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The many meanings of the phrase "Hard to Teach".

The title of this issue, "Hard to Teach," stems from a publication we created a number of years ago called Filling the Gaps: Hard to Teach Topics in Sexuality Education. At the time, we had heard from many educators that there was a lack of resources to help them tackle certain topics such as sexual orientation, gender, masturbation, and abortion. To fill that void, we scoured existing curricula for good lessons and enlisted our own educators and outside experts to create new lessons where none were available. The responses we got back told us that this compilation of lesson plans was extremely helpful.

In our offices this publication was nicknamed "Hard to Teach" and over the years, the phrase kept popping up. Certainly there are still topics that remain "hard to teach" because they may spark controversy or cause discomfort on the part of students and educators. But to us the phrase means much more. Communities can be "hard to teach" because controversy, or the fear of controversy, can lead to restrictive programs and block progress. Certain audiences can be "hard to teach" because they are resistant to learning about sexuality or have preconceived notions about some aspect of sexuality that get in the way. And the American public, both adults and young people, can be "hard to teach" because they rely on certain linguistic frames and conceptual models that are detrimental but hard to overcome.

The articles and lesson plans we included in this issue touch on each of these different takes on the phrase "hard to teach."


One of my favorite projects each year is the annual review of controversies surrounding sexuality education in communities across the country. On a personal level it may be my favorite because writing this article (for the 1997-98 school year) was my first major project at SIECUS. But my affinity for the piece goes beyond the personal; this review tells the real stories of communities and individuals across the country who are struggling on a personal level with the issues we think about and write about every day. Their stories are at times shocking but often predictable. The debates they engage in are frequently frustrating but occasionally exhilarating. Most importantly, though, I find that these struggles always motivate me to want to work harder for sexuality education in this country, so that one day people in these communities can stop spending time and resources on debates when such resources would clearly be better spent educating young people.

This year, the review was written by Maxwell Ciardullo, SIECUS' public policy assistant. He tracked over 150 controversies in 38 states that focused on the type of sexuality education young people receive (often abstinence-only-until-marriage vs. comprehensive sexuality education), the role of outside groups such as Planned Parenthood or local crisis pregnancy centers in providing sexuality education, and the topics and information that should or should not be included in books and other classroom materials.

In a supplemental piece, Ciardullo also writes about the disturbing increase in debates involving sexual orientation as a topic as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals. Conservative forces continue to try to completely eradicate any mention of sexual orientation from school materials, curricula, and clubs while at the same time attempting to remove LGBTQ individuals from school communities altogether.

While many of the controversies SIECUS tracked this year ended in greater restrictions on what young people will learn in school, Ciardullo reminds us that advocates and activists across the country are working diligently to protect and promote comprehensive sexuality education and that in many communities they are succeeding.


We often discuss how the topic of sexuality has become a crossroads where politics and education intersect. The review of controversies certainly underscores this concept as it tells the stories of advocates working to impact local or state policies in an effort ultimately to impact school-based education. In her article, Deborah Roffman, a sexuality educator in Baltimore, MD, suggests that we need to be more political in how we think about sexuality education and, more importantly, how we talk about it.

Roffman examines the arguments that George Lakoff presented in his popular book, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. As Roffman clearly explains, Lakoff's argument is that the political success of the Far Right can be attributed to their use of language that evokes familiar frames and therefore resonates with many Americans. Roffman begins by examining how this phenomenon is particularly true when it comes to sexuality education, where the Far Right has dictated the language that individuals on both sides of the debate use everyday. She goes on to look at some of the historically embedded frames that are hindering the progress of comprehensive sexuality education and suggests ways in which we can break away from these damaging messages.

In his lesson plan, AlVernacchio leads students through an entirely different kind of reframing exercise. He suggests that the conceptual frame that generations of adolescents have used to understand and describe sexual behavior--baseball--sets up sexual relationships that are exclusionary, oppositional, goal oriented, and bound to a strict set of rules. Vernacchio's lesson walks young people through the development of a new conceptual framework that likens sex not to the game of baseball but to the simple pleasure of eating pizza.


Finally for this issue, we went back to our original interpretation of "hard to teach" and invited educators across the country to share with us their methods for tackling tough subjects and reaching diverse audiences. We know from our own experience that any topic and any audience can be difficult due to controversy, lack of agreement on what needs to be taught, and discomfort on the part of the educator or the learner. We chose just a few lessons and concepts to share with our readers in the hopes that you can use some of these in your own work.


As I explained in the last issue of the SIECUS Report, limited resources have forced us to make the difficult decision to discontinue publication of this quarterly journal. I want to assure our loyal readers, however, that SIECUS remains dedicated to providing you with timely information and analysis related to all aspects of sexuality and sexual health. We will continue to publish booklets, reports, and articles (for example, we will still publish our annual review of controversies each summer), and we will continue to update our website with information summaries, policy analysis, curricula reviews, and much more. We are also exploring other avenues, using today's technology, through which we can create and sustain a new regular publication.

In closing, I want to personally thank you for your support of this journal, I have enjoyed working on it immensely and I hope you have enjoyed receiving it.

Martha E. Kempner, M.A.

Director of Public Information
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:sex education
Author:Kempner, Martha E.
Publication:SIECUS Report
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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