexuality educators view class, and teen pregnancy in particular, has been on my mind a lot lately. Like Sebastian said, a lot of money for sex ed comes from the rationale of teen pregnancy prevention. And, more frighteningly than that (to me), I’ve heard that same rationale used by sex educators for why they got into the field. The idea of an educator who feels that way standing in front of teen parents (or kids of teen parents) makes me cringe. I think ignoring class is a deeply systematic issue, within sexuality education and beyond. In the U.S. where the boot-strap myth generally goes without question, it’s difficult to convince folks to even want to care about issues related to class and classism, let alone instill any helpful level of understanding (class is messy afterall and is about way more than income and education levels). I’m loving this blog post, as well as the conversation that can be (and is!) stemming from it – thanks for that.

  6. You’re right. The issue of class and socioeconomic status isn’t often discussed in the classroom, and it can ostracize many people. I know that this was brought up in a recent training when someone said that she didn’t have a smartphone. She said that when she’s in trainings or doing activities, or even just communicating with friends, everyone assumes that everyone has a smartphone. But she doesn’t. When we make these assumptions, we’re inevitably leaving someone out.

    One way to be conscious of who is being left out, and to bring it to the forefront of the classroom, is to do a Diversity Welcome (http://bit.ly/1vx2doq). While this isn’t ideal for all spaces, it’s definitely one way to make students/participants/clients conscious of identities.

    This also reminds me of when schools were closed in Georgia last winter because of the weather. People criticized Georgia from across the nation, but was class taken into consideration? People who live in Georgia and don’t need winter boots or heavy coats most years likely don’t have them, and this isn’t something that all people can just go out and purchase. Class wasn’t taken into consideration, and kiddos aren’t going to be able to focus if they’re freezing.

    I love how you phrase it: “When class is in session, CLASS is always in session.”

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