Limited space permits just a brief consideration in these pages of the Institute for Catholic Education’s Catholic lens of the controversial 2015 Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum document for Ontario schools. For a detailed treatment visit www.viewyourenvoymediasite.ca.
When the controversial 2015 HPE curriculum for Ontario schools was released, parents with children in the Catholic school system were reassured by bishops, trustees, and education leaders that the document’s learning expectations would be taught successfully through the perspective of “Catholic lens.” The Institute for Catholic Education (ICE) was handed the responsibility to come up with an appropriate curriculum guideline for Catholic schools.
The ICE document is more than 350 pages and includes references to the 2015 Ontario HPE document as well as to the existing Fully Alive program, the basis of family life education in Catholic schools for more than two decades. Important revisions were made to the latter program for each grade level.
Like the original HPE document, the ICE counterpart contains updated and sound information (the 95 per cent dealing with proper exercise, good sportsmanship, healthy eating habits, personal hygiene, personal fitness, mental health, substance use and addiction, etc.). The ICE document recommends taking a prudent approach in discussion of delicate matters and even suggests that all-female and all-male classes might make more sense in certain instances.
And yet, childhood innocence continues to be at risk even inside the protective walls and playgrounds of Catholic schools. In general the flaws of the ICE document include the following: acceptance of a too secular/humanist view of the human person; uncritical acceptance of the language and uncorroborated assumptions regarding gender theories as found in the provincial HPE document; limited respect for parent rights in the introduction of some sensitive themes or notions; a limited sense of social justice issues; apparent willingness to place sensitive topics at age-inappropriate grade levels (along with too graphic aspects of certain explanations); key church teachings compromised by the context and demands of the HPE curriculum.
Each person is unique and one should ‘show respect’ for differences. What does this “showing respect” mean when applied to gender identity and sexual orientation? If it is affirmation of a naturally disordered lifestyle, then it cannot be done in a Catholic curriculum. The problem is not just the question of showing respect, but rather the fact that the “Catholic lens” accepts the language of the secular society.
The church does not teach about sexual orientation. That is a term made up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, inserted there by judicial decisions. In the Catholic school context, the language should be referring to people who have questions about same-sex attraction, whether their own or the experience in general. This phrasing “sexual orientation” suggests a permanent situation, someone born with the inclination, whereas the other phrasing “attracted sexually to the same-sex” more correctly admits to possible change and does not conclude that it is a state in which a person is born. Scientifically, there is no evidence for believing that the condition is rooted purely in genetics and therefore beyond the power of an individual to change.
The topics in grades 7 and 8 are current, sensitive, and diverse: sexting, pornography, consent, relationships, friendships, the human person, sexual identity, male and female fertility, sexual orientation, gender expression, contraceptives, sexually transmitted infections, sexual attraction, masturbation, marriage, homosexuality.
Is it proper to raise the difficult concept of consent (to sexual relationships) at the Grade 7 level? Why does the Catholic lens not question whether students in Grade 7 should be making decisions about being sexual active? Why use the word “partner” when talking about this with Grade 7 students? There is an implicit understanding in that terminology which is unacceptable and inappropriate for this age group. The underlying assumption is that all or the majority of 12-13 year-olds are sexually active, when only a small minority may be. The teacher should be stressing the strategy and tools to say no and keep chaste, and the good reasons for doing so: purity, safety, avoidance of diseases, self-respect, reputation, healthy growth.
Teachers have to tread very carefully in the area of “transgenderism.” It is illegal to try to counsel young people under the age of 18 to undergo therapy, or to try to dissuade them from their confusion, but it is legal for someone to counsel them to seek reassignment surgery or to help them in transitioning. More importantly, it is contrary to Catholic teaching to do the latter. The Catholic viewpoint denies fluidity in gender identity, seeing it as mistaken and immoral, not simply different. This approach would bring the teacher into disrepute and possibly be liable to prosecution or at the very least reported to the Human Rights Commission. There is a compulsion on people to exercise self-censorship in thought and verbal expression.
In the ICE document it is clearly stated that there are two genders only, male and female, and that it is a sign of good health to recognize that fact and to behave accordingly. So how does the teacher square this with the claim in the HPE it states that there are many genders in addition to male and female, and still teach the truth, both from a spiritual faith perspective and from a biological perspective?
Problems may arise in the hands of teachers who are unsure of themselves, or who dissent from church teaching, or wish to be politically correct and inclusive by tolerating, affirming, and celebrating all the differences among people including their sexual preferences. Love and marriage are placed together, where they belong – loving union of a man and woman in marriage.
Also disconcerting is the limited understanding of the term “social justice.” The problems of poverty, hunger, prejudice etc., are real, but why is there omission of the social injustice of abortion, euthanasia or human trafficking? This is a grave failing in a Catholic curriculum. Abortion is an obvious injustice. Is it too controversial at this age level? In the appendix dealing with the integration of the expectations through other subjects, the writers of the document make a strange recommendation of resources that teachers could consult about certain organizations that are trying to “improve the quality of life” around the world. Among the groups are the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Free the Children, and Right to Play. All of these organizations have ties to United Nations subgroups like UNICEF or the World Health Organization. However, IPPF is the largest abortion organization in the world, operating in many nations, committing millions of abortions each year. It is also one of the leading providers of radical sex education for children, which is often perverted, immoral and pornographic. IPPF was one of the main groups consulted by the Ministry of Education when developing the new PHE document.
Free the Children meanwhile has written in favor of “reproductive health” choice, a euphemism for abortion. Right to Play is a group that uses sports to promote the gay-rights agenda.
These are a few of the misgivings one would have regarding the ICE document and its usefulness in helping teachers deliver a faithful implementation of the HPE curriculum. Parents should be extremely vigilant. The document deserves close scrutiny at the school and individual classroom level.
Dan Di Rocco, The Interim’s circulation manager, is a former high school principal.