Gay educators in BC are concerned that the Ministry of Education’s curriculum overhaul contains few specifics on the inclusion of mandatory queer content.
The ministry has so far posted curriculum drafts for English language arts, mathematics, social studies and science. Drafts for more areas, including the newly amalgamated health and physical education, which will cover sex education, are expected to be posted in the coming weeks.
The drafts, which were produced by educators, move the focus from relaying facts to larger concepts or “big ideas.”
“The idea is for it to be a bit more conceptual and less specific so schools and students can pursue things of interest to their communities,” says BC Teachers' Federation vice-president Glen Hansman. “We have been pushing for this, but at the same time we can’t lose the pieces around diversity that we fought so hard to include.
“The indication from ministry staff is that they’d preserve references that are there according to the Corren agreement, as well as the commitment to the First Nations authorities,” Hansman says.
In 1999 Peter and Murray Corren filed a human rights complaint against the Ministry of Education for omitting queer people from BC’s curriculum. They argued that the failure to include LGBT information amounted to systemic discrimination. The case was settled in 2006 when the government acknowledged the absence and promised to flag areas where queer content could be introduced during its regular curriculum reviews.
The government also introduced a new elective course, Social Justice 12, which explores social justice issues such as racism, homophobia, sexism, poverty and globalization.
Hansman points to Ontario’s new social studies curriculum, which stipulates that Grade 2 students should be able to “identify and describe different types of families.” Several examples, including same-sex families, are listed, as well as hypothetical conversation topics, including one on same-sex families that reads, “I have my dad and my stepdad. My stepdad has other kids too.”
BC’s curriculum draft for social studies mentions that students “will know and understand,” among other things, the “ways in which individuals and families differ” but fails to elaborate on diverse family models.
“I don’t know if there is going to be a reference in supporting documents that come along with it,” Hansman says. “I was hoping there would be some kind of prodding in that direction with some examples so that individuals or schools or school districts can’t continue to turn a blind eye to diversity of families and students.
“Kids should see themselves not just in learning resources, but it should be embedded in the curriculum,” he says.
Myriam Dumont, a Vancouver elementary school teacher and member of the Pride Education Network, is concerned about some aspects of the “generalized nature” of the drafts so far.
“The unfortunate thing with that is when things aren’t specifically outlined for teachers, there’s the opportunity for really important things to be left out, including anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia education,” she says, “as well as things at the primary levels like diverse families, which includes same-sex families.
“If that’s not there, then a teacher can easily leave that out.”
“I’d like to think that it’s not coming from a place of maliciousness or intentional disregard for LGBTQ identities,” Dumont continues. “I think most teachers have been educated in a system where that wasn’t the reality for them. It’s a new way of thinking and teaching, to be mindful and celebratory of identities. If we don’t show teachers that this is possible and important, it’s easy for it to slip under the radar and teach like they were 50 years ago.”
A ministry spokesperson notes that the curriculum is in draft form and still needs to go through a variety of lenses before the final product goes forward.
“LGBTQ-related topics will fall under the overall goals of diversity, respect and positive relationships that will be included in the health and PE curriculum, which will be posted in the near future,” the spokesperson says.
“At this point right now, with stuff going through the draft form, I can’t tell you one way or another what’s going to be in the final cut, but the direction it’s going in suggests it will most likely include terms such as sexual orientation in the new curriculum as they do right now.”
The spokesperson pointed out that prescribed learning outcomes for Planning 10 already prompt teachers to promote respect for diversity, including sexual orientation.
One of the stipulations of the Corren agreement was the tightening of the Alternative Delivery policy to prevent students from opting out of gay-friendly parts of the curriculum. Parents can still opt their children out of Planning 10 and a handful of other courses.
Hansman is concerned that the Alternative Delivery policy has yet to be clarified in the new drafts.
He says he’s “unsure what the ministry plans on doing with the Alternative Delivery policy, which was ‘clarified’ by the Corren agreement and was supposed to be highlighted in all subsequent revisions.”
The ministry has not said when the new curriculum will be implemented but says it will accept feedback from stakeholders and the public for the remainder of the school year.