After her painful divorce 15 years ago, Patricia Kramer was determined -- and came up with a high school course plan -- to help prevent young people from heading down the same path.
"No one knows how to make relationships work," says Kramer, 41, whose "Dynamics of Relationships" is taught in three District of Columbia schools. "We can't expect people just to know it. We have to teach them."
As it has evolved, Kramer's two-semester course deals not only with relationships and marriage, but also touches on issues such as drugs, pregnancy and homosexuality. The one-hour, five-day-a-week course, currently in a "pilot" stage at Anacostia, Ballou and Dunbar high schools, draws heavily on discussion sessions and role-playing. If approved, the course could be adopted as an elective in all District high schools. Kramer is also talking with public school officials in Virginia and Maryland and other systems around the country.
At a recent visit to Anacostia High School, a "Dynamics" class is in progress; today's subject is based on chapter seven's sexuality section. Teacher Thomas Held, who is fulfilling a 40-hour teacher training requirement, leads the class of 19.
"Did anybody remember to hug some people at home?" he asks.
Some did, some didn't.
Held asks the 12th-grade class if parents should impose curfews on teen-agers. Again, a mixed response. One student says children should be allowed out late when they are 16. "Sometimes," protests another, "when parents keep you in the house all the time and then you get out, you just go wild."
"Are more teen-agers having sex than before?" asks Held.
"Yes," replies the class firmly.
"What's the evidence?" asks the teacher.
"Pregnancies," say a few voices.
"Are teen-agers being given more freedom or less?"
"What goes with that freedom?"
"How many people here have a curfew?"
Only one hand goes up.
After class, student Dathan Edwards talks about the program. Before he took the class, "I wanted to get more respect from my parents," he says. "I got frustrated easily with my father." He also had a problem with peers who criticized him for keeping to himself and "not going out all the time." But after studying such subtopics of "Dynamics" as self-esteem, "I have a better relationship with my father ," he says, and associates "don't bother me any more."
"Inside Your Schools," an educational TV series, recently highlighted a "Dynamics" class at Ballou High School, where students were role-playing with obvious enjoyment. A young man asked his partner why she would not have sex with him. She wasn't ready yet, she replied. He said he was being pressured by his friends to have sex with her.
"If you're being pressured by your friends," she retorted, "why don't you have sex with them?"
Kramer's course, however, "is not a sex-education program," she stresses. "It's a program to build self-esteem." (In answer to some schools' concerns, she is preparing a second edition of the book -- published by Kramer's own Equal Partners Co. -- that pulls out some of the more sensitive material, such as birth control, sexual diseases and teen-age pregnancy to be put under a separate cover for teachers.)
Ozetta Boseman, who teaches "Dynamics" at Ballou, says the course is worthwhile because it "deals with so many scenes teen-agers come in contact with daily . . . We discuss things openly. All their opinions are accepted, no one is wrong because they feel a certain way. The students feel comfortable talking about issues they may not be comfortable with discussing in other classes."
Emma King, the home economics supervisor who is overseeing and critiquing the progress of "Dynamics" for District Public Schools, has commented that most public school students come from broken homes. "I don't know if the course will solve the problems, but it will create a greater awareness."
bat10 The "Dynamics of Relationships" is in some ways the story of Kramer's relentless lobbying of teachers, educational systems and anyone else who would listen. Since 1983, when she developed the course, Kramer says her life has consisted of "walking around and talking and calling and begging and pushing and convincing people we have a desperate need for this."
Her credentials: a B.A. in psychology from Biscayne (Fla.) College and a stint as a divorce counselor. After her divorce in 1971, Kramer became "truly driven from a personal standpoint." Realizing that "everyone was getting divorced and in a lot of pain, and there's a lot of anger between men and women," she went back to college to become a divorce counselor.
But after listening to one tragic story after another, she decided teen-agers should be her target for solving human social problems: "I've kind of given up on adults."
Acting on the suggestions of some Florida school officials, she attempted to introduce the course at community-education programs for adults and children. But, in spite of a barrage of publicity, "No one would sign up for the classes . . . I got disgusted. People were hurting and didn't seem to care . . ."
She "sort of stopped," and then decided to start anew in Washington, where she was born and raised. "All the national organizations are here and if I were to get funding, here was the place." Kramer spent "a lot of time reviewing lots of material -- college textbooks, high school textbooks, every single book on relationships that existed and every sociological paper, which of course I never understood -- and I drew my own conclusions."
Her initial applications to private foundations for development money were rejected, but in 1984, working with the American Family's Youth Policy Institute, she received some grants.
"We adults never got taught any of this," says Kramer. "Someone has to break this chain so we'll be better marriage partners, better role models, better parents, happier, more well-adjusted, so individuals won't be so destructive to themselves, and so . . . people will be more loving and nurturing . . . things we were all meant to do."
bat10 Kramer's own relationships?
"I'm not in a relationship right now," she says, "primarily because I'm spending 18-24 hours a day" developing the course. "In my commitment to do this I put my personal life apart."
The second reason for putting relationships on hold for the moment: "I have an understanding of what it takes to make a relationship work. And I find it difficult to find a partner who's receptive to that . . ."