A Facebook group is calling for Ontario parents and caregivers to keep their kids out of school for a week, starting May 4th, as a form of protest against the sex education changes in the update Health and Physical Education curriculum.
A lot of families feel that the province is denying their right to teach children about sexuality at home. There’s concern that sex ed components of the new curriculum will force children to consider certain aspects of sexuality before they’re ready and that being presented with this knowledge will disturb children or confuse them with alternative perspectives from those they learn at home.
I get that these concerns almost always come from a place of love and concern. But I think there’s also a lot of misinformation based on incorrect assumptions floating around. I think some folks see sexuality as only being about adult sexual behaviour, rather than a fundamental part of humanity that’s with us from birth. I know - because I’ve spoken to them - that some people don’t see how it’s possible to talk about body parts, or consent or gender diversity in terms that second grader can understand.
I get it...but it’s frustrating. Because I know comprehensive sexuality education that starts early can do great things. It’s linked to more positive sexual health outcomes, higher relationship satisfaction, lower incidences of sexual violence and more positive body image in adolescence and young adulthood. I also know that youth have unprecedented exposure to sensationalized images of sexuality in the media. I know that kids in North America today are starting puberty early than any previous generation. I know that providing young people with accurate information about sexuality is critical to their well-being.
I applaud the families who insist being their kids’ primary sex educator. My career is about encouraging folks to do just that. But school sex-education is important too. Not every child has parents who are alive, present, willing, and capable of taking on their sex education. Plus, sex ed isn’t just about my kid or your kid. It isn’t just about sharing our individual beliefs in a vacuum. Sexual attitudes and behaviour ripple out and have a broad social effect on issues like homophobia, transphobia, sexual health and sexual violence.
Pulling children out of school may send a message that parents are unhappy and folks certainly have a right to protest the curriculum if they want to. If you’re an Ontario parent/caregiver who’s nervous about the updates, but want you want to different course of action, here are three things you can do:
Seriously. News pieces, reports and blog posts (mine included) are biased and only provide a small glimpse into what’s being taught in the classroom.
This curriculum actually involved greater public consultation that most others; however, there are many parents who feel they were kept in the dark. The updates don’t come into effect for four more months.* The curriculum is publicly available for all to see. If you’re concerned about what your child is going to be learning, spend some time reading the updated curriculum. It covers the learning goals, explains why they’ve been put in place and give suggestions for teacher prompts. You might find you feel better about about the proposed changes. And if you don’t, at least you’ll be able to advocate for your child from a place of knowledge, rather than hearsay.
Just a heads up, it’s a big document. If you don’t have time to read it all, you could start by checking out the guidelines for your kid’s specific grade.
*Probably longer. Most teachers don’t dive into the sex ed portion of HPE first thing in September.
Talk to your kids’ teacher. Check in with the principal. Find out when they plan to teach the sex education units. If you’re feeling iffy about certain topics regarding sexuality ask how the teacher plans to approach them. If you know what’s coming up, you can start preparing your child at home, by starting some early, easy conversations about those same topics. Share a few simple facts or debunk some myths. Talk about some of your personal and/or family values.
You can also contact your local school trustee and district school board to find out what type of training and support teachers are getting to help them implement these changes.
Youth benefit tremendously when they receive sex education at home AND at school, so don’t be shy about getting a heads up on what’s happening in your kid’s classroom.
Gender diversity. Sexual orientation. Consent. I didn’t learn about these things growing up. Neither did a lot of people. Because no one taught us about these things as children (in fact, folks probably went out of their way NOT to teach us these things), a lot of us feel these topics can’t be taught in a way that’s suitable for children.
Here I will reiterate - sexuality is NOT just about having sex! It is totally possible to teach subjects related to sexuality to younger kids without using graphic imagery or launching into explicit descriptions of sexual acts.
It’s worth taking a look at books for kids and teens about sexuality. These are some books I like in particular, but there so many great titles out there. Yes, these books are aimed at youth, but they’re also amazing resources for us adults because we get to see what type of information is suitable for young learners and provides examples of how to talk about sexuality in a kid appropriate way.
And there’s always Google...or your search engine of choice. Just type “How to talk to [your child’s age] year-olds about [aspect of sex education that’s freaking you out]”. There are a wealth of articles available on how to have these conversations with your kids.
Sex education does not need to be about parents vs. public education. A robust, comprehensive sex ed curriculum is something we can all use to our advantage and more importantly...to benefit our children.