Yesterday, thousands of parents withdrew their children from school as part of a province-wide protest against the new sexual education curriculum set to be introduced by the Provincial Government in September. Protestors called for a revision of the contents of the new curriculum, stating that the material was inappropriate for children, at least in the proposed grades the material was aimed to be instructed. One protest at Thorncliffe Park Public School left the school of 1,350 with 1,300 absent students and a wall of protestors outside. A Facebook group run by a parental group based out of Thorncliffe calling for the widespread, week-long protest against the curriculum currently has over 12,000 members, most gathered within a day. A quick glance at the page reveals that this issue is quite controversial, with both sides of the debate getting increasingly hostile towards one another.
When it comes to arguing on the internet, nothing ignites the fury of people more than the well-being of their children, whether it is their education or health. The Wynne government currently has no plans to alter their course, but numerous school board officials have agreed to sit down with parents and listen to their concerns on the issues with the curriculum. Sexual education, while comprising a very small percentage of actual instruction time, can have profound impacts on the social and physical well-being of children as they grow and develop. As a parent, it’s instinctual to act what you perceive to be the best interests of your child, but contrary to popular belief, being a parent doesn’t make you an expert on children, let alone their psychology or biology. In fact, being a parent provides a higher risk for implicit bias for what is right for your child, because instead of considering advice and recommendations from trained professionals on the subject, it often involves going with the overwhelmingly strong gut feeling felt from such important issues like health or education.
Let’s consider the new Ontario sex ed curriculum. It was not drafted by a crooked Liberal government or a politician wishing to push her homosexual agenda on our children, like some of the more bigoted critics have claimed. The new curriculum was in fact developed by a highly skilled, highly educated team with backgrounds in sexual health, education, and child psychology. It was a much needed update from the outdated curriculum of 1998, mainly because gay marriage is now legal, and virtually every kid who can read (and even some who can’t) have cell phones now, so sexting needed to be included, even if the word itself is face palm worthy.
Scary words that arose out of the critique of the new curriculum like transgender, gender identity, anal sex, or masturbation caused an uproar amongst a healthy percentage of the population of Ontario parents, and ever since it was introduced, the Wynne government has been under intense scrutiny. Some political analysts even fear that the opposition to the sex ed curriculum is so strong that this issue alone could be a tipping point in the next Provincial Election.
With that brief introduction out of the way, let’s examine why the protests against the new curriculum are an ignorant waste of time.
1) Most true sexual education doesn’t occur in the classroom.
I don’t know about you, but I learned basically everything I know about sex from two sources: the internet and my friends. Sex ed was a time to laugh at your teacher saying penis or get grossed out by the symptoms of an STI, but when it came to one half of being a sexual being, that is, the social and psychological part of it, that happened outside the classroom. The notion that grade 1 students learning the sensitive nature about sexual organs are located and the ethics behind that won’t negatively impact the way they act. Learning about gender identity won’t turn your kids gay, and if parents are still worried about that then they clearly still need education themselves. Kids will learn about sex one way or another – it’s either going to be from their teacher or that kid with an older brother and no boundaries, so it might as well be from the trained educational professional.
2) Gender identity, same sex marriage, and other LGBTQ issues need to be taught today.
We’re not living in the 1950s anymore. Sheltering children from these issues will only cause increased hostility and even violence should they one day encounter a person who identifies with the LGBTQ community. Teaching children about same sex marriage will not “turn them gay”, nor will learning about gender fluidity. You are born the way you are and attracted to whatever gender flicks your switch. The reason why we have seen an increase in the number of people identifying as LGBTQ is because it has become increasingly acceptable to do so. In the past, because of the stigma surrounding LGBTQ individuals, many kept that part of their identity concealed for fear of being ridiculed or persecuted. It’s not like you can take a blood test to determine your sexual orientation.
By teaching children about the normalcy and acceptance of the LGBTQ community, we are encouraging a more inclusive and respectful society overall. These principles of acceptance will extend beyond someone’s sexual orientation; increased awareness and acceptance can extend to being more inclusive of others from different races, social classes, or nationalities. Unfortunately, this notion is largely opposed due to religious reasons, and the protests have been criticized for being vaguely homophobic.
3) The curriculum aims to educate about cyber-bullying, which is a huge, often unseen issue.
Building on the theme of acceptance, the new curriculum also encourages education and awareness about the harmful practice of cyber bullying. This relatively new form of discriminatory behaviour is especially hard to regulate because we don’t see it happening; children have access to cell phones and computers, but we can’t always be policing their behaviour on them. It is much easier to identify victims of physical or social bullying, because we can actually witness children doing it to one another. Cyber bullying is a new beast all in itself, and many older teachers may be blind to the symptoms or signs of it occurring in their classroom.
4) Criticizing the curriculum is the educational equivalent of not vaccinating your child.
Remember the measles outbreak at Disneyland that was all thanks to a group of privileged parents in California who thought that they knew better than their physician did because Facebook said so? The same level of expert-shunning and government mistrust and fear-mongering is prevalent throughout these protests. Even if you think that your child is too young to be exposed to certain subject matter, the scientific consensus and decades of research done by people way smarter than you begs to differ. Just because your child learns about the normalcy of masturbation in grade 5 or the increased dangers of anal sex in grade 7 does not mean they’re going to turn into a weird teenage sex maniac by the time they get to high school. That is all motivated by factors outside school, like parental income and education level.
5) Sheltering your child from a sex ed curriculum is setting them up for social suicide.
When kids are going through their teenage years, nothing is cooler or more taboo than sex. It’s on everyone’s minds due to raging hormones, and even more so if you aren’t getting any. Failure to be well educated about sex sets a child up for bullying or potential embarrassment down the road. Like it or not, sex is everywhere in the world, and it’s a normal, healthy part of being human. To shelter or protect kids from it until they’re almost done high school is helicopter parenting at its worst, and by the time your child moves on to post-secondary education, they’ll be socially awkward and lag behind their peers. Social skills are just as important as a quality education, and being exposed to a proper sexual education curriculum will shed some of the taboo from sex and make a child’s transition into adulthood much smoother.
6) The protests are quickly turning into xenophobic ad hominem arguments.
The neighbourhood around Thorncliffe Park Public School is predominantly populated by an immigrant population, and most of the media coverage about the protests as well as the Facebook group previously mentioned have predominantly featured immigrant parents voicing their concerns about the new sex ed curriculum. While the protestors have every right to voice their concerns, an unfortunate byproduct of these protests, specifically related to the media coverage surrounding them, is that these protests have started to breed xenophobia from 2nd or 3rd generation Canadians who support the new curriculum. With the rise of ISIS in the past year, Islamophobia has re-entered the collective minds of most Canadians, and these protests may unfortunately help contribute to that in the province.
The new sex ed curriculum is far from perfect, but it is definitely a progressive step in the right direction. Further improvements to the curriculum should seek to include the psychological and social aspects of sexual health, and not just be a streamlined anatomy lesson. New social changes and norms need to be reflected in what children are learning, and opposing the new curriculum will only create further conflicts down the road. It is imperative that we try to educate and spread awareness on matters of sexual health and gender identity to children, as miscues related to these matters can be incredibly damaging. Sex is becoming an everyday part of life, so instead of trying to shelter kids in a manner that is effective as trying to grab a handful of water, we should embrace education and progress and stop protesting a necessary evolution to the Ontario sexual education curriculum.