The health and physical education curriculum for Ontario needed to be updated, but the manner and content of the “updating” has been dishonest and disrespectful toward parents. The process has been a continuation of the social engineering launched by this provincial government in 2008-2010 under then Education Minister Kathleen Wynne. Unhappy with the pace of implementation of its Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy the Liberal government amended the Education Act, through Bill 13 (Accepting Schools Act) to legislate social change in the province. Activist groups like Queer Ontario and Trans Lobby Group made presentations to the Standing Committee on Social Policy – 2012-May-14 – Bill 13, Accepting Schools Act. Many of their recommendations were subsequently included in Bill 13 and have found their way into the new curriculum. Education Minister Liz Sandals was a member of that Standing Committee and she was most accommodating to the recommendations of those gay activist groups. Finally, one is reminded that the now convicted child pornographer and discredited former Deputy Minister of Education, Benjamin Levin played a key role in the development of the sexual education curriculum.
No one quarrels with general aim of the curriculum: help all learners develop the knowledge, skills, and perspectives they need to become informed, productive, caring, responsible, healthy, and active citizens in their own communities and in the world. The document acknowledges that parents play an important role in their children’s learning and that Parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethno-cultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions, and they are their children’s first role models. Yet, with respect to sex education the government decided what, when and how to teach it.
The most pernicious aspect of the document is the carefully scripted, non-compulsory teacher-student dialogues. These “teacher prompts” and “student responses” are there to promote understanding of the intent of the specific expectations, and are offered as illustrations for teachers. The document goes out of its way to reassure everyone that the examples and prompts do not set out requirements for student learning; they are optional, not mandatory.
The learning expectations for Grades 1-3 have a few serious problems (for example, a Grade 3 student expected to understand and appreciate differences that would be considered too advanced intellectually, like accepting and celebrating different forms of family composition, sexual identity) and the junior grades of (4-6) cover topics like reproduction, self-concept, relationships, stress management, and decision making. Grade 4 expectations raise the age-inappropriate notion of “dating” or going out. Grade 5 expectations asks students again to show respect for others and for all forms of diversity, and to accept and praise differences and not exclude others. Some parents rightly will take exception, feeling that their children can respect and tolerate, but they definitely cannot encourage, praise and celebrate some differences in sexual identity and/or behaviour. Parents may also consider the discussion regarding sexual photos and comments as being age-inappropriate. The Grade 6 expectations become problematic in the suggestive, non-compulsory dialogue regarding masturbation. Many people (including teachers, parents and students) would find the teacher-student exchange as invasive, age-inappropriate and lacking a moral context:
Teacher prompt: …What are some questions that young people might have as changes happen during puberty and adolescence?”(P. 175
Student: “Is how I am feeling normal? Why is my body different from everybody else’s? How do you tell someone you like them? Who can answer my questions about…?”
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.”
In another Grade 6 expectation the concept of consent to sexual behaviour is introduced surreptitiously as part of communications skills:
Teacher: “What communication skills can help you send information, receive information, and interpret information in an effective way in a relationship?”
Student: “Being respectful but clear about your ideas and feelings; listening actively; interpreting body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions; respecting signals of agreement or disagreement and consent or lack of consent; and negotiating – all these are important skills. A clear “yes” is a signal of consent. A response of “no”, an uncertain response, or silence needs to be understood as no consent.” (P.175)
This part borders on the reckless since it introduces the concept of consent at an age that children are not mature enough to understand what may be involved, nor can the majority of them legally give consent to any sexual activity. How can a teacher counsel a student about giving consent? Here is what Canada’s Department of Justice says about consent to sexual activity and the criminal law:
Canada’s Criminal Code on the Age of Consent for Sexual Activity
To what kind of sexual activity does this apply?
The age of consent laws apply to all forms of sexual activity, ranging from sexual touching (e.g., kissing) to sexual intercourse.
What is Canada’s age of consent?
The age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years. It was raised from 14 years on May 1, 2008 by the Tackling Violent Crime Act.
