Ontario’s aborted sex education curriculum reform created quite a public uproar and re-ignited an ongoing debate across Canada. Many Ontarians expressed utter shock over the more detailed, explicit sex-ed curriculum. While intended to promote tolerance and to address sensitive issues, it would have, for the first time, taught Grade 3 pupils about sexual identity and orientation and introduced Grade 6 and 7 children to terms like “anal intercourse” and “vaginal lubrication.” It’s little wonder that the proposed curriculum aroused intense opposition in Ontario among Muslims and Christians as well as conservative family values groups.
The raging debate, featured in The Globe and Mail (April 22), raised a few profoundly important questions. With explicit sex-ed in schools, what are we really teaching kids? How early should young children be introduced to such sensitive issues? In pushing the boundaries, are Ministries of Education now promoting liberal humanist values at odds with growing numbers of parents with more traditional, spiritually-based values?
The ill-fated Ontario curriculum, quietly posted in January 2010 on the Ministry of Education website, prompted an unprecedented reaction. An Ontario Christian coalition, led by evangelist Charles McVety, raised the first alarm bells and members of that group have threatened to pull their children from the public schools. The President of the Somali Parents for Education, Suad Aimad, spoke of “a big reaction in the Muslim community” and stated that such matters were not only private, but best left to parents. Then, out of the blue, Premier Dalton McGuinty shelved the whole initiative.
A pan-Canadian survey of provincial sex education curricula is quite revealing. The British Columbia curriculum is the most liberal in orientation and touches on sexuality in every grade, starting in kindergarten. Talk about sex in Alberta classrooms begins in Grade 4, but there is no mention of homosexuality or sexual orientation from K through to Grade 9. Back in 2005, New Brunswick attempted to introduce a more explicit sex-ed curriculum and ended up back-tracking. Sex first comes up in Grade 5, not Grade 3, and plans to introduce topics like masturbation and anal sex in Grade 6 were subsequently dropped from the NB plan.
The Toronto Globe and Mail’s own commentaries seem to reflect the fragmented public consensus. In its Lead Editorial “Teaching Tolerance, not Mechanics” (April 22), the Editors come out in favour of a sex education curriculum that promotes tolerance and removes the stigma associated with homosexuality. The new Ontario program, in their view, is not just “how-to instruction on sex,” but rather teaching in a sensitive manner “what is appropriate at different ages.”
Columnist Margaret Wente broke with The Globe editorial position and lamented the proliferation of “sex-ed in a sex-filled culture.” While sympathetic to the critics, she points out that “nearly every kid” is now “exposed to Internet porn by the age of 10.” What she objects to is the way sex-ed is actually taught – in a “scrupulously gender-neutral” fashion ignoring “the fundamental differences between teenage boys and girls.”
This week, Educhatter asks: What is the real purpose of Explicit Sex-Ed in the Early Grades? Can we resolve the essential conflict in values? Is it possible to teach healthy living and sound values as well as tolerance and social justice?