Hard to Turn Back Time for Ontario's "Sex Ed" Curriculum, Premier Ford
Knowledge Is Power
It's Not So Easy To Turn Back The Clock, Is It, Mr. Ford?
Like so many others, I was both surprised and not so surprised when Ontario's new PC government said it was going to scrap the 2015 health and physical education curriculum. That particular curriculum had not been updated since 1998, and it's a very different world now. However, the new curriculum was contentious because of some of the subject matter it included, and that's why the PC government had promised that if elected, they would scrap the 2015 curriculum.
The argument has been that parents weren't really consulted in the making of this new curriculum and given the subject matter, there's little wonder some parents were irate, in spite of the fact that it's stated in the Education Act that parents can "withdraw their child from content they don’t want their child to receive,” former Education Minister Liz Sandals said in an interview with National Post back in February 2015.
The changes to the 1998 curriculum included discussions about anatomy, healthy relationships, mental health, gender identity and sexual orientation, among other topics. These topics were introduced at what was felt to be age appropriate levels throughout the curriculum.
Yet, very shortly after being elected, the Ontario PCs scrapped the curriculum, saying that the 1998 curriculum would now be used while the government prepared to go through a "thorough end-to-end consultation with parents," according to an email I received from Premier Ford's office not that long ago. These consultations are slated to begin in the fall, with no revelations or apparent direction about what school boards are supposed to teach, exactly, after three years of teaching updated curriculum.
Cue the pushback.
I've actually been somewhat surprised that Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" hasn't been playing more regularly since the Ontario government's announcement about the curriculum. While that song debuted 9 years before the last health and physical education curriculum did, the lyrics seem to echo Ford's desire to completely ignore the sort of world kids are living in today.
Regardless, Premier Ford and Education Minister Lisa Thompson have been regularly mocked since the announcement came out. Social media has had a field day about things that were also popular in 1998, with some individuals slowly amassing things that were big in 1998, whether it was Beanie Babies, software that still came out on CD ROM, or even a Game Boy Color system. In interviews, Thompson has routinely referenced a non-existent 2014 curriculum and said that teachers will turn to that.
There is no 2014 curriculum, Ms. Thompson. It's the same curriculum from 1998 that you and the rest of the PC government are insistent that teachers turn to.
Now, the number of Ontario school boards speaking out against the government's decision to scrap the 1998 curriculum is continuing to rise. There's no push from the board to completely ignore what the government is saying - that would be inappropriate, to be sure - but boards seem to be recognizing that we simply can't turn back the clock when it comes to keeping kids safe.
Education is power. This is something we've all heard previously. If kids aren't educated about the very real issues that they're facing today, how can they learn to keep themselves safe? Whether it's the dangers of sexting - and like it or not, there are kids insistent on sending their boyfriends or girlfriends pictures of themselves that would make parents cringe and probably take their children's phones away forever - or discussions about consent and safe sex, these are conversations that are not always happening at home. Sometimes, the only place these conversations are happening is with a health teacher.
Some school boards have said avoiding conversations about gender or same-sex families could be tantamount to violations of human rights legislation, according to Toronto Star. Other boards have said that teachers can use their discretion as far as any issues the 2015 curriculum brought up, though the government has scrapped it in favor of the 1998 curriculum.
Simcoe County District School Board is one of the latest of the group of 20 or so boards that has released a statement. In it, SCDSB has said that they "respect our educators’ discretion to exercise their professional judgment to make day-to-day decisions as to what, when and how information is taught. This will include providing our educators with the flexibility to adjust content and context to ensure students are prepared for present day realities."
“Today’s youth need specific knowledge and skills to respond to the realities, benefits and pressures that stem from our rapidly changing, technology-driven world. Extensive support is required to manage many modern risks and issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, and the proliferation of online pornography,” notes the Durham District School Board statement, signed by board chair Michael Barrett, according to DurhamRegion.com.
With this and other similar statements provided by other Ontario school boards about the curriculum issues the Ford government is currently facing, it would appear that turning back the clock to 1998 will not be as easy as Premier Ford may have hoped. Consultation is great, but while it's happening, why not keep the realities the 2015 curriculum discussed in place?