Ontario’s Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, now presently unavailable, announced that the province will revert to a previous version of its sex education curriculum when students return to school in the fall. The older curriculum will remain in effect until the government completes parental consultations for feedback. The decision follows promises made by Premier Doug Ford during his leadership campaign earlier this year.However, consultation for the one under discussion resulted from in progress discussions that lasted years, and included 4,000 parents( one from each elementary school in Ontario), 2400 educators , 700 students from grades7-12, and170 key organizations , according to Nancy Veals in today’s letters in the Toronto Star. Having written teacher guidelines myself, I decided to look at the Health and Physical Education Guideline, revised for the Ontario Curriculum, grades 1-8. Thoughtful, constructive information , attention to context, the multi- faceted development of students are all addressed in the document.
I came to understand this methodology when I worked as a Program Officer at OCT, developing both the standards and numerous Additional Qualifications courses for Ontario high school teachers. The process is very serious, the researcher combing through multiple documents – from requested to unsolicited briefs and papers, interviewing and holding interactive consulting sessions, actively listening to concerns, then working through oral and written reports and transcripts, comparing and contrasting with similar curricula, consulting more , reviewing more with colleagues, testing and requesting, omitting and adding information in order to attempt to get it right and reflect the needs and aspirations of our communities. The result is somewhat formulaic but not one taken in haste, nor without deep thoughtful considerations, sensitivity and allowance for teacher pedagogy and implementation that meets the needs of students.
With the arrival of Doug Ford’s government, his promise to do away with the sex ed has been fulfilled. And every newspaper reflects the weighing in of diverse view points. Even an article by professor Debora Soh from York university stressed the role parents play in communicating trends, values, issues of a sexual nature. On July 17 she wrote in The Globe,”..science-based sex education has been shown to be effective, leading young people to delay becoming sexually active and increasing the likelihood that they will engage in safer sex practices when they do.”
To the queries, lacuna, confusion regarding the scrum, I suggest they all cast their minds back to their own foggy years of pre adolescence and those wonderful teenage years: when teenagers either ignore, distrust or adamantly do the exact opposite of what their parents wish them to. And if we are really honest here, how many parents or guardians are even having “ the talk”, but when they do, projecting their own righteous values on their kids. “ We take the approach that the best teachers are the parents, not the special interest group,” remarked Ford.
Parents are busier. Or so they think, and so self consumed with matters of importance these days barely even joining their offspring for a meal, or rarely sitting quietly without a tablet at a meal in a restaurant, so where and when does the Premier imagine these conversations will actually take place?
These important interchanges regarding sexting, abuse, sexuality are exactly necessary when you want an educated and sensitive adult to diffuse the embarrassment, shame and diversities of becoming, particularly if the parent finds the topics awkward to approach.That is not to remove the onus on parents to have these discussions, but the reality is that they may not be occurring or maybe even happening too late. To say parents are always the best teachers is disingenuous, for parents most often communicate bias. “ Soh underlines, ‘It brings us to the question of who gets to dictate how a child is raised – should it be the responsibility of the parent or the state? Sexual education cannot be blindly outsourced to the education system. As uncomfortable as it may be, parents must be savvy about the issues their kids are contending with in 2018’.”
I absolutely concur, and admit that I decided to stay home in my children’s early years because I did not want a nanny or “ other” to ground them in values that might be inconsistent with my own. I wanted those kidlets shaped by my ideas, ideals and rules. But that is not to say I did not anticipate that eventually they would become aware of multiple perspectives, learn to weigh, judge and think for themselves too, becoming their own personal critics, arbiters, holding viewpoints arrived at after consideration.But yes, I hoped and strove to underpin this with universal standards of care, responsibility, commitment, cooperation, kindness, compassion and caring. But even by kindergarten and the early years, kids have imbibed with their mother’s milk the lay of their parents, the accepted behaviour, the boundaries set or to be breached in their homes, on the street or at the playground of the daycare.
