Well... This is an incredibly complicated situation: https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2016/05/13/toronto-school-offers-sanitized-sex-ed-amid-parent-concern.html
I want to start off by saying that, in theory, it is good to see that schools are accommodating requests to "tone down" the sex ed curriculum for those who are uncomfortable with it. Ontario prides itself on academic accommodation for various reasons, so it is not at all surprising to see this is happening with the sex ed curriculum.
But, this situation is still troublesome.
Firstly, the language of "sanitized sex-ed" is incredibly problematic. Sanitized implies that the current curriculum is "dirty" and needs to be "cleaned up," which is not the case.
Secondly, who are these accommodations for? Parents. Who are we teaching? Not parents! Many students are curious about the new sex ed curriculum and are eager to learn. Of course, we must respect religious views and personal outlooks, but our curriculum is not offensive - it teaches students information that has been empirically supported (the revised curriculum was developed by experts in the field, including psychologists, experienced teachers and sex educators). Not to mention, a lot of the controversial topics (e.g. gender identity and sexual orientation) is something that is embraced and celebrated in Canada. We have laws protecting folks who identify on any part of the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity, so it is fitting to talk about it with our students - who are not exempt from falling somewhere along the aforementioned spectrum.
Instead of hiding behind the wrath of enraged parents by developing a "sanitized" curriculum, this should be an indication that there is a powerful opportunity to educate parents themselves - not only about the truth of the curriculum, but also the content. Why are parents so afraid to have their child use the word penis and vagina, two anatomically-correct words? That's an important question to ask, and an important conversation to have. When we teach about "private parts" instead of penis, vagina, vulva, etc., students still know exactly what we're talking about (not to mention it is important for them to have the vocabulary to take ownership of their body and seek help if incidents of sexual abuse occur).
“If schools ‘accommodate’ at this early stage in the game, they are setting themselves up for real battles later on, and the only ones who are going to suffer are the kids.”
I Don't Flush!
"I Don't Flush" is a campaign to help create awareness around items that should not be flushed down our toilets (and drains). There are many personal hygiene products that unintentionally (or intentionally!) get flushed down our toilets. