Nova Scotia’s Department of Health is aiming to put a new sex ed book in the hands of all students in Grades 7-12. It is not to be a take-home text. Although still in the draft stage, Sex? has already caused some commotion in the province. One paper called it a sex manual.
Through the Depart-ment of Education, the Department of Health has asked all 22 school boards in the province to facilitate its distribution. Reactions have varied from compliance to flat refusal.
On invitation, staff from the Department of Health met with the Tri County Board (Digby, Yarmouth, Shelburne) in the southern tip of Nova Scotia.
Board chair Nancy Whittaker said, “We learned that students in Grades 7 and 8 are more sexually active than those in 11 and 12, that more of the teen pregnancies occur among Grade 7 girls.
“We talked with pharmacists and doctors. They say we would be surprised, as they are, at the number of prescriptions they have to write for very young students with STDs.
“We also did a survey of the material that’s out there, and determined that the young people already have access to all of this information, but some of what they have is erroneous.”
Convinced that “proper information” is needed very early, the 11-member board voted to distribute the book to all students, provided their parents sign a request form. It is the only board in the province to do so. But it asked for amendments.
For example, the book recommends the use of a non-lubricated oral dam (as a female condom). “I checked this out myself,” said Whittaker, “and found that it tears very easily. This gives the students a false sense of security, so we asked to have that information removed.”
Reminded that knowledge alone rarely changes behaviour, and that moral teaching is not permitted in the public school system, Whittaker said that is where the parents come in.
“We are putting copies in each school office so the parents can study them. We are opening the door for parents to initiate discussion of this topic with their children, and making opportunities for them to begin the moral teaching.”
Retired teacher George Kehoe of Isle Madame, near the Strait of Canso, looks at it quite differently. As chairman of the Strait District School Board, he is responsible for about 10,000 students in the counties of Richmond and Inverness in southeastern Cape Breton, and Antigonish and Guysborough in mainland Nova Scotia.
His board had the material to study for six weeks, held two meetings, and also met with people from the Department of Health. In the end, everyone on the board had problems with it.
“This book lists all possible sexual activities, with detailed instructions on how to do them – all presented in a non-judgmental manner, of course. If most of today’s adult men had all that information at 19, they would have messed up their lives big time,” said Kehoe, of material that is directed to students as young as 12.
“What the educators overlook is that sexual activity involves a tremendous powerful emotion, and in the heat of the moment, information and knowledge don’t mean anything,” he said.
He added, “Adults know that keeping our emotions under control and behaving ourselves is a full-time job. Young people just don’t understand that until they are older.”
Kehoe said that when another board sent the material directly home to parents, the Departments of Health and Education were upset. That also bothered his board.
“It is, in effect, an embargoed book, shutting parents out,” they concluded. “We don’t want parents shut out, and we definitely don’t need another set of bureaucrats telling us how to bring up our kids.”
In the end, the Strait District School Board concluded that students need to concentrate on their education, and Sex? contains information they don’t need to know. So they refused to take responsibility for the document, or to permit it in their schools.
The feedback has all been complimentary, except for one e-mail saying the board is living in the dark ages. But, insisted Kehoe, the old methods worked better than people are willing to acknowledge.
The Halifax Regional School Board also refused to distribute the book. “Too risqué,” they said, and, “It seems to teach better sex, not safer sex.”
Kehoe acknowledges that there is a problem among teens, but a major remedy would be more parental involvement and parental supervision.
He added, “This was an excellent teaching opportunity for the churches. The bishops could have waded in with their sleeves rolled up and used the opportunity to re-educate people on the church’s teachings about sexuality and the role of parents.”