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N.E.A. To Publish Curriculum on Student Harassment

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Spurred by recent national surveys documenting student-to-student sexual harassment in schools, the nation's largest teachers' union this summer will publish a curriculum on the topic for use by its members and others.

The "Flirting or Hurting?'' curriculum was written for the National Education Association by Nan D. Stein, who directs the project on sexual harassment in schools at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, and by Lisa Sjostrom, a project associate.

The lessons, which take a minimum of seven class periods, use teacher-led discussions, writing exercises, student observations, case studies, and role-playing to raise students' awareness about peer sexual harassment.

Given the N.E.A.'s size--some 2.1 million members--the curriculum has the potential to be one of the most widely disseminated plans on sexual harassment, a topic that has been gaining attention.

Last year, a nationwide survey sponsored by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation found that four out of five students in grades 8 to 11--81 percent of girls and boys--reported that they had experienced unwelcome sexual behavior in school. (See Education Week, June 9, 1993.)

A more informal poll by Seventeen magazine also showed that harassment is a problem in schools.

Both surveys caught the attention of the teachers' union.

"I think we were concerned at the numbers in which young people were reporting ... that they were being impacted by this,'' said Claudia J. Edwards, a senior professional associate in the N.E.A.'s human- and civil-rights division.

Geared to grades 6 through 12, the curriculum's lessons and supplemental activities can be incorporated into courses as disparate as physical education, current events, and literature, Ms. Stein said.

The curriculum uses case studies to illustrate sexual harassment. Questions about what types of interventions could have worked at different points in an escalating sexual-harassment incident are interspersed in the case studies.

By emphasizing what bystanders can do to prevent or interrupt harassment, the lesson "teaches kids not to be moral spectators,'' Ms. Stein said.

Teachers Offer Praise

In another lesson, students become ethnographers who observe and record school culture and the contexts in which sexual harassment may occur.

By sponsoring the curriculum, Ms. Edwards said the union is trying to encourage adults to intervene in peer sexual harassment, which can be confusing to educators because often it is open to differing interpretations.

She said she hopes the curriculum will help them know "when to call it harassment, particularly in the absence of policies or any effort on the part of the school system to bring everybody's awareness up.''

Teachers from a Massachusetts group that tested "Flirting or Hurting?'' praised the curriculum, which can be taught on consecutive days or spread over several weeks. They said it was flexible and that its activities appealed to students.

"It's not an extra. ... You don't stop your curriculum to put this in,'' said Cathy Thibedeau, an English teacher at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in Hamilton, Mass.

Ms. Thibedeau said her 10th-grade students applied what they were learning to their contemporaneous reading of Tess of the D'Urbervilles and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Copies of the curriculum, expected to cost less than $20 each, will be available after July 1 from the N.E.A. Professional Library, Box 509, West Haven, Conn. 06515; (800) 229-4200.

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