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Silin, HIV AIDS Education

Silin, HIV AIDS Education

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Published by Kyle Greenwalt

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Published by: Kyle Greenwalt on Feb 27, 2012
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21
HIV/AIDS
Education:Toward
aCollaborative
Curriculum
Jonathan
Silin
AIDS radically calls into question the pleasures
and
dangers
of
teaching.(Cindy Patton,
Inventing AIDS)
AIDS
makes no sense. However, the continuing proliferation
of
HI
VIA
IDS
curricula speaksto
our
very real desire to claim epistemological rationality and epidemiological certaintyin a world plagued by a new and
as
yet incurable disease. In defining HIV/AIDS
as
abiomedical event that can be addressed only by those trained in science and health education,
we
attempt to make it safe, contained within a specific discipline, so that it will notcontaminate other areas
of
study. When the topic
of
HIV
I
AIDS
is
sanitized, teachers andstudents are protected from the truly unhealthy aspects
of
society that might otherwise berevealed; the status quo
is
ensured.But diseases are constituted through dynamic interactions
of
biomedical, economic,psychosocial, and political factors. The eltistential realities
of
otherness, the politics
of
distancing, and our search for certainty suggest
key
elements in the social construction
of
HIV
I
AIDS. Understanding the meanings
of
a given illness involves
far
more than simplyidentifying a causal agent and a medical remedy. Just
as
efforts at prevention cannot belimited to the presentation
of
risk-reduction strategies, in the hope that exposure to a
few
facts and rehearsal
of
skills will lead to lasting changes in behavior, so coming to terms withthe social ramifications
of
HIV
I
AIDS
cannot be achieved through a limited focus onscientific knowledge. Effective prevention involves individual struggles with the meaning
of
sex and drugs, and a successful societal response calls for recognition
of
the multiplefactors shaping the disease process.HIV/AIDS presents a complex set
of
challenges for the curriculum maker. At first,school administrators perceived HIV
AIDS
primarily
as
a policy problem requiring theattention
of
legal and public health experts to assess the feasibility
of
excluding studentsand staff with
HIV.
But
as
the crisis over the presence
of
people with HIV
AIDS
in theschools abated, and awareness that HIV/AIDS
was
not confined to marginal risk groups
grew,
educators turned toward their pedagogical function. The process
was
hastened
as
more and more states mandated
K-12
AIDS
education.Early curricular materials reflected simplified interpretations
of
the disease; theyfocused
on
prevention for adolescents and claimed to offer only "facts." But the assertion
of
objectivity
is
in itself a form
of
bias, carrying the implication that
it
is
possible toseparate fact from value, object from subject, the word from the world. It
is
this mindsetthat
was
exemplified by a New
York
City public school official who, in response to a
film
made to be shown in the city high schools, remarked, "There
was
a segment that
was
too
 
246
Jonathan Silinlong, simply
to
the effect that you should be nice to homosexuals. The attitude was not aproblem,
but
this
is
not
an attitude film. This
is
supposed to be an
educational
film" (CDC
AIDS
Weekly.
1986,
p.
9). In the scene referred to, a heterosexual man recounts his firstreactions
to
learning that his brother
is
gay
and
has AIDS.
If
we
acknowledge that attitudes and values
playa
role in shaping individual behaviors
and
the allocation
of
material resources in society, it
is
hard to understand how exclusion
of
these very factors can lead to a serious discussion
of
the problem at hand. The denial
of
subjectivity within the curriculum only falsifies experience and alienates students fromtheir own possibilities. This
is
not to say that subjectively held opinions must be accepteduncritically
but
rather that they can become the text for examining the social determination
of
"private" ideas. Students can learn to question the sources
of
their knowledge andits reliability and to identify alternative reference points. HIV/AIDS provides an opportunity to practice the critical thinking skills valued so highly by educators today.
It
is
an issuethat most graphically illustrates the paradoxes
and
contradictions
of
our
society.
In
this chapter I seek
to
understand the fundamental inadequacies
of
our
past efforts totalk with children about HIV/AIDS and to create new possibilities for such dialogues.Beginning with younger children and moving
on
to adolescents, I draw
on
my work withteachers, administrators, children,
and
parents in many public
and
private schools acrossNew
York
State. These schools were located in a diverse cross-section
of
racial, ethnic,religious, and economic communities and reflected very different commitments to HIV/
AIDS
education.
Listening
to
Young Children
As
an early childhood educator, I was trained
to
listen
to
and observe young children.Raised and educated in a Deweyan tradition, I understand curriculum
as
a negotiatedprocess, an outgrowth
of
the interests
of
the child
and
the community. While teacherscome to the classroom with an agenda based on knowledge
of
the community, their artrests in helping children move outward from more narrowly based concerns toward theworld
of
larger ideas.
At
its best, education enables children to see the way that theconcepts and skills offered by their teachers, and eventually encoded in the formal disciplines, amplify their powers
of
understanding and control. The role
of
teachers
is
to helptheir students make sense
of
the world. Imposing predetermined, formal curriculum onchildren without reference to their lived experience can leave them alienated from thepossibilities
of
school-based learning.When I was a doctoral student, encounters with Marxist and critical theorists made meconscious
of
the manner in which schooling functions to maintain and reproduce unequaldistributions
of
economic
and
cultural capital (Apple, 1979; Bowles
&
Gintis, 1976).
Rec-
ognizing that the most mundane classroom activities, such
as
recess, might be described
as
moments
of
ideological hegemony, I also began to think about the internal contradictionswithin any system that allow for reflection and transformation. But it
is
the phenomenologically oriented educationists (Barritt, Beekman, Bleeker,
&
Mulderij,
1985;
van Manen,1990) who are most mindful
of
the limitations
of
scientistically imposed frames
of
reference
and
of
the need to ground
our
work in the world
of
childhood. They urge us to returnto the children themselves to uncover what it
is
that seems to matter, to grasp how theymake sense
of
experience.
To
accept such a challenge
is
to abandon the safety
of
sciencethat allows us to know children from the privileged position
of
distanced adults.
It
is
to
 
