A new sex-education curriculum, to be revealed Monday, will be the talk — and the teaching — in our schools starting this September.
It’s about time. Five years after capitulating to a contrived outcry from political and social conservatives, the Liberal government is finally modernizing our embarrassingly outdated sex-ed curriculum.
This time, sources say, there will be no backing down from the badly needed update.
Two separate documents obtained by the Star — a revamped 240-page Health and Physical Education curriculum for Grades 1 to 8, and a new 218-page volume for Grades 9 to 12 — will roll out sex-ed material that isn’t so much explicit as explanatory.
No, it’s not dirty talk — just straight talk on sex, sexting, body parts, consent, mental health, and other life (or life-saving) skills for girls and boys. The idea is for teachers to inoculate students against the ways of the world before they surf the world wild web on their own.
Our children deserve to learn it all in classrooms, not be lured in lurid chat rooms.
Yes, children will be taught at an early age that there is something called a penis. Also a vagina. Get used to it — Grade 1 kids already are, and child-abuse investigators have long been calling for it.
In Grade 6, the words “vaginal lubrication” will be up for discussion. Yes, there is talk of “wet dreams.” And if kids ask about masturbation in class, yes, the optional “teacher prompt” advises that it “is not harmful and is one way of learning about your body.”
(Nothing in the preceding paragraph is part of the official curriculum or obligatory for teachers. The material is included as optional guidelines, recognizing that many kids are taught sex-ed by phys-ed teachers who are juggling other roles and appreciate the professional support.)
Older students will hear the words “oral sex” — hopefully (and then thankfully) before they ever experience it, so they can learn why sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are rising. For similar reasons, anal sex is discussed in later grades — no, not encouraged, but questions answered.
Here’s a shocker for people who assume the worst about sex-ed: Grade 7 students will be taught about “delaying sexual activity,” notably “choosing to abstain from any genital contact; choosing to abstain from having vaginal or anal intercourse; choosing to abstain from having oral-genital contact … the reasons for not engaging in sexual activity; the concept of consent and how consent is communicated.”
Here’s a prompt for Grade 7 teachers dealing with 12- and 13-year-olds if the issue arises in the classroom: “Engaging in sexual activities like oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and anal intercourse means that you can be infected with an STI.”
Is all that best left unsaid, in hopes of leaving well enough alone? Only if parents are prepared to live with the consequences — confusing their personal religious faith with blind faith in teenage behaviour.
While opponents fulminate about the mere mention of body parts, body language plays an expanded role in the curriculum, as students learn to read signals while vocalizing their feelings. There is new material for students about the ins and outs of sexual consent — the importance of standing up for yourself instead of going to bed with someone. That means teaching kids to assert themselves rather than remain silent, and to respect one another.
For all the looming hysteria, hypocrisy and hyperbole from hypersensitive critics, the updated curriculum isn’t all about sex or sexuality.
It includes badly needed material on the plague of cyberbullying that we’ve seen destroy the lives of vulnerable kids as traditional toilet-stall vulgarisms go viral online.
In a prompt for Grade 5 students, here’s a suggested response for teachers: “Sharing private sexual photos or posting sexual comments online is unacceptable and also illegal.”
Teaching materials on mental health, previously relegated to older grades, will now be introduced in Grade 9, because the experts thought it more in line with the times.
There is more information on drug abuse that would be irrelevant to younger kids, and more detail about sexual orientation.
The background to this back-to-school curriculum is the research from hundreds of experts in sexual health and pedagogy — no, pedophiliacs weren’t involved — that even as pregnancy rates are declining, STIs are on the increase.
Turns out we are better at preventing babies than protecting kids, who suffer from more disease than before because we’ve stuck to the status quo. Our existing curriculum is circa 1998, while other provinces have kept up with the sex-ed times to the point that many Ontario teachers now rely on conservative Alberta’s curriculum as a resource.
Premier Kathleen Wynne is determined to go where Dalton McGuinty didn’t dare. When critics pounced, he renounced — shelving Wynne’s work as the education minister who oversaw the 2010 reforms. Fearful of a pre-election fight ahead of the 2011 campaign, her predecessor as premier buckled under pressure — and failed this simple classroom test:
Stick to the facts. Stand by the research.
Nearly two decades after Ontario’s last curriculum update — long before broadband reached every home, smartphones invaded every teenager’s pocket, and cyberbullies pushed aside schoolyard bullies — Ontario is belatedly recognizing the Internet age. And the age of puberty.
A parent guide to the curriculum, to be released online Monday, notes that girls “usually enter puberty sometime between 8 and 13 years of age,” while for boys it ranges from 9 to 14. That’s why the updated curriculum now introduces some of those more puberty-related topics in Grade 4, rather than Grade 5.
The political and pedagogical stakes are high. Wynne is putting her personal credibility on the line as the government braces for the inevitable backlash from an unholy alliance of social and political conservatives — right wing opposition opportunists and fundamentalists who are trying to distort science to fit their distorted views of religion.
It’s about biology, not ideology.
But there is a Progressive Conservative leadership race underway in which all three remaining candidates have discredited and even disgraced themselves by pandering to parents using code language and deceptive rhetoric.
Opponents claim they don’t oppose sex education, just that parents should teach it at home — which sounds suspiciously like a home-schooling recipe for unravelling any class-based curriculum. And assumes that kids would cheerfully absorb parental lectures on the perils of oral sex (or that teenagers heed their parents about anything).
Some of the more opportunistic politicians from the Official Opposition say they support sex-ed, they just want more parental involvement — or as leadership candidate Monte McNaughton argues, while boasting of his credentials as the father of an 18-month-old — parents should “be at the table.”
Apparently it’s not enough that the government consulted hundreds of experts, educators, and religious bodies, reached out to parents from the more than 4,000 elementary schools across Ontario, have massive support from teachers and their unions in all school boards, and that public opinion polls show more than 9 in 10 parents are broadly supportive.
It’s worth noting that the influential Institute for Catholic Education — an umbrella group comprising the Assembly of Catholic Bishops, Catholic trustees, principals, teachers and parents — has been consulted throughout the development of the updated curriculum. It’s also worth noting that the institute describes itself as “animated by the Gospel and reflecting the tenets of the Catholic faith.”
Hard to argue with that fidelity to research and religious faith.
But many still will, loudly and politically. The curriculum’s opponents should do their homework, lest they fall behind their own kids.