The comprehensive EIE reform, including 13 directly related initiatives, ironically emphasizes “respect” throughout the curriculum and school environment. Interim readers will be aware of the sex education curriculum that was shelved last year as a result of parental outcry, but is still under consideration.
Telling too much, too fast
Because the sex-ed curriculum is based on an inadequate analysis of child development, it pushes material more advanced than many students can assimilate: in Grade 1, naming genital parts; in Grade 2, stages of development; and in Grade 3, invisible interpersonal differences such as gender identity and sexual orientation.
Selma Fraiberg, a leading 20th-century child psychoanalyst, illustrated how parents could “use the child’s own questions as a guide” while very gradually addressing pregnancy and reproduction, before explaining sex differences. She deemed sex instruction successful when it strengthened the child’s satisfaction in his own sexual role. Indeed, students should learn to value the gift of being created male or female (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2333). Parents and school officials have a duty to foster growing students’ appreciation for sexual difference and complementarily nature during the years when self-concept is emerging.
The curriculum overview correctly explains that primary students “tend to be egocentric, as their sense of self is still developing.” It does not elaborate that a young school-age child may believe that if he changed his name or his behaviours, he would really change himself. While eight-year-olds should have acquired a sense of personal stability, this could be threatened if schools then introduced gender confusion as normative.
preadolescence and puberty
Grade 4 students are to identify homophobic bullying. Members of Reclaim the Rainbow – Toronto who experienced bullying found that it preceded their awareness of minority sexual inclination and/or taking on a gay identity.
Grade Five students are to learn that, although they can control how they act, they cannot control being male or female, their gender identity, and their sexual orientation, each of which is part of who they are. Grade Six children are to learn about masturbation and preference for the term “partner” over “husband” and “wife.”
The curriculum fails to acknowledge that, before puberty, elementary students pass through a latency period of psychosexual development during which most of them prefer to play with same-sex friends. Introducing data-heavy material right then could prompt self-doubt and disturb children’s emotional well-being.
The curriculum overview for grades 4 to 6 emphasizes these students’ “growing capacity for abstract thought” and “frequent opportunities to question, integrate, analyse, and apply information.” Cognitive developmental research, however, places the beginning of such changes at around age 11, towards the upper end of the range; beforehand, children’s reasoning is typically rule-based and concrete. According to pro-gay-rights author Alexandra Robbins, “one of the major cognitive changes (at puberty) is that students frequently reflect about themselves and absorb other people’s perspectives. The problem is, they don’t yet have the ability to organize their thoughts properly.”
Disrupting identity formation
in adolescence and beyond
In response to the teacher’s prompt “what kind of support do people need to help them understand and accept their gender identity and sexual orientation?” Grade 8 students are supposed to suggest gay-straight alliances.
In James Marcia’s classic model of identity achievement, adolescence is very often a time for young people to sort through competing values and identify which really fit them. The curriculum uses the term “sexual orientation,” which suggests that a same-sex inclination is in every case deep-seated and immutable. It misleadingly ignores the prevalence of transitory same-sex attraction in young people who go on to heterosexual attachment and the vacillation typical in a process that continues through the 20s.
Given that identity formation is one of the main psychosocial tasks facing high school students, the EIE strategy poses two risks. First, the teaching of “gender identity” opens up one more possibility to be freely chosen, instead of conveying the idea that sexual identity is a natural characteristic one has a responsibility to accept. The curriculum may thus exacerbate the difficulty of identity exploration and further prolong an all-too-common period of extended immaturity. Too much choice is paralyzing rather than liberating.
Second, when adolescents are inclined to draw their identity from their peer group, gay-straight alliances would predispose them to resolve questions of sexual inclination in favour of adopting a gay identity. Social psychologist Henri Tajfel investigated processes of social judgment, finding that we affiliate with groups in order to define our social identities. In turn, says Robbins, “one of the reasons labels stick is that when we place someone into a category, we expect him to behave in a way that’s consistent with that category.”
As one young adult told us, “once you’ve come out of the closet, it’s very hard to go back in.”
Alan Yoshioka, a former gay activist, and his wife, Theresa Yoshioka, are representatives of Reclaim the Rainbow – Toronto, a policy group of Toronto Catholics who have experience of same-sex attraction, either in themselves or among their loved ones, and who are loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. In the September issue, they will address EIE’s implications for students’ moral and spiritual development. Resources related to these articles can be found at the group’s website, http://reclaimtherainbowtoronto.org.