Imagine that you are a fifteen year old, 4’10” boy, intensely interested in sports and animals, fascinated by tall, beautiful women who think you are a cute, obnoxious twerp. You are failing in your first semester of ninth grade because your first language is Spanish, and you cannot concentrate and read and write fast enough in English. You are moved to a class called
Reading, Writing and Relating.
.....you are a fifteen year old girl who lost her mother at three; your father disappeared some years later. Your grandmother, who can no longer handle you, has just turned you over to a group home. Youare failing in school even though you read and write on a thirdfourth grade level. You are transferred to
Reading, Writing and Relating
.....You are a twenty year old man. You cannot read at all. You can copy, but you cannot write anything on your own except your name. You cannot read or write the alphabet or remember your telephone number. You were married at the age of sixteen, became a father at seventeen, and were divorced at eighteen. You are placed in
Writing and Relating
.....you are a nineteen year old man. You read and write slowly, making many mistakes, but you want to learn to read because you know you cannot get a decent job and get on with life unless you can read. You have become a father a year ago. You are placed in
Reading, Writing and Relating
These are four thumbnail sketches that exemplify typical high school students with reading, writing and speaking problems. During most of the years they have been in school, these students have known failure on every level. Most have turned off to themselves and to traditional learning. At this point in their lives, they are much more likely to drop out of school than to continue. They are placed in our class because we can address their particular needs in a way that traditional classes cannot.
The course title,
Reading, Writing and Relating
, explains the primary goal of our unit. We expect to take high school students who have been failures in most aspects of their school careers and motivate them to want to come to school, to want to learn how to read, write, and relate to each other much more successfully than they have ever done. We believe that learning occurs most easily when students feel good about themselves and where they are in a comfortable environment. High school students who have not learned to read by traditional techniques at the appropriate time usually have experienced a great deal of failure in their school careers. Consequently, they fall into two very general groups s
who, because they have not succeeded academically, act out repeatedly in class, and are consequently labeled as behavioral problems; and
who, because they have not succeeded academically, withdraw into themselves. Both groups have attendance problems, initially resulting from their learning problems and eventually contributing to them. A student’s selfconcept is strongly influenced by the ways in which he is treated by those around him. Students feel that they are liked, wanted, accepted, and capable from having been liked, wanted, accepted, and from having succeeded. Our students generally have experienced more rejection in their school lives than acceptance. We seek to create a non threatening environment that supplies an atmosphere of acceptance, thereby reducing fear, anxiety and hostility about learning.
Our students, by the time they reach us in high school, face sexuality directly and consciously in their everyday lives. They also want desperately to learn how to read and write more effectively. If they are still in school, they have notyet given up on learning. We plan to trade on their interest and need to learn about sexuality and reading by presenting an integrated curriculum in these two subjects. The second goal of this unit is to develop ways in which we can improve our students’ inadequate communication skills without insulting them with inappropriate age level materials and activities. Adolescence and early adulthood usually intensify interest in one’s own sexuality and in interpersonal relationships. We decided to tap this natural curiosity about sexuality, to use this interest as a tool to inform the learner about himself, while at the same time improving his reading, writing and speaking skills. The many facets of sexuality are a key part of the environment our students live in. They are keenly involved with popular music, radio, television, movies, magazines, and advertising promotions, all of which have strong sexual components. We see these elements as a bridge between their formal education and their informal lives. The highly magnetic topic of sexuality can play the role of the sideshow, drawing the turnedoff student into the big tent of learning.
It is our belief that a student’s understanding of sexuality should encompass the biological, psychological, sociocultural and ethical aspects of human behavior. The biological knowledge takes the mystery out of human sexuality and allows it to be viewed like other functions of the human body. The psychological knowledge helps to explain why people behave the way they do sexually. The sociocultural knowledge motivates the investigation of how people use their sexuality. And the ethical knowledge allows the examination of the process of evaluating the consequences of sexual behavior. In our class discussions we try to broaden our students’ views of sexuality to include the above concepts. At the same time we aim to focus on our students’ practical everyday needs in the area of sexuality.
Our students range in age from fourteen to twenty years old. Both female and male, they come from sharply differing family backgrounds, and they vary widely in their previous sexual experiences. They do share in common, however, a lack of informed information on human anatomy and physiology, an intense curiosity to become wellinformed, and a strong need to learn how to communicate with peers and with important adults in their lives about a subject that has an immense impact on their lives. We feel that students who have been placed in our class because they have been school failures all their lives will learn to enjoy school. Many of them will learn to take advantage of the integrated curriculum in such a way as to be able to start making some important, positive changes in their lives.