There has been a firestorm in Ontario surrounding this new, updated "sex-ed" curriculum that is rolling out this coming September. Since our church is full of young kids and young families and because my own daughter in entering school in the fall, I thought it might be helpful to cut through some of the hype and misinformation flying around about what teachers will be teaching, and when. So below I've listed some of the most common criticisms along with the accompanying relevant text from the actual curriculum found on the Ontario Ministry of Education's website. I should also include this caveat from the curriculum:
The teacher prompts and student responses contained in this curriculum are provided
to illustrate the intended learning – the concepts that students should understand and the
skills they are to acquire – in connection with the particular expectation. The student
responses are not intended to illustrate the voice of students or speech patterns, syntax,
or word choice typical of students in the different grades.
Here we go:
- Claim: In grade 1, students will be taught the correct names for genitals.
I don't understand why anyone would object to this. Sex-abuse educators have long encouraged parents and teachers to use the proper terminology to give kids ownership of their bodies and an extra level of security. Predators don't use proper names. From the curriculum:
Teacher prompt: “We talk about all body parts with respect. Why is it important to know
about your own body, and use correct names for the parts of your body?”
Student: “All parts of my body are a part of me, and I need to know how to take care of
and talk about my own body. If I’m hurt or need help, and I know the right words, other
people will know what I’m talking about.”
- Claim: In grade 3, students will be introduced to the concept of homosexuality.
I can see how this may be concerning or even alarming to parents who live in an area that does not have a significant LGBT population, but I personally doubt the existence of LGBT people is news to most nine year olds. From the curriculum:
Teacher prompt: “Sometimes we are different in ways you can see. Sometimes we are
different in ways you cannot see – such as how we learn, what we think, and what we
are able to do. Give me some examples of things that make each person unique.”
Student: “We all come from different families. Some students live with two parents.
Some live with one parent. Some have two mothers or two fathers. Some live with grandparents
or with caregivers. We may come from different cultures. We also have different
talents and abilities and different things that we find difficult to do.”
Teacher: “How can you be a role model and show respect for differences in other people?”
Student: “I can include others in what I am doing, invite them to join a group, be willing
to be a partner with anyone for an activity, and be willing to learn about others.”
It's true. In the third grade, our children will be taught something most of them probably already know (LGBT people exist and make up families) and that their children ought to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.
- Claim: In grade 4, students will be taught about "sexting."
I've seen this claim made in a couple places, it doesn't appear in the curriculum for Grade 4. In fact, I read the curriculum (twice) very closely, and I didn't see any mention of sexting or sharing of images on electronic devices at all. It is a very large document though, so if any of you find it in there, please tell me where it is, and I'll update this section.
UPDATE: An eagle-eyed reader did find the relevant discussion on sexting. It is important to note that it does not actually appear until grade 7. From the curriculum:
Teacher prompt: “Sexting – or the practice of sending explicit sexual messages or
photos electronically, predominantly by cell phone – is a practice that has significant
risks. What are some of those risks? What can you do to minimize those risks and treat
others with respect?”
Students: “Photos and messages can become public even if shared for only a second.
They can be manipulated or misinterpreted. If they become public, they can have an
impact on the well-being of the persons involved, their future relationships, and even
their jobs. There are also legal penalties for anyone sharing images without consent.”
“You shouldn’t pressure people to send photos of themselves. If someone does send
you a photo, you should not send it to anyone else or share it online, because respecting
privacy and treating others with respect are just as important with online technology as
with face-to-face interactions.”
And in Grade 5:
Teacher prompt: “As you enter adolescence, you may begin to develop new kinds of relationships
and new feelings that you have not had before. Your relationships with your
peers can become more stressful. Understanding how to respond to these new feelings
and situations can reduce some of the stress that goes with them. For example, if you
feel you ‘like someone in a special way’, what are some appropriate ways of sharing
that information with someone else and what are ways that are inappropriate?”
Student: “You can show that you like someone by being extra nice to them, talking with
them more, spending time with them, or telling them that you like them. Ways of showing
that you like someone that are inappropriate include touching them without their
permission, spreading rumours about them to others or online, and making fun of them
in order to get attention. Sharing private sexual photos or posting sexual comments
online is unacceptable and also illegal.”
- Claim: In grade 6, students will be taught that masturbation is pleasurable.
Remember, we're talking about 12 year olds now. From the curriculum:
Teacher prompt: “Things like wet dreams or vaginal lubrication are normal and happen as a result of physical changes with puberty. Exploring one’s body by touching or masturbating is something that many people do and find pleasurable. It is common and is not harmful and is one way of learning about your body.”
If I must be critical, I would add the word "medically" or "physically" between "not" and "harmful." That, however, reflects my worldview as a Christian. And it's something I'll teach my kids when they are ready for it. From my own experience, they'll be ready for that knowledge before the sixth grade. Additionally, and I don't mean to be crude, I imagine that even for seasoned, professional teachers, this will be an awkward conversation to have as an adult in a room full of 12 year olds. I doubt many teachers will wax poetic about the pleasures of masturbation to their class.
- Claim: In grade 7, students will be taught that oral or anal sex is an acceptable alternative to genital intercourse.
