Sexuality Education: Policy in the age of neoliberalism

Year: 2016

Author: Fitzpatrick, Katie, Powell, Darren

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Global moves to legalise gay marriage, along with changes in youth culture and ever-increasing access to sexual content online are resulting in cultural shifts around sexuality, and arguably, a more liberal approach to school-based sexuality education in some countries. Recent policy changes in Ontario, Canada and in New Zealand provide a case in point (Ministry of Education, 2015; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2015). The ministries of education in both countries released new sexuality education curriculum documents in 2015, resulting in social debate that included everything from outrage to applause. Media commentary surrounding the release of these new policy documents suggests that communities, and even teachers, remain polarised about approaches to learning in this area, and have raised questions about whether schools should be involved in sexuality education at all. Nevertheless, the actual policy documents at the centre of these debates do maintain a firm place for sexuality programmes and represent a socially liberal and politically critical view of the subject. However, sexuality education policy is also subject to the same neoliberal tensions affecting others areas of education, including outsourcing, privatisation and commercialisation. In this paper, we draw on post-structuralist notions of assemblage(Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) to consider social and political discourses of sexuality education, and how such discourses are impacting policy moves. By way of example, we juxtapose two documents that reflect, express and articulate the sexuality education assemblage currently in New Zealand. Both appeared in schools in 2015: one an official Ministry-driven policy document, and the other a report commissioned by a Christian organization. We reflect on how these documents are operating within the current boundaries of neoliberal government policies, and how the interests of non-government organisations may shape how teachers’ (and ultimately children) engage with sexuality education.