Academic journal article Journal of School Health

A Review of 21 Curricula for Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage Programs

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

A Review of 21 Curricula for Abstinence-Only-until-Marriage Programs

Article excerpt

Instructional materials such as school curricula shape and organize both content and purpose of educational efforts. Typically, curricula accomplish these educational tasks by presenting only certain topics (in a certain amount) and completely (or partially) neglecting others. Coverage and omission of content communicate to educators and learners what curriculum developers believe is worth spending time to learn and what is too trivial to address. In this manner, content and structure are useful indicators of curriculum authors' values and world views. (1,2)

Health and sexuality educators have learned much about curriculum authors' world views from systematic content analyses of school-based sexuality curricula. Analysts have documented indicators of nonscientific, biased, or pedagogically unsound values. Some indicators include the inadequate time dedicated to covering specific topics, (3,4) citing outdated sources, (5) using noninteractive educational methods, (3) omitting basic anatomy information, excluding discussions of sexual orientation and sexual harassment, (6-8) and reinforcing gender biases in the text or illustrations. (6,8) Each problem communicates, to learners, well-defined assumptions about factual evidence, gender and sexual orientation differences, and best pedagogical strategies for teaching human sexuality.

This review provides new information regarding sexuality curricula content, as it focuses specifically on materials used in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. It assesses content, methods, and overall quality of 21 curricula. The review is one component of a statewide, multiphase evaluation of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Texas (begun in 2000). Schools, program developers, and evaluators will find such information useful for comparisons, selection, and improved evaluations of abstinence education materials.

METHODS

Selection Criteria

Researchers identified curricula for this review in 3 stages: first, by examining abstinence programs' proposals for funding, which included curricula proposed for use; second, by interviewing and surveying program directors and instructors of abstinence education; and third, by searching the Internet and resource lists for other, previously unidentified curricula, in addition to those being used in Texas. This 3-stage process led to the identification and purchase of 64 curricula.

While the review process examined all 64 curricula, this paper details the findings for 21 curricula that met 2 criteria: (1) designed for school-based use with middle school grades (fifth to eighth) or middle school-aged audiences (9-13 years of age) and (2) presented the abstinence message in at least 40% of its content. Researchers excluded from this paper curricula designed for after-school or community-based programs, elementary or high school use, and parents or adult audiences, and curricula that focused/covered the abstinence message in less than 40% of its overall content (for instance, parenting or character education curricula). The decision to focus on materials designed for school-based use and that had at least 40% of the content dedicated to the abstinence-only-until-marriage message was, mainly, pragmatic: materials containing much less than half of their topic focusing on abstinence may not be as useful to Title V programs. The 40% cutoff and school-based standard allowed the inclusion in this review of most of the materials identified and the exclusion of curricula that focused--mostly--on other topics such as parenting or character education.

Rating Instrument

Researchers developed an instrument to structure the assessment of each curriculum. The development occurred in 4 consecutive phases. The first phase consisted of 4 focus groups with abstinence program personnel. Focus groups with abstinence education staff were conducted because they constitute the target consumer group for the reviewed materials, and their viewpoint regarding characteristics of the curricula added valuable insights to the review/analysis. …

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