An Open Letter to Premier Doug Ford About the Sex-Ed Curriculum
We Need To Move Sex Education To 2018, Not Backtrack
Dear Premier Doug Ford: Don't Do This
I am a high school teacher and, more importantly, I'm a parent to two girls, ages 13 and 9. The world my girls are growing up in is far different than the one I was familiar with in 1998, which was the last time the health and physical education curriculum was updated prior to 2015.
In the last two decades, as I am sure you are more than aware, there have been a number of societal changes on a provincial and national level. Same sex marriage, an increase in the number of kids dealing with bullying and harassment, and an increase in the numbers of students dealing with mental health issues. The updates to the sex ed curriculum that were implemented are in line with the rapidly changing world and needs of our children and teenagers.
In fact, some students I've encountered have said that they feel that the updates to the curriculum, while extremely important, didn't quite go far enough. The teenage students were involved in a same sex relationship and pointed out that merely telling a kid to use a condom to practice safe sex was not necessarily a great option - especially if the couple looking to practice safe sex were two females. There were questions they had that they felt should have perhaps been a part of the new curriculum - but then, we don't live in a perfect world, and we can always do better.
The health curriculum update also covers issues of mental health, and kids today are dealing with significant challenges that again, we never really discussed 20 years ago. Whether it's anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, our kids are dealing with them, and they don't always know which way to turn. The health curriculum updates, in having included some information about this, at least sent a signal that students could talk about their issues.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, and the announcement your government made that you had effectively scrapped the 2015 version sends a signal to our kids that their issues and the health challenges that they worry about - yes, including safe sex, among other concerns - are not to be discussed. We simply can't turn back the clock on this one.
In addition, the curriculum does discuss issues of consent - something no previous curriculum brought up. Anyone with children - in my mind, particularly daughters, but that could be perhaps a result of my own context - should definitely want issues like these brought up. Kids need to know what consent is and is not, and that they do have the right to say no to sex. They have the right to know about contraception, because whether we like it or not, there's a lot of kids having unprotected sex out there, and there's a lot who are still operating under a range of myths that could easily be cleared up with some conversation under the new 2015 health curriculum. There are also kids who are dealing with intimate partner violence - another issue that the 2015 update covers but the earlier version does not - and knowledge about how to deal with that and where to go for help can make all the difference in the world for a kid dealing with it and feeling like they might be the only person in the world who is.
We can argue all we like that it's a parent's responsibility to teach kids about sex. Absolutely it is. However, you are deluding yourself if you honestly believe that all parents have had conversations about consent, safe sex, the different types of couples across the heterosexual and LGBTQ+ spectrum, mental health and so forth. These are not easy conversations to have, sir, and while I'm sure you're absolutely convinced that parents will pick up the slack here, there are countless parents who just won't have the conversation with their kids, in part due to their own lack of comfort and in part due to their desire to ignore that their kids need to be informed about everything that the 2015 update to the Ontario health curriculum offered.
We can't stick our collective heads in the sand about this update that you've effectively scrapped. Ultimately, this curriculum was incredibly beneficial to kids of all ages, and for you to have slammed the door on it only demonstrates your determination to ignore the way Ontario, Canadian and national and international society has changed over the last 20 years.
This is something that helped kids, that was done - whether you want to acknowledge it or not - in consultation with teachers and parents, among other professionals, and should be kept in place.
Even if you wanted to update the 2015 curriculum, great - but keep the 2015 curriculum in place so it reflects the world we live in today.