08 SES 14, Policy- and curriculumperspectives in health and sexuality education
In a recent television appearance, trans film director Lana Wachowski highlighted the importance of policy to extend or inhibit human rights. She stated that: “policy is the battle ground where matters of equality are fought. Policy can institutionalize prejudice or it can protect us against it.” Likewise, scholars of educational policy assert that “policy creates context” (Ball, Maguire & Braun, 2012) although they insist that “context also precedes policy” (p. 19). The policy context of sexuality education in schools internationally is a key site for exploring how progress is made towards either improving school experiences for sexually diverse students, or inhibiting the expression of identities, sexual knowledges and rights. While there is a complex relationship between policy documents and the articulation of practice in schools (Ball, 2003; Ball et al, 2012), policy documents at least hold a place for and represent the potential for and of changed practices (and, likewise, policy can also formally enshrine prejudice and prevent social justice).
In 2015, the New Zealand Ministry of Education published a sexuality education curriculum document that can be considered progressive by international standards. It includes a comprehensive approach to sexuality education, as well as an explicit orientation to uphold the rights of gender and sexually diverse students and teachers, and to celebrate that diversity (Fitzpatrick, 2018). So far, however, translation into practice has been patchy (Education Review Office, 2018).
This presentation draws on ethnographic data from two schools to explore what translation of this policy into practice looks like. The social theory of Pierre Bourdieu (1986, 1990), in articulation with gender sexuality studies, is drawn on to understand the complexities of curriculum policy in sexuality education, and related practices in schools.
This paper draws on ethnographic data from schools in New Zealand. These are used as an example to show how debates in the field of sexuality education globally, are reflected in one national context at the intersection of policy and messy school-based practice. Data here are drawn from a critical ethnographic (Madison, 2012), study of health education in high schools. Methods in that 3-year project included observing and participating in health education classes, research discussions, participating in student-led groups, as well as interviews.
Policy, of course, reflects dominant ideas and what is socially acceptable, and may, at times, push at the boundaries of a particular field of practice. Policy is always political. Nevertheless, any policy emerges from the context in which it is written and is a process of negotiation, compromise and contestation (Ball, 2006). Educational policies can overtly reinforce and sanction the logic of practice of the fields from which they arise and/or expose and challenge the inhering forms of capital, potentially creating space for new or ‘other’ embodiments and identities to be recognized. Gender and sexuality are linked in complex ways and schools are sites of surveillance and regulation upon multiple levels. In this, issues of sexuality are frequently silenced (Fine, 2003), not least those which disrupt the social dominance of heteronormativity (Atkinson & Depalma, 2009). In ‘official’ terms, sexuality appears in curriculum policy, but sexuality education is contentious, and the sexualities of students are subject to scrutiny and policing. Nevertheless, this paper demonstrates that progressive policy can allow meaningful sexuality education – that both values diversity and student cultures – to exist in schools. This is reliant on knowledgeable and committed teachers, adequate time allocation, and an environment that welcomes student leadership.
Atkinson, E., & DePalma, R. (2008). Imagining the homonormative: Performative subversion in education for social justice. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29(1), 25-35. Atkinson, E., & DePalma, R. (2009). Un-believing the matrix: Queering consensual hetronormativity. Gender and Education, 21(1), 17-29. Ball, S. J. (2003). Class strategies and the education market: The middle classes and social advantage. London, UK: RoutledgeFalmer. Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. London: Routledge. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241-258). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press Education Review Office. (2018). Promoting wellbeing through sexuality education. Wellington: Education Review Office. Fine, M. (2003). Sexuality, schooling, and adolescent females: The missing discourse of desire. In M. Fine, & L. Weis (Eds.), Silenced voices and extraordinary conversations: Re-imagining schools (pp. 38-67). New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Fitzpatrick, K. (2018). Sexuality Education in New Zealand: A policy for social justice? Sex Education. Madison, D. S. (2012). Critical ethnography: Method, ethics and performance (2nd ed). LA: Sage publications Ltd.
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