Sexual education in schools: An educational mandate with a backlog demand
Dr. Anna Hartmann on the teaching and research focus of the "Sexual Education" project at the University of Wuppertal
Are we a tolerant society in terms of 'sexual education'?There is still a lot to do in Germany, considering that Section 175 of the German Criminal Code, which made sexual acts between men a punishable offence, was only abolished on 11 June 1994. And marriage between same-sex partners has only been legalised since 2018. Recent events in particular certainly give us food for thought. For example, the UEFA ban on stadium lighting in rainbow colours during the European Football Championship or the homosexual law in European Hungary. The project called "Sexual Education" is established at the University of Wuppertal. In it, the social scientist Dr. Anna Hartmann at the Chair of General Educational Science/Theory of Education is in charge. A societal rethink has to start with the youngest, because sex education is much more than just explaining the human anatomy. "Sex education is a school mandate that has existed since 1968," Hartmann says. The question that initiated the project was: "How do schools actually implement it and how is it integrated into teacher training?
A ban sets off a renewed debate
"Maybe, the UEFA ban in Munich even was a happy coincidence," Hartmann says. "It has also revived the debate and made the current disputes in Hungary more visible."Hartmann calls this process symbolic politics without structural effects. But it would also be controversially discussed in the seemingly liberal Germany. Even, if the legal situation is certainly different than in countries like Poland and Hungary, where the situation seems to be much more difficult for homosexuals and transgender people in particular . "You can see that there is a division of more progressive countries regarding sexual and gender issues in Europe ," she explains. "But this debate plays a role in the Federal Republic as well. Here, we can also find controversies in relation to sexual policy or sexual education issues. Already in 2015, there was such a controversy about the education plan in Baden-Wuerttemberg." At that time, a nationwide debate flared up about a working paper of the red-green state government in preparation for the creation of a new education plan. The agitation was the desire for a cross-curricular treatment of the acceptance of homosexual and transsexual diversity as well as different life models besides marriage. Criticism came from conservative and Christian associations and as a result, demonstrations, some of them violent, occurred. They postponed the education plan's entry into force for another year.
How does Europe plan to deal with gender and sexuality?
The EU Commission wants to better protect and strengthen the rights of sexual minorities in the European Union. But the resistance of some member states is great. LGBT+ people (abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender - editor's note) report increasing, widespread discrimination. This is documented in a large-scale study by the EU Agency for Human Rights (FRA). According to the study, which was taken in 2019, around 43 per cent of the community members said they felt discriminated against. Russia has had a homosexual law since 2013, Hungary has just passed one. What is actually happening in a united Europe? "Europe is drifting apart on the question: 'How do we plan to deal with gender and sexuality? Germany, too, is not that progressive and has still a fairly recent history." It was only in 2000, for example, that Klaus Wowereit, then mayor of Berlin, had his coming out. Many things are still contradictory. But the homosexual and women's movements have already achieved a lot, which has also been implemented in politics.
The EU wants to ban so-called conversion therapy, a pseudo-scientific and unhealthy practice designed to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. Similarly, children born as intersexuals, i.e. with variations of female and male sexual characteristics, should not be surgically assigned a gender without their consent. And to ensure the safety of LGBT+ who face hate speech and violence, homophobic agitation should be enshrined as a crime in EU law. The fact is, only 21 out of 27 countries in the EU recognise same-sex partnerships. In the case of adoption, there are even fewer states. Is a consensus in Europe even possible under these circumstances? "21 out of 27 states is already quite a lot," Hartmann explains. "I was born in 1983 and during my youth in the 80s and 90s there was no state where homosexual partnerships were legally possible." The great polarisation with regard to gender and sexuality, however, makes a consensus with conservative-oriented positions very difficult. The example of Hungary shows how gender is currently being negotiated."Considering transgender people, Prime Minister Orban now even wants a referendum on whether this so-called homosexual law can be enforced in Hungary. This referendum will take place with five questions to be answered by the Hungarian population." In one question, the people are to decide whether gender-reassignment surgery should be popularised for children and young people. "This is where opinions are extremely divided. The conservatives see this as gender madness, along the lines that if you allow it, then the culture will dissolve, then we will lose our gender order. And the more liberal position does not even face the question and says affirmatively, we have to support this, this is sexual liberation." The fate of a person who believes he or she is living in the wrong body is irrelevant and Hartmann asks what such phenomena say about our present society? "This also raises many pedagogical questions. How can educators deal with these questions appropriately when children and adolescents express such needs to believe they are already living in the wrong body and want a surgical change?" These questions are hardly discussed at the moment, rather the fronts are very hardened. But keeping quiet does not help.
