Thursday, December 18, 2008

Annotated Bibliography

Moore, Mignon R. (2003) “Socially Isolated? How Parents and Neighbourhood Adults Influence Youth Behaviour in Disadvantaged Communities”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 26:6, 988-1005.

In this book, Mignon Moore proposes some interesting theories about the reasons for early sexual initiation among adolescents in disadvantaged neighborhoods.  His first theory has to do with societal structure.  According to him, disadvantaged neighborhoods have a relative lack of work, which throws the unemployment numbers out of whack, which causes a breakdown in the proper functioning of adult-adolescent relationships in society as a whole, leading youths to experiment with sexuality sooner.  His second argument has to do with family structure.  According to him, disadvantaged neighborhoods have higher incidences of family disruptions (be it single-parent households, divorce, forced relocation, what have you), which leads to breakdowns in the relationship between parent and child, which is a major factor in predicting early adolescent sexual activity.

Masters, N., Beadnell, B., Morrison, D., Hoppe, M., & Gillmore, M. (2008, June). The Opposite of Sex? Adolescents’ Thoughts About Abstinence and Sex, and Their Sexual Behavior. Perspectives on Sexual & Reproductive Health, 40(2), 87-93. 

This article I found particularly interesting.  It analyzes the relationships between adolescents’ intentions to stay abstinent or to have sex, and compares them with findings about the actual outcomes of those intentions.  The findings are particularly remarkable in that there does not seem to be a clear-cut mutually exclusive mechanism in youth’s minds about these two topics.  That is to say, intending to stay abstinent does not seem to have a very large influence on not having sex, in the context of this study.

Theo G M Sandfort,  Mark Orr,  Jennifer S Hirsch,  John Santelli. (2008). Long-Term Health Correlates of Timing of Sexual Debut: Results From a National US Study. American Journal of Public Health, 98(1), 155-61.  Retrieved December 11, 2008, from ABI/ INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1408937661).

This Study presents some basic statistics about the health affects and risks that correlate with early sexual initiation.  Among those listed are greater likelihood of contraction of sexually transmitted infections, as well as an increase in the probability of having intercourse with a partner identified as risky, and a decrease in general health among males.  Also interesting is the greater likelihood of early sexually active adolescents in underestimating risks of HIV infection.

Lohman, Brenda J., Billings, Amanda. (2008). Protective and Risk Factors Associated with Adolescent Boys’ Early Sexual Debut and Risky Sexual Behaviors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(4), 723-735.

There are many findings and discussions in this study, but what I found particularly useful for my needs is the Application Section at the end.  The study points out that by late middle school, much of the window of opportunity for intervention has already passed, and so initiatives aimed at delaying adolescent sexual debut should focus on sixth and seventh grades and younger to be effective.  Also poignant was the proposal that effective intervention initiatives should involve both parents and schools in a coordinated effort to work on the multiple risk factors for early sex activity in adolescents.

Vincent Guilamo-Ramos,  James Jaccard,  Patricia Dittus,  Bernardo Gonzalez,  Alida Bouris. (2008). A Conceptual Framework for the Analysis of Risk and Problem Behaviors: The Case of Adolescent Sexual Behavior. Social Work Research, 32(1), 29-45. 

What I found fascinating about this article more than anything else was its dealing with factors that go through the mind of adolescents when deciding to have sex.  Particularly intriguing was the disconnect that was pointed out between the common focus of intervention techniques, such as raising awareness of the risks of pregnancy and STI transmission, and the reasons that adolescents decide to have sex (social and pleasure factors, mainly)  The study intelligently points out that to be truly effective, intervention approaches must address these social and pleasure factors, and put them in an appropriate context in relation to everything else with the hope that adolescents will then be better equipped to make wise decisions.

Urban Schools Public Will

I wanted to make at least a cursory mention of one of the books we sorta got to, sorta didn’t this semester.  Urban Schools, Public Will by Norm Fruchter is probably the most enjoyable book I’ve read this semester - and I have sort of like all of them.  I also happen to think that it is the densest of the reading materials that we’ve examined - I find it to be far-reaching in scope, and highly technical, but on subject matter that I find intriguing enough to make the book quite enjoyable (For a slow reader like me, however, it takes forever to get through a chapter).

