When the Ontario government unveiled the new sex education curriculum in February 2015, (the current policy is of 1998 vintage), a poll showed that almost half the population supported it, while 34 per cent were opposed. Two months and a new poll later, only 42 per cent still support the curriculum, while 40 per cent are opposed. In May 2015, 35,000 Toronto-area elementary students were kept home by their parents as a protest against the curriculum, while thousands more were absent from schools in the surrounding suburbs.
Clearly, Ontario has a sex problem. Opposition to the curriculum is growing, and the people behind it smell blood. They protested so noisily against the new curriculum when it was originally released in 2010 that the former premier, Dalton McGuinty, backed off and put it into a state of political freeze. It is very unfortunate that a man charged with multiple counts relating to child pornography had a hand in developing the failed 2010 curriculum. The opponents of sexed has used this handle to corrupt the minds of the parents. The same groups hope to pull off a similar coup now that the new Premier, Kathleen Wynne, has revived the curriculum and intends to have it start being taught in the session commencing in Fall 2015.
In the Ontario Legislative Assembly, the opposition Conservative Party member Monte McNaughton, openly criticised the updated curriculum and said that it is not the job of the premier – “especially Kathleen Wynne” – to tell parents what age is appropriate for their children. Wynne, who is openly gay, demanded that McNaughton explain why he feels she is not qualified to set standards for kids in schools.
The 2015 curriculum has been designed by experts from the fields of health, law enforcement agencies, child welfare, education, and policy experts, as well as over 4,000 heads of school parent councils across Ontario. The proposed changes are research-supported and intended to make children less vulnerable to exploitation, including over the Internet.
Many of the critics base their opinion on distorted facts, mostly sowed by the clergy and the so called protectors of ‘culture’. The sexed surely does not teach or encourage anal sex or masturbation as claimed by these keepers of ‘faith’. Many parents opposed to the sexed curriculum have let themselves to be manipulated by these keepers of faith and culture and have fallen prey to their misinformation campaign.
The curriculum is a wordy 240-page document, available on the internet, with the straightforward title ‘The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education‘. As per this document, students learn about fire safety, nutrition, wearing a helmet on a bike, nut allergies, why they shouldn’t open the medicine cabinet and swallow pills like candy, how to catch a ball and that it’s bad for you to sit inside all day watching television. When they get older, they learn about the impending changes brought on by puberty. The document also deals with sugary soda pop, cigarettes and sexually transmitted diseases.
It is not mandatory for the children to attend the sexed classes. Parents have the option to remove their children from all or part of the Physical and Health Education curriculum. Children whose parents make this choice are usually kept home or supervised in the library or another part of the school while the class takes place.
On the subject of sex, the curriculum is a reflection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It promotes diversity and inclusiveness protected by Canadian laws. Children are taught that, while they might have a mother and a father, some of their classmates might have two mothers, or just a dad, or maybe they are raised by a grandparent. They are introduced slowly to the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, but this is done in the most neutral of terms. The curriculum covers some of the visible and invisible differences in people, differences that also include body size, clothing, learning ability, family background and eye colour.
It is this neutrality regarding sexual orientation that has in fact infuriated the keepers of faith and culture. They claim that the curriculum shows neither respect nor tolerance for traditionally-principled families. The values reflected in the new curriculum are not family values, but are society’s values.
The curriculum falls a bit short when discussing sex, it never mentions marriage or love. Marriage has its place and value in the society, and it is a fundamental part of many of the religions in Canada, and is also an important civil ceremony. Great nations are built on strong families and hence there is a need to modify the curriculum to acknowledge the role of marriage, traditional or otherwise. If children can learn over time about the different sorts of parents that exist in their world, then they can also learn that some parents are married and why that is important.
Based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadians want children to be armed against abuse, to be able to grow on their own terms and with own identity, and also to accept the differences in others. Canadians want young men and women to grow up with a clear understanding of consent in sexual relations. These are the lessons that a public school system should teach, as long as it is done with care and the lessons are based on sound educational principles.
It is strongly felt that the students should start learning facial cues and how to read body language as early as Grade 1 to give them the ability to understand the concept of consent. This will surely help them in protecting them from sexual abusers. They would realise what happened to them and will surely report such instances to parents, teachers, health workers, etc. It is pertinent to note that in many cases, the child abusers are well known to the child’s family and some cases close relatives.
