Now that the Ontario Ministry of Education has repealed the 2015 sexual health education curriculum, teachers in Ontario will be mandated to teach the 1998 sexual health education curriculum.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!