I, however, wanted to critique one of his approaches to examining eliminating the Achievement Gap between white and minority students in this country.  He proposes to use schools run by the Department of Defense (DoD) that cater to mainly children of military personnel as an example of a school system that can successfully minimize the achievement gap.  But you’ll have to forgive me if I have a hard time accepting this as a valid comparison.  Sure, it’s interesting to see that there has been success made in this most critical of education challenges, but I cannot believe that the results can ever be anything more than interesting - I see relatively few application potentials.  You see, it would be my belief that much (in not all) of this success revolves around the unique position that DoD schools find themselves in.  The cater to children of parents that have all been instilled with a sense of great discipline and responsibility, with respect for the chain of command and authority in general.  Doubtless, many of these parents have instilled at least some modicum of this discipline and respect into their children, making testing results all that much better across the board.  Also at issue is the fact that many of the neighborhoods that these students come from because of the military presence should tend to be quite well-adjusted which also skews test results.  

Now I’m not against turning every school in the country into a military school, I’m really not, but I have a feeling that I would be in the minority on that vote, so I simply can’t see the value of this comparison.  Sorry if that sounds harsh, but my opinions are my own.

Grad School Reflections

Well, we come to the end of my first semester of grad school today, and it seemed appropriate that as I was finishing up the last of these blogs, I should take one to reflect on my experiences in grad school, positive and negative.  The first thing I have to say is that I swore I’d never go back to school again once I finished my Undergraduate degree in about 2 1/2 years longer than it should have taken.  Funny how free education to get a degree that I desperately wanted to pursue changes one’s mind, right?  So that being said, I had never investigated Grad Schools, and so I had absolutely no expectations coming in - I had no idea what it would be like.  I must say, I was quite pleasantly surprised.  The fact that there was only one meeting a week and late afternoon sold me right away.  Add that to the fact that the workload, while not easy, was certainly manageable, and the semester in some ways seemed like a breeze.  Sure, this last two weeks has been relatively hectic - but that is relative to the other 13 weeks of Grad School, and I needed only observe my fiancĂ©e as she finished up her penultimate undergrad semester to realize that I had nothing to complain about in the arena of workload.  Also a major bonus was the fact that there were no exams - I can totally dig that.

But what did I really learn?  Well, surprisingly, the classes were not fluff, as I thought it possible they might be.  I really enjoyed the readings, for the most part, and even the papers (while certainly not my idea of fun) I feel have assisted me in preparing for a transition to teaching.  A nice side benefit also was the fact that I can now relate better to my future students, since when I begin teaching, I will be like them in that I too am still in school.  So all in all, I think I have learned a lot this semester, and if the rest of my schooling is like this, who knows - maybe i just might go for my doctorate.............NOT!!!!!!!

Community Inquiry Project Topic

So what has been coming to my attention recently, and I acknowledge that sometimes I do seem to have my head stuck in the sand, has been what seems to be a growing trend of kids beginning sexual activity at increasingly young ages.  This came to my attention when I was mentoring a student in an urban Middle School, only an eighth grader, who was referencing losing his virginity as an event in the distant past.  What’s more, by his own admission, his mother didn’t seem to find anything wrong with this (or had resigned herself to the fact that she couldn’t prevent her 13 year old son from having sex), as evidenced by her telling her son that she didn’t care what he did, so long as he didn’t bring home grandchildren.  This blows my mind!  I’m old-fashioned (or naive) enough to believe that high school is too young to be able to make rational calculated decisions about sexuality, let alone middle school.  So I thought I would investigate this trend for my community inquiry project, to find out what the true stats are in this area.  I would also like to know whether or not the “experts” in the field of study believe this to be an epidemic, or simply an acceptable social and cultural shift in attitudes.  I gotta tell you, though, I can’t help but feel that no matter what I discover from this porject and beyond, it will probably be pretty depressing to me.  I just hope that it will at the same time better equip me to handle any such issues as they come up in the course of my teaching career. 

Analyzing Inquiry Project Data

The data that I collected for my Community Inquiry Project seems to agree on only the fact that extremely young (14 or younger) adolescent sexual initiation is associated with a plethora of developmental, social and health detriments to those adolescents, and that such sexual initiations are becoming more and more common.  After talking with middle school students and reading much literature on the subject, I feel that this is a trend worth fighting, and as a future middle or high school teacher, I feel that it is at least partially my job to be involved in this fight.  After all, educators are not just tasked with teaching subject matter to students, but also with assisting in advancing the well-being of their students.  That being established, I do not know how I, as an aspiring educator, can look at all of the evidence that points to increased risks of everything from pregnancy to substance abuse associated with early sexual initiation, and not try to do something to help.  While I will be teaching mathematics, and certainly it is true that math teachers are not traditionally those tasked with sex eduction classes, I also realize that simply by being a teacher, students will always be watching me., leaving me with at least some opportunity to be a positive influence.  I am also fairly confident that somehow, be it overhearing a student’s conversation or being asked direct questions, that sex will come up, even in a math class.  Simply by being aware of the information that I learned while doing this project, I believe that I will be better equipped to effectively assist my students to obtain accurate and complete information on the potential consequences of their sexual decisions.