However, the age of consent is 18 years where the sexual activity “exploits” the young person – when it involves prostitution, pornography or occurs in a relationship of authority, trust or dependency (e.g., with a teacher, coach or babysitter). Sexual activity can also be considered exploitative based on the nature and circumstances of the relationship, e.g., the young person’s age, the age difference between the young person and their partner, how the relationship developed (quickly, secretly, or over the Internet) and how the partner may have controlled or influenced the young person.
Are there any exceptions to this?
The Criminal Code provides “close in age” or “peer group” exceptions.
For example, a 14 or 15 year old can consent to sexual activity with a partner as long as the partner is less than five years older and there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency or any other exploitation of the young person. This means that if the partner is 5 years or older than the 14 or 15 year old, any sexual activity will be considered a criminal offence unless it occurs after they are married to each other (in accordance with the “solemnization” of marriage requirements that are established in each province and territory, governing how and when a marriage can be performed, including the minimum age at which someone may marry).
There is also a “close-in-age” exception for 12 and 13 year olds: a 12 or 13 year old can consent to sexual activity with another young person who is less than two years older and with whom there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency or other exploitation of the young person.
Even with the “close in age” and “peer group” exceptions, this Ontario document wishes to teach universally what may only apply to a minute minority of students whether straight or gay, and at an ever younger stage of development. Is there a case for concluding that if a teacher counsels or abets a student to sexual activity below the age of 16 by teaching what the curriculum recommends the teacher would be acting irresponsibly and possibly illegally? Is the Ontario government wanting to skirt the criminal code of Canada? The government gets around this devious charade by including the suggestions in what they claim is the non-compulsory, optional teacher-student dialogues. How clever.
Handling the effects of stereotypes, including homophobia and assumptions regarding gender roles and expectations, presents problems as an accompanying teacher-student dialogue illustrates:
Teacher prompt: “Assumptions are often made about what is ‘normal’ or expected for males and females – for example, men take out the garbage; nursing is a woman’s job; boys play soccer at recess and girls skip rope or stand around and talk; boys are good at weightlifting and girls are good at dancing. Assumptions like these are usually untrue, and they can be harmful.…..Assumptions about different sexual orientations or about people with learning disabilities or mental illness or about people from other cultures are harmful in similar ways. Everyone needs to feel accepted in school and in the community. Why do you think these stereotyped assumptions occur? What can be done to change or challenge them?”
Students: “Stereotypes are usually formed when we do not have enough information. We can get rid of a lot of stereotypes just by finding out more about people who seem different. By being open-minded, observing and listening, asking questions, getting more information, and considering different perspectives, we can work to change stereotypes. We can understand people’s sexual orientations better, for example, by reading books that describe various types of families and relationships. Not everyone has a mother and a father – someone might have two mothers or two fathers (or just one parent or a grandparent, a caregiver, or a guardian). We need to make sure that we don’t assume that all couples are of the opposite sex, and show this by the words we use. For example, we could use a word like ‘partner’ instead of ‘husband’ or ‘wife’. We need to be inclusive and welcoming.” “If we have newcomers from another country in our class, we can try to find out more about them, their culture, and their interests.” “If we hear things that are sexist, homophobic, or racist, we can show our support for those who are being disrespected….” (P.177)
The deliberately chosen examples appeal to the sense of fairness in people rather than to truth. The dialogue even if stilted and unnatural gives the teacher an opening on how to get a certain viewpoint across. If a person does not buy into the “correct” viewpoint they are to be pitied because they are ignorant, they “do not have enough information”.
The second prompt is more corrupting because it makes a parody of marriage. It has a child being forced to make suggestions likely contrary to their faith, their parents’ values, and their own experience of reality, (despite what the law says about marriage). It further erodes respect for true marriage by substituting the traditional terms with false terms void of any genuine meaning.
Grade 7 and 8 expectations are based on certain assumptions about human development. The health topics include delaying sexual activity, preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, understanding how gender identity and sexual orientation affect overall identity and self-concept, and making decisions about sexual health and intimacy”:
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…If a person is thinking of having sex, what can they do to protect themselves?”
