When it comes to teaching, communication skills are an important component of every lesson plan – no matter the subject. Whether you’re teaching civics, geography, math, or physics, the ability to clearly and succinctly relay knowledge in a comprehensible and informative way is the essence of educational success. Which is why it is so painfully embarrassing to see two successive governments fail so miserably at communicating their message when it comes to Ontario’s hotly debated, but terribly misunderstood, sex-ed curriculum.
Revamping and updating the province’s sex education has been a decades-long political Pandora’s box unleashing a cloud of mythological demons obscuring all fact and reason. The Ontario Liberals, first under Dalton McGuinty and then under Kathleen Wynne, assumed that surveying 4,000 parents – roughly one person for every school in the province – would insulate them from any criticism over a lack of consultation.
Turns out, to no one’s surprise, that parents take a far greater interest in what their young impressionable cherubs are being taught in sex ed than in geography class. It should come as no surprise that the average mom or dad feels far more passionately about how to educate young people about gender identity than how to teach the nitrogen cycle. The Liberals compounded their error by adopting the approach that anyone callous enough to challenge their new curriculum must be a raging bigoted homophobe best left to die off like the neanderthals.
By contrast, Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives swept into power at least in part on a promise to scrap the new sex-ed curriculum. But in favour of what? And how, in the meantime, would children be taught about the subject? Days after Ford’s election, fears of a full rewind to the last sex-ed curriculum, circa 1998, a time before cellphones and social media reached their zenith. Breathless pundits claimed children would be facing the full fury of the Internet’s sexual diversity as naked as an engineer thrust into a Silicon Valley job armed with only a Palm Pilot.
The reality appears to be far less traumatic. Ontario’s new Education Minister Lisa Thompson quickly announced that concepts such as consent, gender identity, same-sex marriage and cyber-bullying would still be taught in sex-ed classes. Only the topic of “developing sexual relations” will be given a review. Even so, like the Liberals before them, the PCs are short on details.
The failure by politicians of all stripes to intelligently communicate with voters on this issue has contributed to the laughable failure of what should be an obvious and necessary update. In the absence of clear communications, a lunatic fringe on both ends of the political spectrum has dominated the discourse. One side proclaims that educators should abandon such apparently archaic terms as “boy” and “girl” for new language (even these politically-correct-to-the-point-of-insanity concessions are unlikely to satisfy those who carry the standard for transgendered students who may choose not to be defined by their genitalia). Meanwhile, staunch religious conservatives appear to believe that the mere mention of homosexuality is too extreme (rendering the cooties shot they got back in the ‘70s entirely ineffective).
It may surprise readers to learn that there is no “sex-ed” class in Ontario schools. Sexual health is taught as part of the broader health and physical education curriculum. Between learning the rules of soccer-baseball and practicing your chin-ups, students occasionally trade the gym for a classroom and study a myriad of topics within this broad sphere, including healthy eating, the development of healthy relationships, financial literacy and, yes, “human development and sexual health.”
Your Grade 1 daughter is not going to be taught how to sexually satisfy her cubby-mate, but she will learn the appropriate terms for her sexual organs and those of her peers. Your Grade 7 son is, contrary to the uninformed howls of opponents, not going to be encouraged to experiment with anal sex, but he is going to learn that such sex exists.
A child who understands the mechanics and risks of diverse sexual practices can make better decisions about his or her own sexuality now and in the future, while respecting the realities of those around them who may find satisfaction in relationships not to their fancy. Arming your child with such knowledge is a powerful defence against the potential predations of those who would take advantage of a child’s ignorance and naivete. Children must have the confidence to speak clearly about their sexual integrity.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a novel suggestion. Read it for yourself.