Western University researcher bringing youth voices back into sex-ed discussion

A Western University researcher has teamed up with London high schools to help today’s youth have their say on sex education curriculum.

Michael Kehler, an associate professor from Western’s Faculty of Education, partnered with art departments at London’s Central Secondary School and Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School to have students create a variety of works of art that represented their own perceptions of youth sexuality and sexual culture.

The finished art pieces will be displayed Thursday, May 5 at 6 p.m. at a special public art installation – Sex education, youth culture and the voices we missed – at Museum London. The installation is open to the public, and will feature the youth artists, parents and teachers.

After watching the public tensions that emerged between some parents and school boards over Ontario’s revised sex-ed curriculum, introduced in September, Kehler argues some parents have done their children a disservice by speaking on their behalf.

“Parents voices were heard loud and clear after the Province introduced the new curriculum,” said Kehler. “They removed their kids from schools, they wrote letters and they stood with placards in the streets. But in doing so, they denied the voices of the individuals most directly affected by this curriculum – their own children.”

The art project partnership has turned the tables and enabled youth to lead the conversation about sexuality and subjects like youth identities, media images, body image and sexting.

Kehler will also be using the youth voices to help inform an international symposium he is hosting at the Faculty of Education. Moving Forward: Identities, sexting, schooled bodies and the curriculum that frames us takes place May 22 – 25, and will see national and international experts, keynote speakers and guest panellists gather together to discuss how educational curriculum can address the ever-changing world of youth sexual culture.

The key to the symposium’s success will be the unfiltered youth perspective, said Kehler.

“Parents being involved in sex education is terrific, but a general discussion about the birds and the bees is very different from talking about what our youth currently have to navigate. We’re using the youth feedback to take an educational, research-informed approach to looking at where the curriculum is today, and where it needs to be in the future.”

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