Student: “They should go to a health clinic or see a nurse or doctor who can provide important information about protection. People who think they will be having sex sometime soon should keep a condom with them so they will have it when they need it. They should also talk with their partner about using a condom before they have sex, so both partners will know a condom will be used. If a partner says they do not want to use a condom, a person should say, ‘I will not have sex without a condom.’ If you do have sex, it is important that you use a condom every time, because condoms help to protect you against STIs, including HIV, and pregnancy.” (P. 196)
A few students at this grade level unfortunately may be involved in or contemplating sexual activity but why make an expectation universal for the sake of a few? It seems to be taken for granted that soon all kids will be having sex so they should make sure they use condoms to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. The advice of abstinence is good. Descriptions of STIs are fine. But no moral reasons or context are provided. No mention of talking to parents who might give the best advice. Even the advice concerning condom use is not 100% accurate.
The script re: HIV-AIDS is not provided here, but suffice to say that it downplays any connection between HIV-AIDS and homosexual conduct. Worse is the suggestion that being concerned about AIDS and talking about it makes life more challenging for those who have it and makes it easier for the AIDS virus to spread. What twisted irony? On the one hand the document calls for more information and open-mindedness, but when it comes to AIDS one must shut up and remain silent for fear of spreading it through gossip.
As for gender related issues the document adopts the language of the social construct activists:
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…..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?”
Student: “Having role models that you can relate to – for example, people of similar ages or cultures – is important. So is having all gender identities and sexual orientations portrayed positively in the media, in literature, and in materials we use at school. Family, school, and community support are crucial. Additional help can come from trusted adults, community organizations, and school support groups such as gay-straight alliances.” P. 216
Without citing any scientific evidence to justify the conclusion, students are being told to accept that there are more than two genders, that gender per se is a social construct and can be changed at the whim of the individual, based on how the latter feels at a particular moment in time. The teacher script puts the student on the defensive, implying they are at fault if they do not actively understand or support or accept another confused person’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Must one be untruthful in order to be compassionate toward another person in real need?
As for safe sexual activity, students must be knowledgeable about proper safeguards like condom usage, and the importance of consent to avoid violence and anger in intimate relationships:
Teacher: “Being intimate with someone includes having a good understanding of the concept of consent. What are some of the important things that we need to understand about consent?”
Student: “Consent to one activity doesn’t imply consent to all sexual activity. It is important to ask for consent at every stage. Consent is communicated, not assumed. You can ask your partner simple questions to be sure that they want to continue: ‘Do you want to do this?’ or ‘Do you want to stop?’ A ‘no’ at any stage does not need any further explanation.” (P. 220)
We have already pointed out the general problem of this topic of consent. If two 12 or 13 year-olds agree to sexual activity does that make it perfectly okay?
When it comes to teaching about sexual health, this document, in its present format, cannot contribute to the real education of children. This particular government sees our children as mere instruments for the advancement of their social agenda. What can parents opposed to this intolerable situation do about it? We can all agree that schools ought to be places of safety, welcomingly inclusive, and promoting academic excellence for all students. But this does not mean abdicating parental responsibility for teaching moral values, faith and the art of living. Parents grasp the uniqueness of their children and know when they are ready for questions and answers about sexual health and related matters.
Parents need to inform themselves about the actual curriculum and how their child’s school is going to handle it. They should demand answers from the teacher, the principal and school trustees. Parents, in planned unison, can withdraw their children from school when the objectionable topics are slated to be taught. If most parents or a significant number of parents take the second option, the health curriculum will not be taught due to the disruptions such an action would cause in the school for administration and teachers.
The real saving grace may well be the courage and professionalism of the teachers who take it upon themselves to ignore the teacher-student prompts provided, come up with their own and do what is right, respecting the integrity and innocence of the children entrusted to them, fully supported by the parent community in that stand.
Dan Di Rocco was a high school principal for 20 years. He is currently circulation manager for The Interim.