On Tuesday I wrote about my community college students and their developing understanding of rape and how to prevent it.  I ended with this:

I am sure that this class changed how many of the students think about sexuality – they’ve told me as much themselves.  But I’m not as sure that it has influenced their choices or actions to nearly the same degree.  And this is always the ultimate challenge for a teacher: How to influence not only the in-class response, but also the out-of-class actions and thought processes?  This is, of course, a particularly fascinating and poignant dilemma for a sex education teacher.

And I’m still ruminating about it. There are a number of issues here, including the goal of a community college class in human sexuality, the appropriateness of a variety of educational techniques in human sexuality, and essentially how to change human behavior.

I have realized this semester that human sexuality class was attempting to reach two goals: (1) to provide the students with an academic understanding of the dynamics in play in human sexuality and (2) to provide the students with tools and skills to enhance their personal and social sexual activities and decision making.  My students were (mostly) far more interested in the second goal, and so the class tended to drift in that direction.  But finding a way to evaluate and assess students on those criteria is incredibly tricky, so I ended up assessing the students on primarily the first goal.

This question goes beyond the borders of this specific class.  Should we teach sex ed more like we teach a standard Algebra I class, or should we teach it more like a Ballet class?  Is it primarily knowledge or primarily skills we are focusing on?  Of course the answer is that it is a mix of the two.  But where is the focus?  What, exactly, are our goals?

Once we have clarified the goals of a sex ed class, I want to move on to educational techniques.  In my off-campus classes for teenagers and parents, I utilize a lot of role playing, art, and other non-standard educational techniques that make the class more fun and less information-based.  But I find them highly useful for improving skills.  In the typical human sexuality on-campus classroom, however, there is often more reliance on PowerPoint, lecture, and remaining one step removed from the content even when discussing issues like communication skills.  This makes the class more information-based and less skills-based.  But is it appropriate to have the students in a college classroom bring as much of themselves into the class as role-playing does?  Or is it appropriate to project a list of ways to prevent rape onto a screen and talk about them one-by-one?  These activities seem too personal and too cold by turns.

And now to my essential issue: All education is about changing or influencing the students’ actions or thought process.  Human sexuality is no different.  So what is the best way, where is the balance between too close and too much distance that will allow the students to grow as much as they are able to in a given 16-week class?

I’ll be grappling with all of these questions over the next month or so as I revise and revisit my human sexuality syllabus for next semester, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and reactions, so send me your comments!  I am waiting with baited breath for your fabulous input!