The measure of all things is: enlightenment
At the University of Wuppertal, the teaching and research focus 'Sexual Education' emerged from a project. Against the background of the controversy in Baden- Wuerttemberg, the Wuppertal researchers Rita Casale and Jeanette Windhäuser asked themselves the questions: 'What does it mean pedagogically? How can we deal with sexuality and gender in school? How is sexuality education taught so far? And above all: 'How is it integrated into teacher training?' This developed into a project for which concepts are now being drafted on how sexual education can look like in the present, based on the social conditions in which we live," Hartmann says. To this end, topics that touch on sexual education should also find their way into teacher training.In fact, Hartmann says, "there is hardly any sexual education in schools!" Yet, since 1968, it has been a legal, curricular mandate of all schools, across all subjects. "All teachers have the mandate to teach sexual education in their subjects. If we look at North Rhine-Westphalia, there are also guidelines for sexual education. Sexual education means not only sexual education in the narrower sense, but also promoting the ability of children and young people to relate to each other." The question of how to shape interpersonal and sexual relationships comes into focus. It belongs into the teaching portfolio within the framework of sexuality education. In addition, there is the extensive topic of gender issues "not only related to sexual identity, sexual orientation and ideas about gender," the scientist explains, "but also to the social structure of our gender order." In the 1950s and 1960s, the roles of men and women were clearly regulated, but there has been an enormous change since then."There is an equality between the genders, rather an alignment of women with the model of men," Hartmann says. Therefore, there is a need to rethink old tasks such as raising children, caring for dependents as well as domestic tasks of any kind. "Such issues would actually have to be included in sexual education, and concepts are needed for this!" No matter how liberalised a cohabitation is, in which relationship people live with each other, these relationship issues transcend gender. "How are we all going to manage all this caring when we work 40 hours? This affects homosexuals just like patchwork families. We have to ask ourselves how a society wants to manage that without having a part of it, and that was usually women, being devalued, earning less and thus sliding into old-age poverty."
There is hardly any sexual education at school
Sexual education in schools is a difficult topic and, according to Hartmann, hardly ever takes place. Teachers are often not even aware of this service mandate because it does not play a role in teacher training, for example. Also, the questions associated with sexual education often seem to unsettle teachers. "If sexual education does take place, committed teachers invite external organisations to do project days. That is very good, you have to support that. But the actual requirements that schoold need to fulfill in this area are not fulfilled." Therefore, it seems to be even more important to look for solutions to change this situation. Next year, Hartmann is organising a symposium at the University of Wuppertal. It is entitled: 'Sexual Education - Quo vadis? Feminist and gender theoretical perspectives on sexuality and subject formation'. "Our concern is to open up a debate and also to ask awkward questions," she tells us. Historical research on 'sexual education' showed that in the late 1960s, in the course of the sexual revolution, a whole wave of sexual education approaches emerged. Diverse currents, disputes and controversies were conducted around sexual education concepts that Hartmann misses today."Currently, we see a great homogeneity. The so-called emancipatory sexual education has actually prevailed. But apart from that, there are few other pedagogical concepts, especially those that also take up the gender issue in a broad sense." Likewise, the generational relationship is still very much underemphasised in current concepts and the design of pedagogical relationships also needs to be considered much more in sexual education. A provocative question in this symposium will, for example, revolve around the erotic dimension in pedagogical relationships. Everyone knows about pupils falling in love. Hardly anyone knows how to deal with it, but that is also a reality. "If you nowadays talk about something like that," Hartmann points out, "quickly, the thought arises as to whether it is already abusive or whether the boundaries have already been crossed. But it is important to bring such questions into the discussion, because erotic components or the component of infatuation in pedagogical relationships always play a role and are necessary for educational processes.
Thus, our tolerant society still has a long way to go. Science can provide important impulses.
Uwe Blass (Interview on July 23, 2021)
Dr. Anna Hartmann is a research assistant at the chair of "General Educational Science/Theory of Education" with a focus on sexual education for schools and the teaching profession.