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Voices Online Edition
Michaelmas 2001, Volume XVI No. 3
Lilith in the Classroom
One must question exactly to what sort of "family" is being related when reading the article by Kristine M. Baber and Colleen I. Murray in Family Relations, entitled "A Postmodern Feminist Approach to Teaching Human Sexuality".
At the outset, the authors state their objectives for their approach: "The theory is put into action, and the following course goals are addressed: (a) shift from a problem-oriented to a strengths approach, (b) provide information and skills that are relevant and useful, (c) expand students' thinking about diversity, and (d) help students maximize their own sexual health and minimize exploitation of themselves and others".
Beginning with an assault upon belief and any sort of Truth, the authors assert, "most students come into class with the unexamined assumption that there are two sexes, female and male, and an implicit belief that men are, at least in some ways, superior. Introducing the concept of transgender through readings ... or guest speakers who are transgendered or transsexual pushes students to deconstruct the concepts sex and gender and helps them to understand the ways in which prevailing categories of knowledge are socially constructed".
If Truth, and sexuality, are merely social constructions, then it follows that each student may construct their own sense of self-even sexuality:
"The postmodern perspective opens the door to a system of possibilities ... whereby, through a rethinking of values, social influences, and behaviors, students can, to some extent, become creators of their own sexuality". The authors seek to view this as the ultimate in value neutrality, but the reality is quite different: a radical relativism from which the instructor is not even immune, "... the course integrates student contributions into the subject matter, and the end result differs for each course depending upon the students in the class. Therefore, knowledge in a feminist classroom is constructed out of the coming together of different perspectives, rather than from a single theory, truth, or way of thinking".
While this seemingly collaborative approach might appear appealing, not all perspectives are created equal: "A keystone of a feminist postmodern perspective is the rejection of a unitary truth or knowledge", thus, any who claim Truth are explicitly rejected. While the authors contend that this "should reduce the alienation of students whose values or experiences differ from other class members", it is difficult to see how this assertion, and the following, "Ironically, a human sexuality course grounded in a postmodern feminist approach may be better suited than other teaching styles to prepare students who come to class presenting conservative religious values", can have any effect other than to alienate and undermine those who seek to be faithful.
Even if this postmodern feminist perspective is able to integrate conservative students into the class, students with traditional opinions had better not share their views, as the classroom deck of rules is stacked against them: "Among the most useful are guidelines related to respectful listening and speaking, refraining from judgmental comments and body language, one person speaking at a time, and confidentiality". Relativism is in anything else is judgmental.
This asymmetrical tolerance is fully revealed in the authors' conclusions: "Thus, social problems related to sexuality are believed to be constructed through certain social forces and discourses (like psychiatry, Catholicism, and medicine) that legitimize discrimination against particular groups of people". In the end, the authors seem far less concerned with the discussion and teaching of sexuality, than with proselytizing of students into their postmodern feminist ideology. ¶
(Source: Kristine M. Baber and Colleen I. Murray, "A Postmodern Feminist Approach to Teaching Human Sexuality", Family Relations, Vol. 50, No. 1, 23-33.)
Reprinted with permission of the World Congress of Families, Family Research Abstract of the Week, August 28, 2001, Volume 2, Issue 34, www.worldcongress.org.
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