The curriculum addresses the issues faced by modern day children like Sexting, cyber-bullying and Internet porn.
As per the Ontario Government site, the salient aspects of sex education in various grades are:-
- Grade 1: Identify body parts, including genitalia, using correct terminology. Children will be taught to use correct terms (penis, testicles, vagina, vulva) and to recognize exploitative behaviours such as inappropriate touching.
- Grade 2: Basic stages of human development. Identify related bodily changes. Explain the importance of standing up for themselves. Describe how to relate positively to others and behaviours that can be harmful in relating to others, including both online and face-to-face name calling. The concept of ‘consent’ will be introduced very broadly as the right to say ‘no’ in threatening situations. This has been misrepresented by many critics as ‘teaching children the concept of consent,’ which is then in turn further misrepresented as ‘teaching children to consent to sex.’
- Grade 3: Identify the characteristics of healthy relationships, including those with friends, siblings and parents. Describe how visible differences, such as skin colour, and invisible differences, including gender identity and sexual orientation, make each person unique. Identify ways of showing respect for differences in others. Develop safety guidelines for Internet use.
- Grade 4: Describe the physical changes that occur at puberty, as well as the emotional and social impacts. Demonstrate an understanding of personal hygienic practices associated with the onset of puberty. Identify risks associated with communications technology and describe how to use them safely. Describe various types of bullying and abuse and identify appropriate ways of responding. The concept of human and animal reproduction — presented broadly as the union of the egg and sperm will be introduced in Grade 4.
- Grade 5: Identify the parts of the reproductive system. Describe the processes of menstruation and spermatogenesis. Describe stresses related to puberty and identify strategies to manage them. Explain how a person’s actions, either in person or online, can affect people’s feelings and reputation, including making sexual comments and sharing sexual pictures. First discussion of sexual intercourse occurs in Grade 5.
- Grade 6: Identify factors that affect a person’s ‘self-concept,’ for example stereotypes, gender identity and body image. Describe how to lay a foundation for healthy relationships by understanding changes that occur during adolescence. Assess the effects of stereotypes on social inclusion and relationships. Masturbation is defined in Grade 6 and characterized as normal and not harmful, but students are not ‘taught to masturbate.’
- Grade 7: Explain the importance of understanding with a partner about delaying sexual activity and the concept of consent. Identify common sexually transmitted infections and describe their symptoms. Identify ways of preventing STIs and unintended pregnancy. Assess the impact of different types of bullying or harassment, including sexting. Oral-genital contact and anal intercourse are discussed in Grade 7. They are listed as potential sexual activities that one should consider abstaining from or delaying and is not offered up as alternatives to delaying vaginal intercourse. This is aimed to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates and raise the age of onset of first sexual activity.
- Grade 8: Identify and explain factors that can affect decisions about sexual activity. Demonstrate an understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation. Demonstrate an understanding of contraception and the concept of consent. Analyze the benefits and risks of relationships involving different degrees of sexual intimacy.
- Grade 9: Demonstrate an understanding of the benefits and risks of using communication technologies. Describe the relative effectiveness of methods to prevent unintended pregnancy or STIs. Demonstrate an understanding of factors influencing a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Apply their knowledge of sexual health and safety, including to the concept of consent.
- Grade 10: Demonstrate an understanding of factors that enhance mental health. Describe factors that influence sexual decision making. Describe some common misconceptions about sexuality in our culture, and explain how these may harm people. Explain how being in an exclusive relationship with another person affects them and their relations with others.
- Grade 11: Demonstrate an understanding of a variety of mental illnesses and addictions. Describe how proactive health measures and supports, for example breast and testicular examinations, can be applied to avoid or minimize illness.
- Grade 12: Demonstrate an understanding of the effects and legal implications of different types of harassment, violence, and abuse in different relationships and settings and describe ways of responding to and preventing them. Demonstrate an understanding of how relationships develop and how to maintain a healthy relationship.
The curriculum (both 2015 and 1998) also indicates that students should seek guidance from trusted adults in their lives, such as parents, doctors, elders, or religious leaders, when considering sexual choices. The curriculum also supports the rights of parents to influence their children’s values and beliefs when it comes to making decisions.
Very little has actually changed from the previous curriculum in terms of what is actually being taught. There have been major, necessary updates in keeping with law and technology — changes to marriage equality, social media and digital safety. The main difference between this and the 1998 curriculum is that the 2015 curriculum includes much more detail.