And yet to the issue of bias, a friend retold the situation wherein a kindergarten teacher, her colleague and a student teacher were in involved in an instructional session regarding the presentation of the curriculum guideline material. Following a frank and helpful session, the student teacher firmly stated, “ That’s not what I was taught in co-op”, her instruction all ready immovable and set, her mind unwilling to be open. So it rests with teachers, to be willing to listen and find the appropriate ways to sensitively instruct their students, as in remembering Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences: that we all learn differently and concrete, theoretical, visual, oral and aesthetic understanding, particularly of personal lessons such as sexuality must be taught in a manner that makes sense to the student and the context. Sex Ed is a huge topic as it now extends way beyond sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and developing bodies. In all situations, knowledge, reflection and wise instruction are the tools that have to be given to prepare our children for our brave, new world.
Even back almost 60 years I can remember being sent to the drugstore to buy a box of Kotex for my mother and innocently querying to the pharmacist, “Whatever that is?”I also recall a booklet handed out by Disney entitled “Personally Yours” with diagrams of our inner organs, certainly a mystery to my grade 3 or 4 self. We were certainly privy to tales of bad girls, not “going all the way,” and fear of pregnancy back then- days before the pill. To locate a paperback edition of Peyton Place or glimpse a copy of Playboy incited shivers of excitement. Sex Ed from that era of official documents was likely a paragraph, a few lines, and of course, did not even envision a world of cyberbullying, sexting, suicide, pedophilia, consent, and more, but today the rise of social media requires savvy regarding the plethora of issues that are at the toddlers’ fingertips who nonchalantly encounter tablets along with their plush toys: all ready fodder as customers, at the disposal of sellers, mindbenders and manipulators.
At the AGO, my 6 year old grandson on entering the washroom, noted a transgender sign. Without judgment or reaction, he merely observed it.I could see the symbol had been normalized, no big deal, to him. Whether his parents had presented the topic or school instruction had prompted his knowledge, it was obviously not an issue, only noted, and I marvelled and was assured by his reaction, hoping most kindergarteners were like him.
Yet in discussion with a friend this week, several thoughts shared by her friends who teach primary became clear. The elementary school teachers had been teaching values , actually the standards of care, which must always be present in whatever transpires in and out of the schoolyard, for example, during recess: that no one touches your body unless they request permission first- as in respect , responsibility. An essential baseline upon which to move outwards towards more prickly concerns.
On Friday, again I read, that new teachers are not being prepared for these topics- because the curriculum is in limbo. The Star writes,” Typically, when there is a new curriculum, there are some new resources…for school boards to support our teachers…the curriculum we were using in 2014 was the 1998 curriculum…[ which] wasn’t changed until 2015”.
Not controversial to my mind, I read the 2015 Sex Ed booklet which states, according to grade,
Grade 3: Identify the characteristics of healthy relationships, including those with friends, siblings and parents. Describe how visible differences, such as skin colour, and invisible differences, including gender identity and sexual orientation, make each person unique. Identify ways of showing respect for differences in others….
Grade 4: Describe the physical changes that occur at puberty, as well as the emotional and social impacts. Demonstrate an understanding of personal hygienic practices associated with the onset of puberty. Identify risks associated with communications technology and describe how to use them safely. Describe various types of bullying and abuse and identify appropriate ways of responding.
Do we roar against the learning of fractions or writing a coherent paragraph? By allowing our children access to public schools, we deign that we give over to the community appropriate access to the development of what it means to be a healthy, contributing member of society, and we do give away some control.
Yet there is always room for parent dissent and I certainly recall Gloria’s parents in Grade 13 arguing against Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage and so she was given another book for study, and another student’s sensitivity to animals that permitted her to forgo the watching of Out of Africa ( although at present I do not recall the harming of any animals in that film). The point is that making soup for thousands cannot meet the appetites of all, and we make provisions for those who wish to omit the peppery parts. Yet to toss it out would be a waste because the cooks have laboured hard and long to achieve the best results possible, knowing that not every single person will herald its new arrival on the menu.
My concerns leap towards a Trump world wherein women’s rights, access to abortion, new social realities and even the “ fake press” are objects for derisive scorn. We prepare for the onslaught against our selves and our babes through education, through expanding our knowledge, only returning to the past to examine and understand the mistakes of the past history, not ready to repeat them, refusing to glean information and improvement from them.
I believe this is called wisdom in learning.