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Why Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum is not so bad

So what has been stirring some controversy the past few weeks in Ontario among parents and religious groups? It’s Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum scheduled to be implemented in the fall.

A graphic created by Lia and Tessa, two Grade 8 girls in Toronto, to push for new sex ed in Ontario schools (from cbc.ca)

The new health and physical education curriculum covers everything from anatomy, to masturbation, to consent, to anal sex, and has had substantive updates since 1998. The coverage of the new guidelines for teachers has focused on sexual education, but the curriculum also includes lessons on nutrition, exercise and overall physical wellness. The reintroduced sex ed curriculum will teach kids about homosexuality and same-sex marriages in Grade 3, encourage discussions about puberty, including masturbation, in Grade 6, and talk about preventing sexually transmitted diseases in Grade 7, which could include information on oral and anal sex.

If you haven’t yet read the curriculum, you can find out more on the Revised Ontario Curriculum for Grades 1-8 (Health and Physical Education here. I highly recommend you first read it for yourself in full instead of reading other people’s rants (including mine of course) from the various blogs and petitions circulating online.

I have seen so many petitions floating around in my online mommy groups, Facebook pages of friends and online. Frankly I’m not sure why there is no support for it, especially as a parent. I would rather that my child learns this information in an unbiased way from their teachers just as they learn about other aspects of education.

Let’s break down this curriculum by section to see what all the hoopla is about:

There are 4 topics for each grade:

1.  Healthy Eating, Personal Safety and Injury Prevention

2. Substance Use

3. Addictions, and Related Behaviours and

4. Human Development and Sexual Health.

For each grade there are specific expectations. The seemingly controversial topics are for Human Development and Sexual Health topics. I have tried to provide excerpts on the overall summary for each section and also specific goals in these sections.

Grades 1-3 (Excerpt from Healthy Living Summary)

Particular emphasis is placed on having students learn how to take responsibility for their own safety, at home and in the community, how to stand up for themselves, how to listen to and respect others, and how to get help in situations of abuse. Students also learn to understand and apply basic concepts related to healthy food choices, healthy relationships, diversity, and substance use and potentially addictive behaviours. They learn the names of body parts, begin to understand how their bodies work and develop, and acquire an understanding of some of the factors that contribute to healthy physical, social, and emotional development. 

Would you not want your child to learn to be safe in their homes and their community, respect others and get help when needed? If not, what do you think you are protecting them from?

Grade 1

Under Making Healthy Choices for the same topic they will also “demonstrate an understanding of and apply proper hygienic procedures for protecting their own health and preventing the transmission of disease to others (e.g., washing hands with soap, using a tissue, sleeve sneezing, brushing and flossing teeth, not sharing hats or hairbrushes)”. So identifying body parts is part of a comprehensive curriculum.

What exactly is wrong with teaching the proper body parts including genitalia to children grades 1-3? I started teaching my daughter body parts starting at age 2. Just as she learned about the nose and mouth she also learned that her private part was called the vagina..not down there, nether parts, tingalingy lingy or vajiji or whatever….it is called a vagina. Get over it people! It’s a body part. Similarly my son will also learn that he has a penis and not a wee wee or dingle. We don’t give our nose and ears funny names, so why are we doing that to other body parts?

So many studies have shown that kids who know the right body parts are better equipped at calling out on those who try to sexually abuse them and also seeking help. Why are we shaming our kids into thinking that these body parts don’t exist and that they should not name them by the right terms? What is wrong with our society? The kids will learn to name body parts in a secure, unjudging environment along with the rest of their peers. By normalizing these things, we can prevent a lot of finger-pointing, snickering and as I have witnessed in my daughter’s daycare in the past, you won’t have little boys giggling and screaming “Penis penis penis” in the hallways because they have just learned that term from a peer and probably in a not so scientific way.

 Grade 2

Grade 3

As much as some people do not want to admit the existence of different types of families in our society, don’t you think it’s important for children to know that they do exist. So some of the concerns are that parents do not want their young children to know that it is “normal” to be raised by homosexual couples. If you are homophobic then it is your belief, but it doesn’t mean that these families don’t exist and that your child should be shielded from this reality. As much as some like to believe this is not going to turn your kids into homosexuals. Read the curriculum properly and you’ll see that the key component of this section is to recognize and show respect for differences in others and sexual orientation and gender identity is just ONE of the many differences.

Grades 4 to 6 (Excerpt from Healthy Living Summary)

In the junior grades, students continue to develop an understanding of the factors that contribute to their health and the health of others in their family and community, but with a particular focus on choices and decisions connected to their personal health.

………………..As they become more independent and more responsible for their own safety and that of others, they also learn how to assess risk, respond to dangerous situations, and protect themselves from a variety of social dangers, including bullying, abuse, violence, and technology-related risks. They learn about the hazards of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, and addictive behaviours and develop the decision-making and communication skills needed to resist pressures to engage in behaviours that can lead to injury or harm. Students also learn how to behave responsibly and respectfully with others, in person and online, and to protect their emotional safety and that of others through a better understanding of stereotyping and assumptions and ways of challenging these.

Because students at this age are approaching or beginning puberty, the curriculum expectations provide an opportunity for students to develop the knowledge and skills that they will need to understand the physical, emotional, and social changes that they are experiencing or are about to go through. Topics include reproduction, self-concept, relationships, stress management, and decision making.

