Members of the Prince Rupert Ministerial Association are concerned about the message they feel BC’s Ministry of Education is sending children about homosexuality.
Under fire is a curriculum support guide called Making Space, aimed at helping teachers educate “for diversity and social justice throughout the K-12 curriculum.”
The guide fulfills part of the Corren agreement with the education ministry to add gay-friendly content to classrooms, and has been the subject of ongoing criticism from the Catholic Civil Rights League and allied groups.
“The Ministry of Education’s mandate is to provide an education free from religious creed,” writes Pastor Alex Hogendoorn in letters to parents and school board trustees on behalf of his Ministerial Association. “This does not give the Ministry permission to denounce, vilify or condemn religious views.”
Hogendoorn, senior pastor of the Prince Rupert Fellowship Baptist Church, claims Making Space contains a negative caricature of Christian beliefs in the ways that it treats the concept of heterosexism.
“If you believe in the traditional definition of marriage you’re now a heterosexist,” he says.
“To [then] say, ‘how is heterosexism like racism?’ is an extremely biased and hostile question that vilifies those who hold to traditional marriage,” Hogendoorn continues, referring to an analogy suggested by the document.
Education ministry spokesperson Scott Sutherland says Making Space “does not judge any particular religion or religious group” but instead “promotes awareness and understanding that there is diversity of culture and religion within our society.”
For Deirdre Kelly, a specialist in the sociology of education whose input helped shape Making Space, the concept of heterosexism is “extremely important” for students to learn in school.
“It doesn’t mean that people intentionally are prejudiced or hateful or whatever; these ideas are embedded in some of our institutions,” Kelly explains.
Hogendoorn says “a Christian position on homosexuality does not rest on whether or not someone was born with it” but on whether someone acts on same-sex desires.
He objects to the way the concept of “culture” is used in Making Space to introduce teachings about same-sex partnerships and gay identities. “Its attempt to pawn off sexual ethics under the guise of a cultural discussion is dishonest and degrading to those of our various ethnic minorities,” he claims.
Teaching about same-sex partnerships in this way is “an ideological forced compliance, which is propaganda,” he says.
“Effective teaching about diversity and social justice requires teachers to take account of the social and cultural contexts within which their students live,” Sutherland counters.
The guide was “designed to work to stop discrimination by promoting awareness and understanding of the diversity within our society,” he adds.
“I’m not sure why it’s necessary to create a whole dialogue with elementary school children about diverse family structures when we’ve already told them to treat everyone with respect,” says Hogendoorn. He contends that young students in particular should not learn about same-sex parenting couples or sexual orientation from their teachers, but rather at home.
When it comes to teaching about inclusiveness, says Kelly, “it’s important to name these things more specifically and not obscure the particularities associated with each form of oppression.”
“When society communicates that a group is of lesser worth, it becomes easier to make them the target of violence,” Kelly notes.
“Whether it be gaybashing or somebody trying to take their own life,” she adds, “it’s very concrete that this is about lives.”
The Prince Rupert School District policy on sexual orientation states in part that it will provide “proactive strategies and guidelines to ensure that sexual minority students, employees and families are welcomed and included in all aspects of education and school life, and are treated with respect and dignity.”
According to Sutherland it will ultimately be up to individual school boards and teachers to use Making Space — or not. The resource is an optional supplement to the Social Studies curriculum in BC, under the rubric of which the controversial Social Justice 12 course is now included.
A draft form of Making Space was posted online in the fall of 2007 to solicit input from the public. Hogendoorn says he and his colleagues in Prince Rupert were not made aware of the draft until well after the window for response had closed, prompting him to feel that “it was snuck under the radar before anyone really had the chance to respond.”
“Typically, the ministry allows for a minimum of a six-week turnaround” when appealing to the public for response, Sutherland says. In the case of Making Space, he says the deadline for submissions was extended for several weeks and ended in January 2008.