My years of professional work in higher education/student affairs have always been deeply influenced by my academic preparation in college student development and taking these theories into practice. Student development and health behavior theories have always informed my work in college health promotion, which encompasses addressing a wide array of health behaviors, including sexual health promotion and sexual violence prevention, through evidence-based and -informed practice. Through addressing health behaviors, I strive to both challenge and support students in moving beyond their current developmental state, while also addressing the unique factors in the environment which influences their choices.
Upon reflection, I have found that my sexuality education practice has shown evidence of the use of several different educational theories (described below) which form my lived – yet always evolving – philosophy of education.
I take a pragmatic approach.
As a college health educator, I meet the student where they currently are at developmentally and focus on where they would like their sexual and health behavior to be in the future. This change is based on helping the student determine their readiness to change and then choosing the tools, such as accurate knowledge and practical skills, they need to create the desired change. This is in line with the tenets of Pragmatism, which supports one in possessing “a belief that alternative futures are real possibilities, one of which will be actualized by one’s own choice”. (Putnam, n.d.)
I take a humanist and feminist approach.
I highly prize equality and the ability of all individuals – men and women – “to participate meaningfully in the cultural, social, and political spheres of life”. (Aloni, n.d.) This reflects both humanist and feminist ethics. As health is highly influenced by one’s circumstances and identities, I strive to be intersectional and sensitive to “differences between women [people] linked to race, class, culture, and sexual orientation, among other factors” (Rice, n.d.) and consider what implications this has for my sexuality education practice.
I take an idealist approach.
The student is capable of identifying their values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses; my role is to facilitate that process, not dictate it, through the introduction of new ideas and concepts which aid in their physical and mental growth and development. I encourage the development of skills and knowledge which will aid the student in being self-sufficient and a productive contributor to society. I strive to promote the appreciation of the good, beautiful, and positive in the world, such as the arts, as this is a beneficial element in life and promotes creativity in thinking and creation of new ideas. This is consistent with my developmental approach to education as well, though I take a secular approach rather than one based in spirituality or religion.
I take into account that the environment the student is immersed in will influence their choices.
As decisions about one’s behavior do not occur in a vacuum and are highly influenced by the surrounding environment – from immediate peer and family influences to larger societal and global influences – it is essential to identify the mutable and fixed elements within the student’s environment to support their desired learning outcome and/or health behavior change.
One element of this environment is whether they accurately perceive the sexual and health behaviors and choices of others. Sharing normative messages and data regarding health-supporting behaviors can correct misperceptions and – over time – aid in reducing harmful behaviors and supporting healthier decisions by the individual. An element of critical pedagogy emerges here as accomplishing this occurs “by striving to help students ‘unlearn’ previous lessons that may enforce dominant thought and ‘relearn’ their own ideas.” (Weisen, 2016)
Critical theory is also relevant here as I believe the student is expert on their own experience. As an educator, I possess expertise on the subject matter, yet my role is to serve as a facilitator of the student’s experience rather than dictating the path they will follow; evidence of their learning comes in the form of changes in knowledge, skills, and perceptions, as well as behavior.
Aloni, N. (n.d.) Humanistic Education. Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. Retrieved from http://eepat.net/doku.php?id=humanistic_education.
Muhammed, S. (2011) Idealism. Education Awareness and Research. Retrieved from http://research-education-edu.blogspot.com/2011/10/idealism.html.
Putnam, R.A. (n.d.) Pragmatism, Ethics and Education. Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. Retrieved from http://eepat.net/doku.php?id=pragmatism_ethics_and_education.
Rice, S. (n.d.) Feminism and Philosophy of Education. Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. Retrieved from http://eepat.net/doku.php?id=feminism_and_philosophy_of_education.
Weisen, G. (2016) What is Critical Pedagogy? WiseGeek. Retrieved from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-critical-pedagogy.htm.