Young people's attitudes toward sexuality are more influenced by youth culture and popular media than by formal programs in the nation's schools, but a Ford Foundation grant to Dennis Carlson, professor of educational leadership at Miami University, seeks to change that.
The two-year $275,000 grant will be used to fund two "summits" that bring together top scholars from around the country along with community activists and public educators to take part in "complicated conversations" about youth culture and sexuality.
Such conversations, while politically and emotionally charged, are critically important, says Carlson. "In many, if not most public schools, sexuality education still focuses narrowly on associating sexuality with disease and instilling fear in young people, and silencing and censoring sexual language in both the curriculum and everyday life of the school," he says.
The result is that young people are turning to popular culture, where sexuality is too often commercialized and commodified (as in many popular music videos), but where at least sexuality gets talked about and gay youth are made visible, adds Carlson.
The purpose of the summits, the first of which is to be held in May 2009, is to consider how class, race, gender, sexual orientation and other differences impact what young people learn about sexuality both in the classroom and from advertising, movies, music, You Tube, and other forms of youth culture.
Public schools could play an important role in helping young people understand the sexual images they are bombarded by in popular culture and in encouraging them to think about the underlying cultural politics involved, says Carlson, project director and principal investigator.
In addition to reframing the scholarly research on sexuality education, a secondary goal of the summits is to raise awareness of sexuality education as an important concern in fields other than health education. The project will take a cultural studies approach to studying sexuality and youth culture.