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English 212

2002 Third Paper

On Serendip

Field Site: Buddhist Temple

Ngoc Tran

I am observing youths at a Buddhist temple. I have been working with these groups of students for the past two years so I have quite a good understanding of who they are and why they're at the temple. The community is very friendly but they are also very conservative and traditional--oh, and political as well. Designing a sex education curriculum for these youths are not as difficult as trying to obtain permission from adults, elders, and monks from the temple. I have not gone so far as to mention the word sex in front of anyone at the temple, not even the youths. They all seems know that it is inappropriate and unacceptable with this community. I am no longer simply working with students and parents. I am working with a whole force of political, religous, and cultural community.


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Gilboa, Amit. "Shadow Dancing in Vietnam's Scandalous 'Dark Coffee' Cafes, Young Couples Can Make Out (or more) in Semi-Privacy." Nerve. 18 Feb. 2002.
24 Oct. 2002.

Heiman, Elliott M., and Le, Cao Van. "Transexualism in Vietnam." Archives of Sexual Behavior 4 (1975): 89-95.

Kelly, Gail Paradise. "To Become an American Woman: Education and Sex Role Socialization of the Vietnamese Immigrant Woman." Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History. Eds. Ruiz, Vicki L., and Dubois, Ellen Carol. Routledge, New York: Routledge Inc., 1994. 497-508.

Kennington, Allen. "Vietnamese words for sex and nudity." 22 Sept. 2002.
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Kreutz, Serge. "Vietnam." Asialove. November. 2001. 24 Oct. 2002.

Mackenzie, Vicki. "Cave in the Snow: Tenzin Palmo's Quest For Englightment." New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998.

Stevens, John. "Lust For Enlightenment: Buddhism and Sex." Boston: Shambhala Publication, Inc., 1990.

Te, Huynh Dinh. "Non-verbal communication." Vietspring. 24 Oct. 2002.

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24 Oct. 2002.

Consider the Pieces

In imagining a curriculum for the youths at the temple, I must first be aware of their identity. These youths are not simply Vietnamese or Vietnamese-American. They are Vietnamese-American-Buddhist. Characterizing themselves as such indicate the importance of their deeply rooted cultures, values, and beliefs. An effective sex education curriculum needs to incorporate languages from all three of these arenas.

Through both observing and dialoguing with the youths, I realize what a great barrier silence, unspoken thoughts, fears and emotions has been and will be in the discourse of sex education. In addition to this bubble of silence, I also notice the lack of tools necessary for communication and understanding. The insistent of molding and allowing the youths to act and to speak only a certain way make it even more difficult to embark on any discussion about sex. Thus, before speculating further details on the future of the sex education curriculum, I believe the curriculum must address these missing elements.

To ensure the permission that students will be able to converse in both English and Vietnamese, the curriculum will be written so that both languages will be used. In both writing and speaking, there is no emphasizes of one language over the other. I will emphasize to the students that the kind of language they use is not important. It is, important, however, that they want to communicate and be able to express their intention with the language they have chosen.

Of course, with the permission, students may now be able to converse at greater ease. Permission alone, however, will be of little effect without an appropriate tool, a common language where all students can use to understand the subject in discussion. This common language can be built by acquiring basic Vietnamese and English vocabulary in the first few lesson of the curriculum. This is similar to the idea that we learn the basic theory before we use them to reach for a different kind of understanding, perspective, and question about the subject. In fact, learning these words will also give them an instant-like validation of their thoughts, feelings, and contributions to the class. With the rise of confidence, the rate of participation will also increase. When these youths' are ready to engage, I am half way in my quest of breaking the silence.

Once discourse begins, what will we be conversing, reading, watching, and questioning. Which part of their identity will we tackle first? The Vietnamese piece? The American piece? The Buddhist piece? As a Vietnamese, how do they feel about sex? Does this Vietnamese perspective conflict with what they learn in school sex education? What does sexuality has to do with religion? How do they interpret the silence about sex at the temple? When they think about sex, which piece of their identity has the executive influence and why?

What about morality? Is sex ever about right and wrong? If they strip themselves of their identity, how would sex be viewed? Why? How do they intend to confront oppositions, if any, from the three perspectives? What is their comfort zone when we talk about sex? How do they mediate their comfort zone with other? What about diversity thoughts, ideals, and beliefs about sexuality? Does it have anything to do with sex? What about marriage and relationship? How will sex play into other aspect of life? Whom will they go for help when they are experiencing difficulty or problems having to do with sex? Where do they place their parents in this puzzle? How involve do they wish the community to be?

These are imperative questions to be asking in the process of compiling a sex education curriculum for these youths. With these questions, I set out searching for sources that will instigate students to think critically about their answers to those questions. My search for sources has been quite rewarding because the things I learn are never ending. In fact, I do not think that my personal knowledgeable is any greater than many of these youths. I, too, am clueless about Buddhism's perspective on sex, sexuality, and gender. Like them, I know very little of sexual attitudes, beliefs, and taboos within the Vietnamese community. I do not know the how immigration changes old ideas and old practices of family and societal interaction. What is gained and what is loss? Can we even calculate? Will it ever be possible for Vietnamese parents to discuss openly about the dangers and the pleasures of sex with their children? Does the difficulty of such discussion means they are not comfortable talking about sex in their own skin?

Readings addressing or having to do with these questions are definitely part of the curriculum. The lesson has to begin with very little word and connotation of sex because it is better to introduce to then force the subject onto the students. We may be able to start a simple story from a Buddha's sutra that talks about family and morality. It will be appropriate, the, to have a reading on Vietnamese cultural attitudes on social codes and interactions. We can have a writing assignment on how these two codes are alike or differ from each other. How does the American system agree or disagree with these two codes? Stories of real life that combines moral issues and sex will be the bridge for the students to cross from the discussion of common morality to questions of sexuality. Students will bare in mind these questions as they learn the basic vocabulary, fact, and theory in preceding lessons. Once students are equipped with knowledge, the discourse will inevitably be more personal, reflective, and meaningful. I am sure, however, of how the classroom will be shaped. Will it be necessary to divide students into groups? Will these groups be gendered so that students may feel more comfortable with their own gender? Will the division of these students be done according to age appropriateness? I will have to take time to speculate on their interactions in the next few weeks.

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