Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ontario Fails the Public School System

Last week, I heard on the radio that the Ontario School System was introducing a new sexual health education curriculum. This new program, which covers grades one all the way to junior high, has been in the works for two years. It includes, among many other things, basic health education in grade one, mainly learning the proper names for all the body parts, including sex organs. In grade three, children will learn about the concept of sexual orientation and preference - understanding terms like 'straight' and 'homosexual'. The topic of puberty will be dealt with in grade four and five. In grade six and seven children are taught about different types of sexual activity and they learn what oral and anal sex are. I was thrilled to hear this. Studies have shown clearly that comprehensive sex education programs are more effective in reducing early pregnancies than abstinence-based programs. The radio story also noted the outpouring of objection from religious groups. I wasn't surprised by that, anytime you even say the word 'sex' in public, someone objects.

But sadly, the very next day, the news came that Ontario premiere Dalton McGuinty had caved in to public pressure and put the program on hold. He stated that there had not been enough public consultation on the issue and that more time was needed to consider those views. Does this make any sense at all? Why in the world is he allowing anyone, much less conservative religious groups to dictate what is taught in public schools?

Those who object to it make it sound like a bunch of gay teachers got together and decided they should tell grade 3 children about sodomy. This is not at all what this is. This program was developed by educators and experts in sexual health education over a two-year period. It is based on other programs in Canada and around the world that are considered best practices in sexual health education. What makes Dalton McGuinty, or anyone else for that matter, think that these lobby groups know better than actual researchers and educators? Why is this open to public consultation at all?

If the Ontario school board came up with a new curriculum for Math or Language Arts would we even know about it? No. We would simply trust that teachers and the school board know what they are doing when it comes to education. But when the topic is sex, suddenly that confidence in teachers goes out the window.

The pressure groups, including the Canada Christian College and the London Islamic School, are objecting, in part, to the fact that the curriculum was not initially made public, but rather quietly rolled out to public school employees in January. It was only recently made public. Conservative MP Christine Elliot says that the Ontario government 'got caught trying to sneak the curriculum through'. Really? Are they under any obligation to clear this curriculum with anyone? They didn't get caught doing anything. What happened was that this coalition of religious groups caught wind of it and threatened to pull their kids out of school. Then it became a media story.

Charles McVety, president of the Canada Christian College has accused McGuinty of listening to special interest groups with an agenda in allowing this curriculum to go through. Wait a minute? What are you Mr. McVety? are the head of a conservative religious group that lobbies the government. Wouldn't that make you a..........special interest group? And you oppose comprehensive sexual health education and you strive to promote 'family' values. Wouldn't that mean that you agenda? And yes, Dalton McGuinty listened to you. So yes, he did listen to special interest groups with an agenda. But only when he choose to put a hold on the program!

What makes me so angry about this is that I'm sure if you could do a poll of all Ontario parents, the vast majority of them would say that they support sex education for their kids and that they want the new program. But those are the ones that are not speaking up because they don't think they have to. Are they going to sit back and let these people determine how their kids are taught? Are they going to stand by and allow these groups to push their religious agenda on their kids in the public school system? It appears that they are because I haven't heard anything about protests from the other side.

I haven't seen the details of the curriculum but I bet you anything that children are sent home with a note about upcoming sex education portions of their health program and an option for parents to pull them out of the class. This was the way it was when I was in elementary school many years ago and I'm fairly certain they are still doing that. If you don't want your kids to hear that information, pull them out of that class. It's as simple as that. Don't tell other parents what their kids should and should not learn.

The fact of the matter is that kids learn about sex before they even hit the school system. They have already heard a lot about body parts and oral sex and who's gay and who's queer. This is not new to them, even in grade three. The point is to take the opportunity at school to give them accurate, more objective information so they can better understand what these things actually mean. And they can make choices based on all the information that's coming at them, not just what they get from the net or from their friends.

People say that it's not the business of the schools to teach sex ed. That parents should teach their children about it. But what do parents know about sex? Many of them don't know a damn thing and that's because they never learned it in school either. And a lot of parents are just too embarrassed, to unsure, or perhaps just too disinterested to teach their children about sex. Should the kids miss out on vital information because of that? If you want to keep sex education in your home, that's fine, do that. Keep your kids out of the classes and teach them at home. Or better yet, let them go to the class and then discuss it with them at home. But don't deprive other kids from learning information that could very well save their lives.

Shame on you McGuinty. I wish you had the balls to stand up to these groups. I only hope that in the end, you will give them only lip service (pun intended) and put the curriculum back in place.

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