No sex-ed please, we’re Ontarians.
That’s the government’s unstated message on sex education, judging by a press release that sheepishly buries the latest news on the subject. Only in the last paragraph of a 500-word communiqué does the province get to the point — reluctantly referring to “sexual health information” (emphasis added).
Why is Queen’s Park playing coy by downplaying its belated update to our sex-ed curriculum? It seems the Liberals are still cowed by an unruly, unholy alliance of religious extremists and right-wing opportunists who sabotaged the last curriculum update in 2010.
It’s time to grow up. The government has had four years to learn the lessons that school kids need to know:
Take precautions. And don’t acquiesce to ignorance.
Far better to face the issue head on, by shaming the critics and framing sex-ed — pedagogically and unapologetically — as the right thing to do. Instead of adopting a defensive crouch, why not confront the know-it-alls by teaching them something they don’t know about the subject:
For example, polling research shows that barely 2 per cent of parents in this province have concerns with sex education, despite all the moaning and grunting from opponents. Moreover, an Environics survey suggests 93 per cent want the curriculum updated.
Most parents would be mortified to know that teachers are still saddled with materials drafted 16 years ago — at a time when the web was in its infancy, free porn was barely born, and texting didn’t include sexting. Back in 1998, bullying took place in the schoolyard, not cyberspace.
By 2010 a different kind of political bullying — or baiting, to be precise — came over Ontario when it tried to update sex-ed. Critics snatched a few seemingly naughty bits out of context to recast the entire curriculum as a cornucopia of pornographic perversions.
Dalton McGuinty crumpled under the pressure, rolling back the proposed update even though it had the blessings of Catholic educators and the input of Catholic parents (polling shows parents in both the separate and public school systems are equally supportive of sex-ed). Now, four years after the Liberals first lost their nerve, they have come to their senses.
While Ontario’s school system remains stuck in the 1990s, our kids have moved on — and so has the rest of the country. When I spoke last month at a symposium organized by Ophea, an organization that focuses on physical health education in the province, I learned from teachers in the audience that they feel compelled to download more up-to-date materials from school boards in Nova Scotia and Alberta, just to keep up.
One of the canards from critics is that parents are best equipped to teach their kids. It’s admirable that parents are prepared to broach awkward subjects, but just because mom and dad want to talk about sex doesn’t mean their kids are keen to listen. Most students look to teachers as trusted role models.
Other critics are more mischievous and suspicious. An online diatribe by Campaign Life (you know, the people who oppose abortion while discouraging talk of contraception) singles out Wynne as “the first homosexual premier in Canadian history, and a powerful gay-activist in her own right.” Another vocal opponent was Charles McVety, the sexuality-obsessed televangelist who has since been discredited for his explicit homophobia.
Allied with them were then-Tory leader Tim Hudak and his supposedly progressive deputy, Christine Elliott (now running to replace him in the PC convention scheduled for next year). Elliott claimed in 2010 that the Liberals “got caught flat out by us calling them out on it and by parents . . . who are really upset about this.”
Except that the vast majority of parents aren’t upset by the proposed sex education updates. So far, Elliott and her rivals for the PC leadership have wisely taken a vow of silence on sex-ed. Will they eschew the gay-baiting of their erstwhile allies, now that the premier’s sexual orientation has become a non-issue?
By the time the curriculum is ready for the fall of 2015, an entire cohort of students will have passed through our schools ill-equipped to deal with all the confusing sexting and messaging that bombards them in today’s wired world.
Let’s see if our politicians get with the times. So that our students can, too.