Some of these findings have challenged the assumptions that I have carried with me since my own schooling days - namely, that sexual initiation might start in high school, but certainly no earlier than that.  I believe that knowing and accepting the fact that the environment in which I will be teaching is not the same as the one that I came from (or perhaps merely the one that I thought I came from), will greatly assist me in being able to serve students better as the opportunities present themselves.  As an urban educator, I need to have the information at my disposal that while sexual initiation age decreases nationwide, urban neighborhoods demonstrate this trend to a much larger degree, including the devastating trend of a much larger risk for STI transmission at younger ages (Romer et. al., 1993).  Knowledge, as they say, is power, and as a future educator, I welcome every bit of knowledge about the environment in which I will be teaching.

Also invaluable as a future educator is knowing the risk factors that make early sexual initiation more likely (behavior problems, lack of parent supervision, familial uncertainty, etc.).  I am not suggesting that any educator can compensate for all of these problems, but I feel that if I can recognize that certain students are at greater risks for problems such as the one we are discussing, then it will better prepare me to meet their particular needs.  I certainly cannot anticipate all of the ways that this will manifest itself, but I hope that throughout the process of this project, I have put myself in a better standing to continue to reflect on this issue and in the light of more experience, to begin to form some sort of cohesive strategy.

In analyzing the data from the mapping of my section of downtown Newark, it would suggest to me that the students of Science Park High are particularly fortunate at having such a nice area in which to attend school.  Based on the literature research I conducted, and based on the abundance of places of worship (that can act as agents to strengthen community ties, as well as some evidence that church affiliation decreases the likelihood of early sexual initiation) and the relatively low evidence of neighborhood instability, I would predict that the students that attend school here would be less likely than peers in more disadvantaged neighborhoods to experiment sexually at very young ages.

Personal Community Inquiry Project Data Methodology

My data for this project, besides the existing literature that I researched, comes primarily from informal interviews that I performed with 4 minority (Hispanic and African American) eighth grade males from a school in a large lower-income urban neighborhood.  The questions revolved primarily around current and recent sexual activity and future sexual intentions, as well as brief inquiries into the nature of peer pressure as a driving force in sexual activity.  As these were informal interviews, and especially given the delicate nature of the subject area and lines of questioning, no written notes were taken.  I was fairly acquainted with the students I interviewed (having visited with them on several previous occasions), and have fair reason to believe that their answers were for the most part truthful.  However, given again the delicate nature of the subject matter, no amount of certainty can be guaranteed as to the accuracy of the responses.  While I admit that this is far from a statistically significant group of adolescents, I was able to get a more personal perspective on what the literature on this topic spells out.  I was also gratified to find that several of the trends that are discussed in the literature, such as parental supervision, family makeup, and sexual initiation age were reflected through these students’ responses.

Honestly, while I am not thrilled with the limited amount of research that I was able to do personally in this area, I think that with my chosen topic, short of a full-blown research study, that is about the best that I can get from first-hand student accounts.    

Walking Newark

So I recently was completing one of the parts of my Community Inquiry project, which took me into the heart of downtown Newark and centered me around Science Park High School and the surrounding ten block radius.  First off, why did I choose Science Park?  Honestly, it is because my ignorance about Newark was almost total.  What I knew about Newark was that there was a big airport somewhere near there, and that there is a stigma associated with it, as with most inner cities (I know this because whenever I mention to people the fact that I am going to be working in Newark as a teacher, I get one of two answers: “good luck,” or “oh, combat pay”).  So I just picked one of the names of the public schools that I could remember has been thrown around all semester.  With my memory the way it is, that limited it to Shabazz, Science Park, and Arts High, and I’ve never had an affinity for arts, and the prof knows Shabazz way too well.  So I mapped the area.  I have a feeling that I probably picked one of the nicest areas in Newark to deal with, because even I was impressed.  Most of the houses around the school were almost pristine single family units, there were higher education facilities everywhere I looked, the area was generally clean and neat, and there was really no major evidence of major neighborhood issues.  Perhaps I’m naive, and perhaps other areas more closely resemble areas that warrant combat pay for their educators, but honestly, Newark doesn’t seem that bad to me at the moment.  I can’t wait to start teaching.