“[Consent is the] permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” - Oxford Dictionary
Everytime you read or watch the news, chances are you will hear a horrific story about sexual violence (assault, harassment, rape, emotional abuse). Sexual violence is a rising problem across our country (and around the world). You can read more about this on the Canadian Women’s Foundation website. There has also been ongoing discussion over the past few years about the issues about sexual violence on Canadian post-secondary campuses.
Consent is a very basic, explicit concept that can be taught from a very young age. To instill a sense of respect, and being able to understand and communicate boundaries at a young age is an essential part of a proactive, rather than reactive, measure to combat (sexual) violence.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the re-implementation of the 1998 health curriculum in Ontario is the absence of any explicit reference to consent.
As I continue to read (and reread) the 1998 sexual health strand of the Ontario curriculum, it becomes progressively apparent how this curriculum lacks the depth it requires to meet the needs of 21st century learners - the depth and robustness that is found in the 2015 curriculum.
When you look through the 1998 curriculum, this is as close as you’ll get to finding roundabout learning expectations (i.e. specific expectations) about consent:
Grade 4: “Identify the characteristics of healthy relationships (e.g., showing consideration of others’ feelings by avoiding negative communication)”
Grade 6: “Identify strategies to deal positively with stress and pressures that result from relationships with family and friends”
Grade 7: “Use effective communication skills (e.g., refusal skills, active listening) to deal with various relationships and situations”
which is definitely better than nothing, but is not as explicit and direct as the learning expectations from the 2015 curriculum:
We need to have conversations about consent with students starting in kindergarten. I don’t suggest starting to talk about consent with grade 1 students in the same way you’d talk to a grade 12 students, but there are ways to scaffold:
Primary grades (1-3)
Intermediate & Senior (7-12)
Having specific lessons about consent is helpful (such as this lesson plan I created for grade 3-12 students about effective communication skills), but I also encourage you have these conversations as they come up. You’ll notice students trying to hug each other when it’s clear it is unwanted, or hear students talking in the hallway about their new partner. Don’t be afraid to introduce the concept of consent in these situations as they will be personally relevant to your students, and will resonate with their real life experiences.
There are some amazing resources online you can share with your students or use to plan your lessons about consent:
Consent for Kids (YouTube video)
No Means No (Picture Book)
My Body Says What Goes (Picture Book)
Create a poster in your classroom about appropriate consensual behaviour
Consent Tea (YouTube video)
All About Consent (Planned Parenthood)
How To Talk About Consent (Planned Parenthood)
Ask. Listen. Respect (YouTube Video)
Dancing, Project Consent (YouTube video - cartoon graphic content)
Teaching Sexual Health, Consent (website)
Sex And U: What is Consent?
5 Ways To Teach Your Children About Consent (Huffington Post)
Now that the Ontario Ministry of Education has repealed the 2015 sexual health education curriculum, teachers in Ontario will be mandated to teach the 1998 sexual health education curriculum. This means students will be learning from a curriculum that was introduced over 2 decades ago.
If you read any article online that is covering this unfortunate controversial decision, you’ll know that the following topics are the primary areas that are missing from the 1998 curriculum:
If you take a look at the actual curricula themselves, while some of the learning expectations (or, as teachers call them, specific expectations) are similar, it’s pretty clear the 1998 curriculum is lacking detail (due to lack of detailed curriculum content and missing teacher prompts/student responses). For example, here are the grade 1 learning expectations:
While sexual orientation and gender identity are missing from the 1998 curriculum, they are both recognized and protected by our Ontario Human Rights Code and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Regardless if these identities are present in the curriculum, teachers have an ethical duty to discuss and protect the rights and laws of our province and country.
So, how does a teacher actually talk about sexual orientation and gender identity without any guidance from the curriculum? I have some suggestions!
Both with respect to age and timing during the school year. Conversations about identity should start in young grades, as early as preschool and kindergarten. The earlier students are exposed to these identities, the more comfortable they will be as they get older and develop their own identities, and/or meet people with different identities.
Teachers should also initiate conversations about gender and sexuality early on in the school year and not wait until the last week of June, as many people do! See below for ways to start these conversations.
Don’t make it a “big deal”
Calling too much attention to sexuality and gender is unnecessary, and inadvertently may cause extra pushback or controversy from parents, other staff, and community members. Is it important to talk about? Absolutely - but do so with intention and purpose.
Instead of singling out a conversation about different sexualities and gender identities/expressions, have conversations about differences more holistically. Ask your students:
Talk about it when it comes up, don’t avoid it
I find some of the most powerful teachable moments I have had with students in the past are unexpected, casual conversations walking down the hall on the way to phys ed, during recess on the playground, or in non-health lessons.
Perhaps you’re doing a media studies or literacy project involving analyzing a movie, music lyrics, or television shows. If you introduce different artists, actors, or leaders in our communities, bring in a variety of examples that can naturally lead to conversations about sexuality and gender. For example, different family types (e.g. same-sex couples) are present in Modern Family, a kid-friendly show:
Laverne Cox is an openly trans actor:
Or think about musical lyrics, like Lady Gaga’s Born This Way: “No matter gay, straight or bi Lesbian, transgendered life I'm on the right track, baby I was born to survive. No matter black, white or beige Chola or orient made I'm on the right track, baby I was born to be brave!” which is a perfect way of discussing the acceptance and celebration of many different types of identity.
