If you believe Canada’s theo-conservative lobby, the next generation of Ontario children are already on their way to hell. That’s because the province is making changes to its sex education curriculum that will teach kids about different sexual orientations, safe sex and AIDS prevention.
The changes were variously labelled as corrupt and an evil attempt to control the minds of Ontario’s youth. The sources of the accusations were the always prolific Charles McVety, Brian Rushfeldt and Ekron Malcolm – a trio of socially conservative activists.
Rushfeldt declined an interview with Xtra and McVety and Malcolm didn’t return our calls.
The provincial government is moving forward with a reformed approach to health and physical education, with implementation beginning in February. Among those changes is a new strategy to educate children about human development and sexual health.
Children in Grade 1 learn about body parts and hygiene. The next year, they learn about physical change and oral health. By Grade 3, they are taught about “visible and invisible differences” between children. The curriculum points to sexual orientation and sexual identity as potential talking points.
In Grade 7, students learn how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, included HIV and AIDS. They also learn about anal sex.
Critics of the curriculum charge that parents ought to teach children about anything included in sex education curricula. But the co-author of a 2009 study that recommended this kind of curriculum says that’s not practical.
“Many parents are uncomfortable talking about these issues, so we have to make sure that the information is available publicly,” said Sarah Flicker, an environmental studies professor at York University. “It’s very rare that children will turn to their parents when they have chlamydia.”
Flicker said that currently, students will learn sex education very occasionally during their time in school. The reforms offer a more integrated approach, she says, which means students can build on their knowledge from previous years.
“The important thing is that knowledge about reproductive health is a fundamental human right,” she said.
Alex McKay, the research coordinator at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, said the curriculum doesn’t educate students about “specific sexual behaviours” at any point.
“It points out to students that we are not all the same,” he added.
NDP education critic Rosario Marchese also defended Premier Dalton McGuinty’s new curriculum.
“I understand that parents are concerned by any topic related to sex and sexuality,” he said. “Parents provide moral direction for their kids. But if we leave it to parents, these issues will not get discussed… and children will get the information from the street.”
Marchese added that as controversial as this curriculum might be among parents, he thinks a majority will want their kids in the system. McGuinty said parents who don’t want their kids in sex ed classes can pull them out. Marchese also stopped short of saying that the class should be mandatory.
“Can you force this on all children? I support the premier, only because you need a safety valve to make the system work,” he said.
McKay said that he had received a dozen calls from media outlets in just over a day, which happens about two or three times a year when controversial issues pop up. And he said that the coverage makes the object of criticism – in this case, the new curriculum – more controversial than it should be.
“The way in which media constructs sexuality issues and different perspectives is always to polarize the discussion,” he said. “If people peel back a few layers of the media onion, most people would find [the curriculum] to be balanced, accurate and developmentally appropriate.”
Critics of the plan will protest the new curriculum at Queen’s Park on May 10.