Foreword to the Healthy Relationships Curriculum
OUR SOCIETY IS AT WAR WITH ITSELF. For many violence has become the path of least resistance when it comes to solving problems, as public school teachers and administrators well know. Recently, a fourteen-year-old Halifax boy was suspended from school for carrying around a sawed-off shotgun, and a ten-year old Dartmouth girl came home with scratches on her face, chest and arms-compliments of the school bully.
This curriculum is an attempt to address the underlying issues that contribute to violent behaviour. Once students begin to explore these issues, they will be better equipped to free themselves from the deeply ingrained attitudes and beliefs that foster and justify anti-social actions.
Men are traditionally portrayed as strong, silent, and powerful, while women are stereotypically understood to be passive, sexually available care-givers. For many years, our popular culture has been delivering a dangerous message: that it is OK for men to dominate and control "the weaker sex." This has fuelled not only male violence against women, but also male violence against other men who are perceived to be weaker the "wimps," the "sissies," and the "queers."
Although the women's liberation movement began exposing this power imbalance and injustice many years ago, it is only recently that men have begun to work towards a new social ethic of gender equality that is based on respecting women for who they are, as opposed to "keeping them in their place."
This curriculum frequently makes reference to "male violence." This is not meant to condone or ignore violence that is perpetrated by women. However, the great majority of violent acts such as assault, rape and murder are committed by men. We believe that women who trample on the rights of others are also modelling themselves on the tough male stereotype. Therefore, the model itself is what warrants close scrutiny. The object is to help students of both genders learn the skills that build healthy relationships, which are based on sharing power with others as opposed to exerting power over others.
Halifax-based Men For Change formed in 1989 in the aftermath of the tragic killing of 14 female engineering students at École Polytechnique in Montréal. The group has been meeting regularly since then with the intention of better understanding the confusion and violence that all too often characterizes male-female relationships. Men For Change has also become involved in social action in a variety of ways, through hosting a film series, speaking in schools and churches, and writing letters to the editors of newspapers in the province.
Most of the educational efforts dealing with abuse have emphasized helping people to become aware of their rights and choices, identifying abusive situations and the various forms of abuse, and knowing what to do if you or someone you know is being abused. This is necessary information for both girls and boys.
The following lessons are intended to complement the sexual safety curriculum, by presenting cultural values that influence violent behaviour and by exploring the psycho-social dynamics of male violence altogether. But the intent here is not to paint a bleak picture. The purpose is to help students face facts about this pervasive problem, and also to present them with models of healthy relationships. Helping students to analyze the culture of violence that condones abusive behaviour is the first step towards empowering them to create the violence-free culture of tomorrow.
Men For Change believes that the best place to tackle the problem of violence is in the public schools, where a teacher's words and actions can help to shape life-long attitudes. For the same reason, school is the ideal place to begin transforming gender relations--away from entrenched disparities and towards an equitable and safe social environment.
Members of Men For Change have been pleased to lead discussions and provide workshops in more than a dozen junior high schools in metro and outlying school districts. This curriculum was inspired by our in-school meetings with Grade 7, 8, and 9 students. It is meant to be a road map, not an exhaustive treatise. What differentiates this classroom program from most violence-prevention initiatives is that it was developed and written by men. As such, a strong theme of men's accountability runs throughout the lessons.
In addressing issues of violence, we believe that it is critical to not only look at how women, children, and stigmatized men suffer as victims, but also to see how all men suffer from the gender gridlock of stereotypical male roles. Many men fear vulnerability and believe that it is a weakness to be emotional; this prevents them from forming whole relationships. Often, this spawns the contorted processes that lead to violence--from sexist jokes to murder. We hope this material enables students to see the linkages between sexist attitudes and violence, and we hope it encourages them to develop critical-thinking skills about these important issues. If the presentation of these lessons is successful in this regard, attitudinal and lifestyle changes will likely follow.
This curriculum will be of little use if it is simply pulled off the shelf once or twice a year to be used as "filler" for the PDR program. It will be of value if students, teachers, administrators, and the community at large decide to make violence-prevention a high priority issue in the schools. To be successful, this initiative requires a true partnership for change.
Grade 7 is focused on helping students learn how to deal with aggression. When children reach puberty, they begin to experience emotions more intensely. The lessons are designed to help them recognize the range of emotions that can lead to violent outbursts, and to show them that there are non-aggressive alternatives.
Having explored the various nuances of aggression, in Grade 8 students are introduced to violent influences in the mass media--from TV to comics. The intention is to give them tools that will empower them to stand back and take a critical look at the messages they are being fed, as opposed to absorbing them unawares.
By the time students reach Grade 9, relationships become increasingly important. The lessons progress from an investigation of male violence against women, to an exploration of healthy relationships. Students learn a variety of communication skills within the context of small groups. This format enables them to experience the dynamics of relationships, and to begin to work together more closely on issues of violence and gender equality.
How to purchase Healthy Relationships Curriculum
You can reach the developers and publishers of Healthy Relationships Curriculum through any of the following means:
Phone: (902) 457-4351
Fax: (902) 457-4597
We look forward to hearing from you.
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