By Susan Zuidema, author “My Child, My Chance”
“What if, en mass, we just kept teaching the new health curriculum? They can’t discipline us all, can they?” – Ontario teacher
This in-between time is dangerous. I’m referring to the time between the repeal of the 2015 Ontario sex education curriculum and the introduction of a replacement.
Everyone can agree that the 1998 curriculum is woefully out of date. But opinions around what should “obviously” continue to be covered in the 2018-2019 school year (curriculum or no) varies based on individual convictions and beliefs.
As a group, Ontario’s teachers support the complete 2015 curriculum. Sam Hammond, representing Ontario’s public school teachers as president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) listed “Sexting, online bullying, and information about consent” as key topics. He points the finger at “a minority group of socially conservative parents (who) oppose the current curriculum, some without having seen it” suggesting that some of their concern “stems from homophobia.”
Hammond asserted that “the current curriculum addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a meaningful and age-appropriate way.”
Many parents disagree that the curriculum handles certain sensitive topics included in its sex education in an age-appropriate manner. Some of these are mentioned by Hammond but there are a vast array of others.
Who is to decide in the 2018-2019 school year what will be actually taught? Unless Conservatives deliver a clear directive, it is going to be up to those on the front lines: the teachers. Here’s what they have to say about it.
One suggested that teachers can teach whatever they want because no one ever checks on what they are doing in their classroom.
Clearly, there remains a call to vigilance for parents with children in the public system – perhaps now more than ever. Until there is a clear directive and a replacement, teachers can use their “professional judgment” in what they teach (see also “Understanding Your Professional Judgment“, a flyer by ETFO). This includes not only topics related to sex and equity but any other topic they deem relevant. As evidenced by the discussion above, many teachers feel it is their professional obligation to teach gender theory and sexual equity and plan to continue to do so.
As a public school teacher, I used my professional judgment to regularly include a series of lessons on internet safety well before the 2015 curriculum came out. I wanted to be sure that expectations around internet use were clearly established and I felt confident that parents would agree in my decision. I notified parents we were discussing the topic and sent supporting materials home to help them carry on the discussion. My professional judgment allowed me to cover an important area I felt the curriculum was missing.
This same professional judgment is used by teachers everyday when they teach extracurricular material. In the years leading up to 2015, this already included topics of social justice and equity. Yet, it’s not limited to topics in sex ed. In My Child, My Chance, I list several examples of how sexual and gender diversity were taught prior to the 2015 curriculum, often within the language, social studies, and even math curriculum!
Another example might involve eastern meditation. In the 2017-2018 school year, my own school introduced Kundalini yoga, a school of yoga that is influenced by Shaktism and Tantra schools of Hinduism. The school rebranded the activities as “mindfulness and wellness” following my expression of concern about the religious elements.
What should you do?
- Contact your MPP. Affirm your support of the Progressive Conservatives as they gather a task force to follow through with their commitment to replace the curriculum.
- Encourage them to take their time and get it right while asserting that clear guidance is needed about what can and cannot be covered in the interim.
- Ask them be sure to state that this guidance is being made “without prejudice or precedent”; i.e., they do not represent a decision one way or another to a particular topic for the new curriculum but are temporarily helping teachers to bridge the gap. The interim direction should specifically require that teachers refrain from teaching gender theory due to its unproven and potentially dangerous nature.
- In the fall, check with your child’s new teacher. Where does s/he stand on the role of sex education and equity in the classroom? How will s/he be handling topics such as family diversity, gender, and consent?
- Request advance notice before topics relating to sex education or equity are covered so that you can prepare your child for the conversation. You still have the right to withdraw your children if you are uncomfortable. However, consider that withdrawing your child doesn’t actually protects him or her from being exposed to the content; they will simply hear it from their peers rather than the teacher.
- Volunteer in the classroom and the school. Be an advocate and a help. Build a positive relationship. This will go a long way toward keeping you from being “that complaining social conservative parent” and will make you an ally and a friend to the teacher and the school. The value of this can’t be stated enough.
The truth is that your child is still likely to be impacted in some way by the ideology and content in the 2015 sex education curriculum. The best idea is to get there first: Be your child’s first teacher about their sexuality and gender. Be their authority on those topics. This sets the stage for an open discussion and increases the likelihood that your children will let you know about their future exposure to and thoughts on the subject.
More information and resources:
- For more information on how you can guard and guide your child through the chaos of culture and sex education, read “My Child, My Chance.”
- The PEACE Ontario parent letter can help you formally request religious accommodation for your child with respect to topics that may be included as sex education.