HIV/AIDS
Education:
Toward
a Collaborative Curriculum
247
risk the uncertainty
of
an engagement that threatens the boundaries between knower andknown.When called on to assist schools with curriculum formulation, I began
by
askingteachers what the children were saying about
AIDS.
This obviously reflected my commit
ment
as
a progressive educator
as
well
as
my experiences learning from people with HIVinfection. The teachers' responses clearly indicated that HIV/AIDS had entered their classrooms through the voices
of
their students, regardless
of
age
or formal instruction. Ironic
ally,
many
of
these opportunities occurred in elementary
classrooms-that
is,
preciselythose classrooms in which the prospect
of
HIV
I
AIDS
education seemed most daunting.Sometimes these voices had been heard at unexpected moments, sometimes on morepredictable occasions. Almost always, teachers had felt unprepared
to
take advantage
of
themoment to begin a dialogue that could lead to more structured learning.Interestingly, teachers often had
to
work hard even to remember these incidents.Emblematic
of
this forgetfulness were the responses
of
teachers in a seminar I conductedin a semirural community
on
eastern Long Island.
My
inquiry
as
to what they hadobserved about their students' knowledge
of
HIV/AIDS was greeted with a painfully longsilence. I began to wonder if I had arrived in the only area in New
York
State that had notbeen touched by the disease. Then a first-grade teacher tentatively raised her hand. Shedescribed the pandemonium that had broken
out
in her classroom that very morningwhen the principal announced, over the school intercom, that
AIDS
would be the subject
of
the afternoon staff meeting. Children started accusing each other
of
having
AIDS
andwarning the teacher not to attend the meeting for fear she might contract HIV from theguest speaker. Given permission by the principal's announcement, the children had releasedtheir suppressed concerns. And then a third-grade teacher confirmed that for the pastseveral months
AIDS
had been the reigning epithet on the playground during recess. It wasthe label
of
choice when a group
of
children wanted to ostracize someone. Games
of
tagwere predicated on avoiding a child who was supposedly HIV-infected.
To
these children the mere mention
of
AIDS
provoked excited responses. Whethermotivated by specific fears and anxieties, or simply the emotional resonance
of
the word in
our
culture, their behaviors accurately mimicked the responses
of
the majority
of
adults.
To
know in more detail what
AIDS
means to children would require the kind
of
probing byteachers that leads to a negotiated curriculum, a curriculum in which dialogue
is
respectedand teachers learn with and from their students. For the moment, however, it should benoted that isolation
and
fear
of
contagion are being played
out
without interruption.Educators must recognize their complicity in discrimination by permitting children to useHIV/AIDS, if only in their games, as a means to exclude someone from the social arena.
Like
gender, race, ethnicity, and disability, HIV
AIDS
is
an issue
of
equity.But children also reveal their awareness
of
HIVI
AIDS
in moments that are less incendiary and more focused. In an urban setting, for example,'a teacher reported her consternation
on
a recent class trip upon hearing one child anxiously admonish a friend not to sitdown in the subway for fear
of
contracting
AIDS
from the seat. The teacher admitted that
it
was only her concern for the children's safety in the moving train that prompted her tocontradict this advice, which had been delivered in the most serious tone. A colleague atthe same meeting described overhearing one little boy warning another
not
to pick up astick in the park. The warning was based
on
the child's knowle9ge that people who usedrugs frequented the area at night and his belief that they are the source
of
HIV infection.There are
few
formal studies
of
young children's knowledge. Farquhar (l990b) documents the practical difficulties in conducting research when
we
would prefer
to
protect
. I
!
1
...
~ -
..
-----------------------------

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