Be mindful of language
Many teachers often default to calling their class by “boys and girls,” “ladies and gentlemen,” “princesses and princes,” and so on. We should move away from polarizing, gendered names to be sensitive to students who may not fit into one of those two gendered “categories” (also, what happens if you divide your class based on gender, but you have a student who is not openly trans? How do you think that would make them feel?)
If you do need to separate your class into two, or call them to get their attention, try using gender-neutral names like “scientists and mathematicians,” “folks,” or “students”.
There is opportunity all around to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity. I have created a lesson plan using the grade 6-12 specific expectations from the 2015 curriculum, to talk about gender identity and sexual orientation. You can use this lesson plan for younger grades too!
I am very excited to get back into research mode and present my thesis work at the Support of Physical and Health Educators (OASPHE) conference (http://www.oasphe.ca/home.php?a=welcome). See my poster presentation below!
There has been some push back with the Grade 6 Human Development and Sexual Health curriculum. It is assumed that the topic of "masturbation" is discussed explicitly and even encouraged. This is not the case. The curriculum expectation in Grade 6 reads:
"Describe how they can build confidence and lay a foundation for healthy relationships by acquiring a clearer understanding of the physical, social, and emotional changes that occur during adolescence (e.g., physical: voice changes, skin changes, body growth; social: changing social relationships, increasing influence of peers; emotional: increased intensity of feelings, new interest in relationships with boys or girls, confusion and questions about changes)"
However, there is mention of "masturbation" in the teacher prompt, which acts as a guide to help teachers discuss the mandatory curriculum expectation. The prompt reads:
“Things like wet dreams or vaginal lubrication are normal and happen as a result of physical changes with puberty. Exploring one’s body by touching or masturbating is something that many people do and find pleasurable. It is common and is not harmful and is one way of learning about your body.”
I have my own interpretation of this teacher prompt. Puberty is marked by a (difficult and sometimes uncomfortable) time of change. Body pains and aches may begin, and the body undergoes rapid and unexpected changes. A way in which to better understand one's own body is to physically examine what is changing and how it makes them feel. This prompt is by no means encouraging students to engage in sexual behaviour, but rather acknowledges that it is perfectly normal to do so.
We need to start normalizing sexual health as it is a hugely important part of development and identity.
What you need to know about changes to Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curriculum, including Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education).
The Ontario Ministry of Education released a comprehensive review of the 2015 Sexual Health Education curriculum from Grades 1 to 12. They broke down the specific expectations and described the overall themes and topics covered in each grade.
What is in the Health and Physical Education curriculum? Active Living
Educating children with accurate and current information, skills and strategies to help them navigate a digital world can help keep them safe and healthy.
The Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education) component of the Health and Physical Education curriculum guides teachers to plan what they teach with the goal of establishing a foundation of mutual respect and understanding for diverse perspectives in the classroom. It will not replace the role of parents in educating their children about sexual health.
What will students learn in the Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education) section of the curriculum?The learning about Human Development and Sexual Health, like all the learning about healthy living in the curriculum, is focused on helping students learn about the things that contribute to their health and how to use that information to make healthy choices (and avoid potentially harmful ones) in their everyday lives.
Some of the information students will learn about this topic includes:
Grade 1 Students will learn:
Grade 2 Students will learn :
Grade 3 Students will learn:
Grade 4 Students will learn:
Today, children enter puberty earlier: on average, girls enter puberty between 8-13 years old and boys enter puberty between 9-14 years old.
Grade 5 Students will learn:
Grade 6 Students will learn:
By Grade 6, students have developed some self awareness and coping skills and also learned critical thinking and reflective skills to solve problems and examine issues, which they will apply to learning about stereotypes and assumptions.
Through challenging these stereotypes and assumptions, they not only continue to learn respect for others, but also self-confidence in their own identity.
Grade 7 Students will learn:
Teaching about sexual health and development does not increase sexual behaviour, and can actually prevent risky activity.
Grade 8 Students will learn about:
Grades 9-12 Students are required to take one Health and Physical Education credit in high school. However, they may choose to continue to take additional course in other grades. These courses build on learning from Grades 1-8. See below for what students will learn in the in the Human Development and Sexual Health component of those courses.
Grade 9 Students will learn about:
Students also learn about the potential implications of online activities (e.g., texting and sending personal photos) and how to use electronic technologies appropriately.
Grade 10 Students will learn:
Grade 11 Students will learn:
There are many misconceptions about Ontario's 2015 Sexual Health Education curricula, especially for Grades 1-8. I have read dozens upon dozens of articles about the new curricula, I have seen newscasts about the new curricula, I have talked to parents, teachers, and principals - and most of what I hear is inaccurate.
I came across an amazing resource developed by People For Education that clarified a lot of the erroneous beliefs about the new curricula. You can check out the link below or open the file attached.