This is probably the greatest distortion of the material actually found in the curriculum. But I'll let you make that judgement for yourself. From the curriculum:
Teacher prompt: “Engaging in sexual activities like oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and anal
intercourse means that you can be infected with an STI. If you do not have sex, you do
not need to worry about getting an STI. (By the way, statistics show that young people
who delay first intercourse are more likely to use protection when they choose to be
sexually active.) If a person is thinking of having sex, what can they do to protect
Teacher prompt: “The term abstinence can mean different things to different people.
People can also have different understandings of what is meant by having or not having
sex. Be clear in your own mind about what you are comfortable or uncomfortable with.
Being able to talk about this with a partner is an important part of sexual health. Having
sex can be an enjoyable experience and can be an important part of a close relationship
when you are older. But having sex has risks too, including physical risks like sexually
transmitted infections – which are common and which can hurt you – and getting
pregnant when you don’t want to. What are some of the emotional considerations
to think about?”
Student: “It’s best to wait until you are older to have sex because you need to be emotionally
ready, which includes being able to talk with your partner about how you feel, being
prepared to talk about and use protection against STIs or pregnancy, and being prepared
to handle the emotional ups and downs of a relationship, including the ending of a relationship,
which can hurt a lot. Personal values, family values, and religious beliefs can
influence how you think about sexuality and sexual activity. A person should not have
sex if their partner is not ready or has not given consent, if they are feeling pressured, if
they are unsure, or if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
That's right, far from encouraging oral or anal sex, the curriculum actually encourages abstinence: "If you do not have sex, you do not need to worry about getting an STI." Abstinence (since we're on the topic, is also reinforced in grade 8:
“Teenagers need to know about the benefits and risks of different types of
contraception. They need to understand that the only 100 per cent sure way of not
becoming pregnant or getting an STI, including HIV, is not having sexual contact."
Homosexuality is also revisited in grade 7:
Teacher prompt: “What are some of the consequences of using homophobic put-downs
or racial slurs? How can this hurtful behaviour be prevented?”
Student: “Using homophobic or racist language is discriminatory. It hurts the people
who are targeted and it can have harmful consequences for the whole atmosphere in the
school. Sometimes, people speak without thinking about what they are actually saying
and how they are hurting others. To change this behaviour, everyone needs to take responsibility
for the words they use and also to challenge others who make discriminatory
comments or put people down, whether in person or online.”
Teaching 13 year olds not to use intentionally hurtful language when speaking with or about people with a different sexual orientation is not a bad idea. It is, perhaps, more tragic that this needs to be taught in schools because some parents don't teach it at home, or worse, teach the opposite...
- Claim: In grade 8, students are encouraged to question their sexual identity.
Not even close. This is simple fear mongering. From the curriculum:
demonstrate an understanding of gender identity (e.g., male, female, two-spirited, transgender,
transsexual, intersex), gender expression, and sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian,
bisexual), and identify factors that can help individuals of all identities and orientations
develop a positive self-concept
Teacher prompt: “Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense or feeling of being male
or female, which may or may not be the same as the person’s biological sex. It is different
from and does not determine a person’s sexual orientation. Sexual orientation refers to a
person’s sense of affection and sexual attraction for people of the same sex, the opposite
sex, or both sexes. Gender expression refers to how you demonstrate your gender (based
on traditional gender roles) through the ways you act, dress, and behave. Gender identity,
gender expression, and sexual orientation are connected to the way you see yourself and
to your interactions with others. Understanding and accepting your gender identity and
your sexual orientation can have a strong impact on the development of your self-concept.
A person’s self-concept can develop positively if the person understands and accepts their
gender identity and sexual orientation and is accepted by family and community. It is
harder to develop a positive self-concept, however, if the way a person feels or identifies
does not meet perceived or real societal norms and expectations or is not what they want,
or if they do not feel supported by their family, friends, school, or community. A person’s
self-concept can be harmed if a person is questioning their gender identity or sexual
orientation and does not have support in dealing with their feelings of uncertainty. What
kind of support do people need to help them understand and accept their gender identity
and sexual orientation?”
Like it or not, this is the world we live in, and this is the language of the world around us. However you feel about issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, learning how to appropriately use the language surrounding these issues is important, and necessary.
Those are the major contentious points that have been circulating regarding the content of this new curriculum. I'll note that most of these points have been circulating since before the Ministry of Education released the curriculum on Monday the 23rd. They are not based on fact, they are based on speculation, rumour, and fear. This is why it is so important to find information from the source before jumping to a conclusion. My hope and prayer is that this overview has been helpful in dispelling some of the misinformation that has been floating around. However, I do encourage you, as a responsible parent to go and read the actual curriculum for yourself. (The link is at the top of the post) If you still have concerns, try talking to your kids' teachers. In researching this article, I had some conversations with friends of mine who are teachers and educators. Their overwhelming preference is for parents to be involved as co-labourers in their children's educations, as opposed to delegators who bundle their kids off to be educated without a second thought or care. So my encouragement is to talk to your children's teachers, and ask respectful questions about how this curriculum will be taught in their classroom and how you can supplement and reinforce the teaching in the home. Be winsome and gently explain any religious convictions you might hold. If you still hold serious concerns, the Education Act does give you the right to pull your child from instruction you find objectionable, though I personally doubt that will be necessary.
The world is full of people who don't share our worldview, but we do share this province with them. Let's be winsome and thoughtful in our interactions with our neighbours, and let's be proactive and educated in the education of our children. Once again, I hope and pray that this has been helpful in killing some myths and sparking healthy conversation.
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