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The effect of the learning environment on various aspects of the personality like gender, sexuality and social class is extremely significant. How schools decide to teach and influence children from the beginning shape their world views. This is where children learn about their reality and draw inferences about their personality. From conservative environments to the most liberal schools, the role of educators and educational practice is one of the most important steps in raising of consciousness of impressionable young minds. The constituents of sexuality and social class are more nuanced and complex but interactions at the learning environment enable these young minds to form their opinion. These opinions could either be their own or a product of the environment they have been brought up in. In this essay, these various aspects of an individual’s psyche and identity will be discussed regarding different learning environments.
My secondary schooling years were spent in a conservative environment which was an all-girls convent. One of the best things about being in an all-female environment was the fact that I never had to worry about subjects assuming gender. We all could study computer science mathematics and poetry as much as we wanted. Much like the discourse around gender affecting education, in the Australian norm, I see how subjects such as coding or information technology or physics have mostly male student and very female students. Back in my all girl’s convent, there was no concept of such disparity. The collective of teachers that mostly comprised of nuns believed in the ideology that women together were powerful and this drew me to feminist schools of thought at an early age.
The dominant discourse revolved around the concept of acquiring knowledge irrespective of what the world expected of us. The media and general misconceptions often categorize nuns as narrow-minded and oppressive yet if it weren’t for the Irish Nuns who walked across the broiling Australian desert in the 19th century, young women in Australia would have had no education today (McMeniman, M. 2008). The Catholic Church and the nuns themselves had fought for the freedom of women’s right to education for centuries, the intensity and fervour with which they believed in our education and pedagogy was fervent. Almost always misunderstood, it is only now that I can decipher the seriousness and discipline associated with convent education. Like gender, it placed immense power in my strength and grace as a woman and encouraged me to be proud of the same. The schooling we received seldom mentioned of marriage. We were given the freedom of choices about who wanted to be when we became adults and it had nothing to do with the fact that we were women. Unlike contemporary, co-ed education, there were absolutely no comparisons or analogies to be drawn about what careers we chose as women. Sports, co-curricular activities and academia – all arenas were open and we were encouraged to participate in all without having to worry about conforming to gender roles. Despite the much liberalized and developed notions of gender equality in the 21st century, the educational institutions in Australia and the rest of the world do not see major changes in the notions associated with gender roles. Despite some exceptions, physics and aeronautics or even civil engineering are regarded as subjects that are meant for men and not women. In fact, as per certain studies, many educators still believe that male and female students are different and these differences do affect their learning in school. The factors that affect students learning ability can be categorized into two; socio-culture and intellectual (Ainley et al., 2008).
Even though certain aspects of catholic education were progressive, their views and ideas about the spectrum of sexuality were extremely limited. As per the bible, the act of sex was associated only with a holy union between a man and a woman that too only after marriage. If you were a servant of God then you couldn’t engage in sexual relations with another human being because you would have given a part of yourself to someone else. Homosexuality, sodomy, incest, bestiality and oral sex were considered abominations and the discourse revolved around this (Grogan, 2004). Openness to sexual activity was viewed as sinful an as teenagers the idea was drilled into our heads that we could have sex only after marriage.
Compared to this contemporary education has most definitely made strides in ideas around sexuality but it hasn’t been as multidirectional as possible. Homophobia and lack of awareness are as rampant as it has always been. The only change is that more and more people have come out to accept their sexuality and can openly do so. The idea that schools will have adequate notions of equality and framework to deal with students with various sexual inclination without inducing gender dysmorphia or issues related to human sexuality is still a far-fetched dream in most countries. Yes, on most account seems like the liberal, secular society has accepted all of the sexual spectra yet the human tendency to stigmatise and prejudice is still as prevalent as it has always been. Similarly understanding the previous most dominant take of catholic schools on sexuality they often fail to provide wholesome guidance simply because they do not consider the entire range of the sexual spectrum anything other than the conventional path of divine love is considered as unholy or simply unacceptable.
In our Catholic schools, any kind of behaviour that indicated that we had sexual desires once detected by our nuns were punished severely. We were often denied lunches and asked to take 20 rounds of the vast playground if we so much as so suggested having infatuations. Our duty was to acquire knowledge and be as productive as possible. Our identity as sexual beings with ideas of our own was not a notion that was widely acceptable or encouraged. Compared to that, the normal Australian school is way more tolerant but the discourse isn’t as nuanced as it should be (Smith et al., 2011).
Recalling my catholic convent experiences, there was not much of a distinction when it came to social class. Yes, we were aware of the difference amongst our peers, but it never became a defining factor for segregation in any of the activities much of the curriculum was designed in a way that enabled each of us to participate in a completely homogenised manner from an even base. Other than our devotion to god and studies, our very backgrounds or where we came from had very little to do with what we made of it
The catholic schooling system worked systematically and unabashedly towards the upliftment of the poor. In a way, we were encouraged to abolish these societal and political differences from the start. A sense of empathy and spirituality was provoked each day that made us think about different starts of the society and their suffering (Grace 2003). The catholic studies offered numerous spiritual lessons to deal with these political and material problems of the real world. Yes, it can be said that the backgrounds and socio-economic realities of numerous students prevented them from pursuing further studies, but the catholic education system and our faculty showcased every step of the way the very significance of altruism, equality and understanding.
Compared to this, the western education system continues to suffer until this date due to socio-economic disparities that exist within our society. Whether it is conditioning or simple prejudice, the social class is a huge determinant of quality of education an individual will receive. The integration of completely unified forms of teaching is yet to be a reality. What we see most often is an understood stratification that separates the rich from the poor the same is reflected in the curriculum. Students from disadvantaged socio-economic background have to often go through unprecedented levels of struggle to get proper education and this is just further amplified by the schooling system. Australia also happens to have the largest resource gaps that go to show how socially advantaged kids often receive way more privileges than their disadvantaged counterparts. Low educational outcomes are related to diminished health, unemployment, low wages, social exclusion, crime and incarceration, and teenage pregnancy (France & Roberts, 2017). Their skill levels are often lower, and they drop out way before and this way the school segregation system fails those completely by letting the disparity continue.
Understanding the impact of education environment on the psyche and awareness of a child enables the system to reform itself. Through this reform, they can inculcate constructive ideologies and strategies that will help the child develop nuanced ideas of though which will be beneficial for their overall cognitive development. A thorough understanding will eventually help them function better in social spiritual, personal and emotional contexts.
McMeniman, M. (2008). Journeying with nuns [Paper in: Hidden Queensland. Schultz, Julianne (ed).]. Griffith REVIEW, (21), 122.
Ainley, J., Kos, J., & Nicholas, M. (2008). Participation in science, mathematics and technology in Australian education. ACER Research Monographs, 4.
France, A., & Roberts, S. (2017). Youth and social class: Enduring inequality in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Springer.
Grace, G. (2003). 'First and foremost the church Offers Its educational service to the poor': Class, inequality and Catholic schooling in contemporary contexts. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 13(1), 35-54.
Grogan, C. L. (2004). Katherine Anne Porter's notorious virgins: female sexuality and catholicism in" Virgin Violeta"," Flowering Judas", and" Old mortality".
Smith, A., Schlichthorst, M., Mitchell, A., Walsh, J., Lyons, A., Blackman, P., & Pitts, M. (2011). Sexuality education in Australian secondary schools 2010. Melbourne: Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society, La Trobe University.
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