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Teaching Queer: Problems in Education – Part 1

Speaking as a teacher, I prize education over a good many things in this world and as so much value is put on it, we have to get it right and whilst this is not always possible, we always try our best. Now, there are a great deal of important subjects out there, but there is always one lesson in the education system which was and is viewed as a ‘doss’ (as I am reliably informed) by many students.

PSHE. Or PSHCE. Or PSHEE. Or whatever you want to call it. Basically, that lesson (or, as I have heard at some schools – that time in form time) where points are discussed that bear some relevance on real life – a novelty in an educational establishment some may argue. Reformed criminals are brought in to tell pupils of their story and how they realised the error of their ways; former drug addicts are brought in to counsel against taking drugs; bank managers are brought in to discuss the finer points of mortgages and fitness coaches are brought in to rhapsodise about leading a healthy lifestyle.

Laudable. Absolutely laudable.

Yet here lies the rub. As a teacher, I really do value the role of PSHE in schools. It helps to fine tune the moral compass of pupils as well as provide an opportunity or space where students can ask the embarrassing, stereotypical questions, usually about teenage bodily functions. But something’s gone awry somewhere. Looking at the DfE’s website for PSHE we find that whilst it claims PSHE is ‘an important necessary part of all pupils’ education’ (thumbs up DfE), it places it as a non-statutory subject (well okay, school timetables are tricky), but also goes on to say:

To allow teachers the flexibility to deliver high-quality PSHE we consider it unnecessary to provide new standardised frameworks or programmes of study.

Now I wholly understand the reasons behind this. Say, for instance, we have a school in inner city London which has to deal with knife crime and gang culture whereas in Grimsby there may be a school where the students suffer from a disinterest in employment. PSHE would need to be used completely differently in both settings in order to equip students with ‘a sound understanding of risk and with the knowledge and skills necessary to make safe and informed decisions’.

And now, DfE, you have been caught out. In order to deliver ‘high-quality PSHE’ you consider it unnecessary to prescribe a curriculum, but instead offer general points to cover: ‘drug education, financial education, sex and relationship education (SRE) and the importance of physical activity and diet for a healthy lifestyle’. General, but not specific. Now arguably, one could say that the outline of any curriculum as expressed by the DfE is general. For example, in English, it does not dictate which two Shakespeare plays need to be studied in Key Stage 3/Y7-9, but the fact it has cited Shakespeare in the first place shows that it has, in actual fact, specified. The five points outlined above for PSHE are general areas, which involve a great deal of content. And, worryingly, some of it is being missed out and this is where the danger lies.

Everybody has in their memory that PSHE lesson where the nurse (or teacher) comes in and starts putting condoms on bananas or cucumbers, talks about the importance of sexual health and the support available to young women should they fall pregnant. Marvellous. Yes, this is genuinely the kind of stuff about which pupils should be learning. But, before we get to the part about pregnancy (or the part about condoms for that matter) – at what point is consent covered?

Consent.

At what point does the teacher, nurse, medical practitioner sit down and say “yes means yes, no means no”? At what point do we get to talk about how and why this could be complicated (because, undoubtedly, even for such a simple dichotomy, students are going to be inquisitive about it)? At what point do we move on to consent in a non-heterosexual framework?

Looking at the ‘Sex and Relationship Education Guidance’, published by the DfE (in 2000 – come on guys, time for a re-vamp?) a quick search for ‘consent’ leads you to two places and both are to do with medical professionals assessing whether a student has the ‘the maturity to consent to medical treatment including contraceptive treatment’.

This is not good enough.

To me, the Queer Agenda is a way of living which accepts. It is accepting of people regardless of their sex, gender or sexuality and therefore it encourages, teaches and preaches respect. For such a culture to be established, then there needs to be a fundamental level on which men and women whatever form and feeling respect each other, especially in relationships. And this all starts with one thing. Consent.

 

The Teaching Queer series is by our guest blogger A, a teacher who enjoys transcending social norms in the same way his limbs transcend typical biological restrictions on flexibility. 

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