Diversity in school curriculum

Diversity in school curriculum

Almost three years since the then NSW education minister banned a program asking students to imagine being gay, comprehensive diversity training is now a fully endorsed part of public school life.

However, parents and policy coordinators have been told the compulsory sexual diversity discussions are being dropped on the whim of principals of some schools.

Other schools, such as Macarthur Girls and Kingsgrove high schools have chosen to emphasise sexual minorities in their affirming diversity component of Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) classes.

Every school has different needs and will decide what’s best for them, Kingsgrove’s PDHPE head teacher Nadene Kennedy told last week’s That’s So Gay conference.

Kingsgrove is quite ethnically diverse already, so it was more value for us to focus on being respectful of sexual diversity.

All public school students in Years 7 and 8 are expected to learn to recognise and understand the reasons behind homophobic bullying and how victims face barriers to reporting it.

As part of the prescribed curriculum they are asked to describe ways they could help others who are being harassed, such as seeking help or offering friendship.

Later in Years 9 and 10 students are asked to clarify their personal values and challenge negative community values that demonise or exclude sexual minorities.

Macarthur Girls PDHPE head teacher Julie Mumford said the girls in her classes often didn’t have the necessary vocabulary to express their values, even when supportive of sexual diversity.

Listening to them, we hear the word -˜normal’ and -˜not normal’ over and over again, Mumford said.

We spend a lot of time repeatedly correcting language [that can be hurtful].

At that age, they don’t want to be seen as different. They want to be seen as normal.

While the programs could turn a classroom from a centre for bullying to a sanctuary for gay students, principals often undervalued the classes as they are not externally assessed.

The teachers said some school principals would also lie to the Education Department about whether Years 11 and 12 students had completed the compulsory Crossroads program.

Crossroads takes 25 hours over the two senior years and covers defining intimate relationships, sexual identity, and rights and responsibilities in sexual relationships such as interpreting consent.

Many young people form relationships because of the pressure to find a partner. Sometimes family and religious values conflict with media portrayals of romance, the material states.

Consider how these pressures may affect the ways gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people see themselves.

That exact question was banned from NSW public schools by then minister Carmel Tebbutt in 2005 after a media storm created outrage among conservative groups.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Peter Johnson said gay and lesbian youth were three to four times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers.

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