Students who are well informed, who have had the opportunity to do some thinking in advance, and who have been able to practise the appropriate decision-making skills are likely to make wiser decisions about their health. 

If you read the overall goals as in the excerpt above and my highlights in red, it makes you wonder why a parent or group out there that wouldn’t want their child to NOT learn any of this. What kind of generation are we raising if that is the case? The specific topics are necessary to help children understand about many of the changes they are experiencing and those changes happen whether you think you as a parent is ready or not. If any parent thinks that it is beneficial to put those discussions on hold until they feel that their children are ready then they need to rethink their decision. And on the other hand there are conservative families that never even discuss any of these. Many parents feel uncomfortable discussing these topics. So wouldn’t they rather that they learn it in an unbiased environment? Are they simply in denial that none of these topics would affect their child and should not be discussed?

Grade 4

Grade 6

Again, the same topic of respecting differences is appropriately worded for someone in Grade 6. By Grade 6 kids will form opinions of each other and stereotypes are well prevalent. I still remember how girls bullied each other in elementary school washrooms by calling a girl fat when she was a beautiful and average size girl. Would you not want your child to be respectful of other human beings whether it be their culture, sexual orientation or their appearance?

Grades 7 and 8 (Excerpt from Healthy Living Summary)

The human development and sexual health expectations recognize that students at this age are developing their sense of personal identity, which includes their sexual identity. Students may already be involved in or contemplating sexual activity or dealing with relationship issues that affect their self-concept and sense of well-being. Consequently, there is an emphasis on developing the skills needed for maintaining healthy relation- ships and acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions about their sexual health. Key topics include delaying sexual activity, preventing pregnancy and disease, understanding how gender identity and sexual orientation affect overall identity and self-concept, and making decisions about sexual health and intimacy. 

Enough said. If you think kids in grades 7 and 8 do not think about these topics then you need to get your head out of the rock! Media and peer influences are everywhere.

If you read the specific topics in Grade 7 and 8 it explains the having a shared understanding with a partner about “delaying sexual activity until they are older (e.g., choosing to abstain from any genital contact; choosing to abstain from having vaginal or anal intercourse; choosing to abstain from having oral-genital contact); the reasons for not engaging in sexual activity; the concept of consent and how consent is communicated; and, in general, the need to communicate clearly with each other when making decisions about sexual activity in the relationship”.

It does not tell kids in Grade 7 and 8 to have sex. Rather it gives them information that they are looking for anyways by doing google searches and in fact it talks about delaying intercourse and other sexual activities. Hmmm..maybe you as a parent don’t think you should bring that up but your child is out there talking to his/her friends and searching the internet about all this information. Grade 8 includes a lot of information on STI prevention, different contraceptive methods etc.

I used to volunteer at Planned Parenthood of Toronto and believe me when I tell you that there is a large number of young adults that came there looking for information on sexual health and the different contraceptive methods. As much as you think withholding information will protect your children, they will seek that information elsewhere.

So I beg you to first read the curriculum in full and understand that each of the topics that seem to be creating a lot of controversy and demanding parents to sign petitions against are carefully placed in the right context so they can be discussed openly in a non-threatening manner.

There seems to be absolutely nothing abnormal about the concepts taught. If you actually read the curriculum there is nothing vulgar or explicit. All the teacher prompts are very carefully worded so that students have a chance to absorb the information, ask the right questions and learn the facts and not simply “beliefs” of individuals. The information will actually be delivered more pragmatically than if we were to do so at home where we may simply bring it up randomly. It doesn’t matter if it’s sexual health or other topics, when kids learn from their parents who have different beliefs themselves they may not be getting the accurate information.

It does not mean that parents should not impart their beliefs onto their children. There will be many opportunities to discuss at home and explain how each family feels about these topics, but it’s just as important for kids to learn the facts together their place of education. By levelling the learning field many of the problems related to bullying, sterotyping, not being able to protect themselves from abusive situations and harming others because of their differences may be avoided.  Better informed children will make better decisions. After all isn’t safety and protection what we all want for our own children?

For more information check out:

www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/health.html

Let’s hear what you have to say on this topic.

…Saumea…

March 6, 2015 - 7:26 pm

Cindi - I completely understand that children should be made aware of sexuality at a young age especially these days with technology and information at their hands, but i disagree on the point of teaching a grade 3 child about masturbation. My son is in Grade 2/3 split class and he is not at the point of understanding this. I’m sure other children might be, it all depends on how you raise your child and how close you monitor your child. That is why i think its not the job of a school to teach kids on sensitive subjects like this. It is a parent’s job. If you become a parent, then its your duty to educate your children on these personal and sensitive issues. It is our duty to teach our children to respect others and their beliefs and values, just like we have our own beliefs and values in each family, society and culture. If parents are giving away this responsibility to educational institutions, then this is a problem according to me. I see it as the responsibility of the parent to teach their children these values. Its time for families to take responsibility for their children. Parents should be the ones attending a workshop on how to educate their children on these matters. Every child is different and learns at a different pace, I don’t think its right to introduce things they need not be aware of at such a young age. This is what i think and I am against having this curriculum in our schools.

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