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Youth- and Peer-Led Sex Education  

Alanna Goldstein

Peer-led and youth-led sex education primarily involves young people teaching other young people about sex, sexuality, and sexual health. This approach gained in popularity during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s–1990s, as community organizations sought to address the unique sexual health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth, many of whom had been underserved in traditional sex education spaces. Since then, peer-led and youth-led sex education pedagogies have been implemented by researchers, educators, and community organizations working across a range of sites around the globe. Peer-led and youth-led sex education generally draws on assumptions that young people are better situated than adults to talk to their peers about sexual health and/or to model positive sexual health behavior. However, some have noted that this perspective constructs young people as a homogenous group and ignores the ways in which sexuality and sexual health intersects with other social factors. Furthermore, there is a general lack of consensus across interventions around who constitutes a “peer” and what constitutes “peer-led” sex education, resulting in the development of interventions that at times tokenize young people, without engaging them in meaningful ways. As a result, evaluations of many peer- and youth-led sex education pedagogies suggest that even as these pedagogies improve young people’s knowledge of sexual health-related topics, they often don’t result in long-term sexual health behavior change. However, many evaluations of peer- and youth-led sex education pedagogies do suggest that acting as a peer educator is of immense benefit to those who take on this role, pointing to the need for program developers to reconsider what effective sex education pedagogy might look like. A “social ecology” or “systems thinking” approach to youth sexual health may provide alternative models for thinking about the future of peer-led and youth-led sex education. These approaches don’t task peer- and youth-led sex education with the sole responsibility of changing young people’s sexual health-related outcomes, but rather situate peer-led sex education as one potential node in the larger confluence of factors that shape and constrain young people’s sexual health.

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Critical Perspectives on Positive Youth Development and Environmental Education  

Marianne E. Krasny, Tania M. Schusler, Jesse Delia, Anne Katherine Armstrong, and Lilly Briggs

Positive youth development (PYD) assumes that, when given appropriate support, all youth have the capacity to develop the assets that enable them to succeed in life. Such assets include competence, confidence, connection, character, caring, and contribution to community, otherwise known as the six Cs of PYD. Environmental education (EE) programs that focus on youth action and empowerment offer the support needed for youth to develop these assets. Youth after-school, summer, and residential programs, often serving low-income and minoritized youth, increasingly are using environmental action and learning as a means to achieve PYD outcomes. Yet both PYD and EE have been criticized for not addressing the root causes of poverty and environmental degradation. In response, critical traditions in PYD and EE have emerged, in which youth reflect and act on structural barriers to human and environmental well-being in their communities. As youth and their mentors seek to address systemic inequities impacting themselves and their environment, they develop additional “Critical Positive Youth Development/Environmental Education” assets including critical reflection, efficacy, the ability to take collective action, and community-level empowerment.