Sex-ed curriculum: Are parents the right decision makers?

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While some parents and religious groups are rejoicing over the roll back of Ontario’s controversial sex-ed curriculum, any celebrations might be premature and short-lived. Premier Ford’s announcement that he is fulfilling his campaign promise has school boards, educators and other parents shaking their heads in disbelief.

As the wiffle-waffle continues about how exactly the gap would be filled many are confused about what will be taught in its place. Although the provincial government first announced that it was reverting to the 1998 curriculum, later reports suggested that the 2015 version might still be used “in parts”. What’s acceptable is currently up in the air.

Around 20 school boards have protested the roll-back and are asking for clarity on what is to be taught given the mixed messages from key government officials.

Health care workers are the latest group protesting the repeal of what has come to be seen by protestors as “Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum”. They believe it is critical for kids to learn about consent and inclusivity as do educators and individuals whose common-sense is not impacted by narrow-mindedness or traditional thinking.

Now the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) too has jumped in saying that reverting to the province’s 1998 version of the program violates charter rights. In a detailed letter to Ontario’s Minister of Education Lisa Thompson, the association said “censoring” certain topics (particularly on sexual orientation, gender identity and violence against women) will harm certain students and their families.

This is also the contention of some dissenting school boards who believe that in addition to providing a skewed view on such important topics, it could also open them up to law suits.

Right throughout his campaign, Ford maintained that parents are primary educators and that they must have a say in what their children are learning—meaning sex education. Coming from an Indian background where most parents are uncomfortable around topics involving sex, I am deeply aware that few if any will ever provide their children with the necessary education or answer questions. Moreover, even among the small number that might be willing, most are ill-equipped to do so.

At a recent social gathering the conversation shifted to the hullabaloo surrounding the sex-ed curriculum repeal. As some of us recalled a certain chapter (of the 1998 version) being sent home for parent-child discussion it came to light that a majority of those at the event never did so. Given this scenario what input can be expected from such parents. I can also safely say that most other aggrieved South Asian parents would also steer clear of the subject.

Most protesters shouted themselves hoarse about the content not being age-appropriate or culturally sensitive. I wonder how many of them are familiar with the content let alone being comfortable with it. At the time it was rolled out, I received a barrage of emails and social media posts urging me to lend a voice or signature to the protest. Most of them were forwards which led me to believe that they were just thoughtlessly being passed on.

I admit that my views on certain aspects are influenced by my beliefs and values. But to think what I do not subscribe to does not exist or will go away if I ignore it, is unhealthy as well as delusional.

Conversations with my boys during their elementary and high school years brought some eye-opening revelations about their knowledge and exposure to “taboo” topics and the changing world. They shared anecdotes freely and frankly because they perceived them as normal. My sheltered and ignorant ears however burned as I realized how much more they knew and were exposed to than me.

As we talked about the uproar, we discussed similar reactions to the time discussions about “safe sex” and contraception were being introduced in schools. In the end we concluded that much of protest stemmed from the discomfort and fear surrounding the new realities… and the misguided idea that talking about it amounts to putting ideas in young people’s heads.

I have not read the curriculum and hence refrain from commenting on it. I am also less invested in it since my boys are now in university. But I would like to believe that curriculum was put together by education and healthcare experts who were looking out for the safety of our children. Moreover, a controlled school environment is still a better and safer place for kids to get answers to their questions as opposed to trying to find them from their friends or the Internet.

Assuming Premier Ford had noble intentions, obtaining parental consent given the multicultural fabric of Ontario would be an almost impossible task. With many communities preferring that their children not be given any sex-education at all. Given this scenario, are parents the best judge of what their kids should be taught? -CINEWS

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