Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ded)

Department

Education

First Advisor

Carolyn P. Panofsky

Abstract

In American Schools, students are rarely offered educational experiences about gender and sexuality. Programs that do address sexuality are rarely based on moral beliefs and democratic values of tolerance and inclusivity. Sexuality education is predominantly taught by health teachers, rather than human sexuality educators, and their focus is on facts, statistics, and controversial issues such as the prevention of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. This limited perspective on sexuality neglects the important role of gender identity and sexual orientation (Donovan, 1989; Haffner & De Mauro, 1991; Nelson Trudell, 1993)

Using teacher-researcher-participant-observer qualitative methodology, I examined the discourse of thirteen and fourteen-year-old youth in relation to the construction of meaning of gender in a comprehensive sexuality education program using a progressive curriculum named Our Whole Lives, Grades 7-9 utilized in congregations throughout the United States. The setting was the eighth grade class of a progressive church Sunday school in a middle-size city in the U.S. Northeast.

Primary data collection consisted in two hundred and twenty double-spaced, typed pages of field notes and roughly two hundred and sixty eight minutes of audio recordings. Data analysis included discourse analysis, and interpretation of three conversations between participants carefully selected from the corpus and contextualized with field notes. I found that students’ discourse reproduced and resisted stereotypical gender representations, reified boys as sex-obsessed and sexual predators, constructed all participants as confused, contradictory, and seeking connection, at times. This process produced dynamics of power and dominance that tended to promote the patriarchal status quo, although moments of collaboration and complicity emerged. These results complicate the conversation about adolescence viewed as a “specie” and about adolescents’ discourses constructing meanings of gender that help them be recognized as a certain kind of person in this context. Examining the discourse of adolescents in relation to gender identity is an opportunity to explore their cultural values. Implications for teachers include greater awareness of students’ gender representations and gender performance, and articulating the curriculum with students’ meanings.

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