Teachers' Attitudes towards Abstinence-Only Sex Education Curricula

Article excerpt

Introduction

While debate may continue as to what is the most appropriate form of human sexuality education in America, few debate its importance. Many components comprise a sexuality curriculum and are vigorously debated [1]. Yet, the most important component for a successful human sexuality program may not be the material, but the classroom teacher. Evidence exists that teachers' attitudes are strongly influential in the success of any curricula they present [2], and given the importance of human sexuality education today, an important focus of research should be the classroom teacher.

In order to evaluate the successfulness of specific curricula, most researchers concentrate on the program components, reliability, validity and outcomes. Yet, an equally important component and contributor to a successful curriculum is the teachers' attitude [3]. Teacher characteristics, attitudes, conceptions of self, and intellectual and interpersonal dispositions can influence both the explicit and the hidden curriculum in the classroom [4]. Earlier research examining writing instruction seems to suggest the personal attitudes of a writing instructor are often much more important than the pedagogical orientation, and teacher attitudes seem to affect student performance, attitude and success [5]. Recent studies [4,6] suggest teachers' attitudes play a critical role in the effectiveness of their teaching with characteristics of effective teaching evolving from their dispositions. Wenzlaff (1998) further indicates that teachers' attitudes are the impetus for successful teaching and learning.

The influence of teachers' attitudes on curricula has also been investigated using controversial curricula such as sexuality education. Several researchers found that teachers' attitudes about the sexuality education curricula affected the integrity of the program implementation [7,8,9,10]. Many authorities have long agreed that the most important factor in successful sexuality education program implementation is a well-qualified and willing classroom teacher [10]. Factors that contribute to the willingness of a teacher to implement the curriculum include the teacher's knowledge level of the subject, perception about the importance of teaching the curriculum, intent to teach the curriculum, and level of comfort with the curriculum's subject [7,9,10]. The endorsement of sexuality education programs by the community, schools, and parents is negated if a teacher is not prepared or willing to carry out the program in the classroom [10,11]. Thus, teachers' attitudes and abilities to implement controversial and innovative curricula, such as sexuality education, are essential ingredients in program success. These ingredients have now become an important area of research.

Because of the dichotomy of attitudes concerning the content of effective sexuality education programs (comprehensive or abstinence-only) [12,13] investigating the teachers' role in program success becomes even more important. As researchers continue to debate which type of program results in the greatest decrease of teen sexual activity, more teachers are being asked to teach abstinence-only programs. A recent study by Darroch, Landry, and Singh (2000) revealed that sexuality education in U.S. secondary public schools is increasingly focusing on abstinence-only information, excluding a comprehensive approach that includes contraceptive information [14]. This abstinence-only trend is supported, in part, by a new federal welfare law which went into effect in 1998 providing $50 million a year in new funding for state abstinence education activities [15]. In light of the existing political and educational controversy concerning sexuality education, it is important to investigate teachers' attitudes about teaching abstinence-only curricula. This pilot project as part of a longitudinal study, examined the teachers' roles and attitudes related to the implementation of an abstinence-only curriculum. …