As our readers will know by now, one of the three main objections to FA is its graphic and explicit nature from Grade one up.

Such an approach can only be approved by those who deny the latency period, or as it is also called, the period of innocence in children, ages six to twelve.  One such person is the Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, today Archbishop of Ottawa, who piloted FA at its beginnings in the early eighties.

In 1987, a number of Catholic parents across Ontario formed the Ontario Association of Catholic Families (OACF) after their earlier protests against FA were rebuffed.

Prior to this they had submitted three lengthy professional evaluations of FA by persons knowledgeable in the fields of psychology, catechetics and the latency period.  They never received a reply.

On May 31, 1990, Archbishop Gervais responded to a letter about sex education in the schools raised by the OACF’s President Brian Taylor.

After discussing several other issues, the Archbishop touched upon the issue of consultation, timing and the latency period.

Excerpts are reprinted here, with sub-headings added for convenience.

I. Consultation

“For the sake of readers who may not know out situation in Ontario, the Bishops undertook the family life program in response to the request of the Ontario Separate School Trustees Association (OSSTA).  The trustees are elected by Catholic school supporters (largely parents) to represent their wishes. The trustees in making the request of the Bishops, were speaking for parents.

“The Bishops had already published guidelines for family life education; these included a complete scope and sequence of a school program.  After the intervention of the OSSTA, the Bishops established an Editorial Board to put into effect their own guidelines on family life education.  The board members were carefully chosen to represent not only teachers, consultants, bishops and theologians but parents.  (In fact, most members of the editorial board, aside from representing their own professional constituency, are parents with children).  Writing teams (made up mostly of teachers and consultants who were parents) were created to make a draft; this draft was submitted to the Board, and to the bishops for criticism.  The draft was revised according to the  comments received.  Then it was piloted in selected schools.

“The pilot program was carefully evaluated.  Teachers who taught the program evaluated it – including age appropriateness, response of students, parental response.  Parents whose children were in pilot programs were consulted by the school boards.  There was also a Diocesan consultation, which was independent of the school boards and the pilot programs, in which any parent could be involved.

“In the Diocesan consultation organized by the Bishops of Ontario, copies of the pilot text were made available and parents were encouraged to respond with criticism and suggestions.  The primary pilot (Grades 1 to 3) involved over three hundred parents, many of whom wrote lengthy evaluations.  Through the school boards, twelve hundred (1200) parents, whose children were involved in the pilot program, attended meetings, participated in activities designed for home involvement, and completed evaluation forms which described their child’s response to the program, as well as their own views on the program as a support to the faith and morals of the home.  For the junior pilot (4-6), approximately one hundred parents evaluated the program through the Diocesan consultation.  The school board evaluation involved the same large numbers of parents as the primary pilot (over a thousand).

“Overall, the response to the program at the pilot stage was extremely positive.  The vast majority of parents were satisfied with it.  Each parent’s evaluation was carefully read and considered, and many specific suggestions were incorporated.  Significantly modifications regarding the amount of timing of information in the theme on sexuality were made, even when the majority of parents did not see the need for such modifications.

II. Timing

“One of the most important issues which faced the Editorial Board had to do with the timing of information.  In the consultation with parents, both through the schools and through the diocese, the majority agreed with the timing adopted in the pilot.  However, a significant minority of parents argued that too much information was given too early.  Though it was a minority opinion, the Editorial Board felt that it should be respected.  But how to satisfy both this smaller number and the larger number who felt that the original timing was best?  The solution was to produce a parent’s book which would leave to parents the decision on timing.  It would contain all the information in the child’s book, plus important information which would be taught the child one, two or even three years later.  The parent’s liberty on timing is not limited arbitrarily by the Editorial Board, but by the normal growth and development of children…

III. On The “Latency Period’

“The term ‘latency period’ is an artificial construct, based on superficial observation by Sigmund Freud, a questionable authority on children.  Based primarily on his studies of adults, Freud described five different phases in psychosexual development: the oral, anal, phallic or oedipal, latency and genital phases.  These are not so much descriptions of personality development as they are indications of how Freud believed libido (sexual energy) is focused and channeled at various developmental periods.  The latency period, which begins around age six or seven and ends at puberty, is described as a stage in which the sexual impulses are latent.  It is not at all clear from Freud’s work whether this is the result of internal (biological) forces, or various environmental pressures.

“Other theorists have contributed to our understanding of these years of childhood, in particular Erikson and Piaget.  Erikson describes the years form six to twelve as those in which children must acquire a capacity for industry.  In his view, failure to cope with the demands of society (achievement at school, the development of friendships) during this period leads to a sense of inferiority.  Piaget adds to this picture with his focus on cognitive development in children.  Freud’s latency period is Piaget’s period of concrete operations, a time during which children acquire a coherent, although as yet concrete, cognitive systems for understanding the world and their experiences.

“All of these theorists have contributed to our understanding of childhood, but their theories must be understood as just that – theories.  Only in the case of Piaget can it even be argued that the various hypotheses about developmental phases are the result of rigorous observation.

“What matters most in all of this is not what the learned writers say, but the experience of parents. Their testimony is clear: children to the age of puberty are interested in learning any number of things having to do with the birth of babies and their own sexuality.  The kinds of questions which children have, and to which they will get answers from someone, indicate their interest: Where do babies come from?  Where was I before I was born?  How did I get into the womb?  These questions are perfectly normal and deserve correct answers.  The basic answer explaining the divine origin of all human beings satisfies only for a while, until further questions oblige us to flesh out this answer with more details.

“If there is any truth to the ‘latency period,’ it is that at a very early age children ask questions with an innocence and a purity which allows parents, and teachers, to give correct answers without fear of disturbing them; this information is accepted with all the simplicity and trust of a child.  There is no prurient interest.  If parents insist that children have no interest at all in anything sexual, in anything having to do with the origins of life, it may be because their children have learnt that they will get no answers from their parents, and must seek them elsewhere.

“Guidance in Human Love [a Vatican instruction on the place of sex instruction in the schools] suggests many tasks for education in sexuality: guidance of the person toward psychological maturity; formation of the personality and of the will; attention to feelings and emotions; the development of respect for self and others, openness to one’s neighbour, and a sense of personal responsibility; growing in the ability to resist the impulses of human nature wounded by sin; recognizing negative influences in the environment.  Singled out for special emphasis are “the fundamental values of existence’ and ‘respect for life in the womb and, in general, respect for people of every age and condition’ (#52).  Fully Alive affirms and promotes those two values throughout the program, and is designed to support the efforts of parents as they guide their children toward Christian maturity.