Academic journal article History of Education Review

The Focus Wasn't on 'Boomsa-Daisy': Sex Education at Shepparton South Technical School, Victoria, 1973-1986

Academic journal article History of Education Review

The Focus Wasn't on 'Boomsa-Daisy': Sex Education at Shepparton South Technical School, Victoria, 1973-1986

Article excerpt

School sex education has the potential to evoke a range of personal and political reactions. While it is usually agreed that sexuality should be 'done' in school, few agree on the best way of 'doing' it. This article provides a personal account of the development of sex education at Shepparton South Technical School, Victoria, Australia from 1973-1985. It is supported by interviews with the people involved in those events and archival materials, including media reports. It also documents the efforts of extreme right activists to discredit and stop programmes, and the State Liberal government's attempt to formulate a policy on sex education.

First I provide a general background to technical schools in Victoria in the 1970s followed by a discussion of Shepparton South Technical School specifically. I then discuss the development of the sex education (social biology) programme, the pivotal role of the Social Biology Resource Centre, and the networks involved. I also describe the attacks on the programme in the late 1970s, and their origins and impact. I conclude with a discussion of the outcomes of this intense public scrutiny, and the demise of social biology and the secondary technical schools, the 'techs' in the 1980s.

General background to Victorian technical schools in the 1970s

The convergence of factors which made it possible for technical schools to introduce sex education programmes in the 1970s include, firstly, the Director of Technical Education (DTE), Ted Jackson's policy, which gave principals unprecedented autonomy to respond to the needs of young people within their local community. Secondly, the 'techs' innovative principals realised the importance of addressing the social needs of their students. Thirdly, the industrially experienced teachers worked with academics and community professionals/selected representatives to deliver student-centred curriculum. Fourthly, the Social Biology Resource Centre (SBRC), University of Melbourne, offered non-formally assessed in-service courses promoting self-directed learning and multi-professional networks.

Shepparton South Technical School

Shepparton South Technical School--South Tech--was a rural, co-educational secondary technical school in the Goulburn Valley, Victoria, 180kms north of Melbourne. Settlers from countries including Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia and Albania quickly established Shepparton's reputation as a premier wheat and fruit growing area. (1) The effects of closer settlement, efficient transport, and irrigation resulted in successful intensive agriculture, and transformed an insignificant stop on the way to the goldfields in the 1850s into the 1960s city of Shepparton.

Under principal, Jock Thomlinson's administration, the school that began classes in 1966 in the Shepparton Agricultural Showgrounds, was eager to adopt a philosophy that focused on the development of a positive self identity for each child. Formalities within the school were reduced to a minimum: staff who preferred it were addressed by their given name or initials--'JK' rather than 'Mr', 'Mrs', 'Mam', or 'Sir'; school uniform and homework became optional; recreational activities replaced competitive sport. All learning areas, including humanities, utilised a theory and practice approach, and were of equal value and status.

In July 1972, in an address to the staff at the Technical Teachers College, Thomlinson talked about preparing children 'to take their place in a society that is very different from the one their parents grew up in, and one that will be different to the one their children will grow up in'. (2) He observed that 'there was a fair bit of ill-informed practice going on [adolescent sexual activity], and no theory [sex education]'. In an interview, Jock Thomlinson observed that students needed help to develop into 'decent human beings', and linked the need to address their problems with the school's aims:

   Students can't learn if they've got a problem. … 
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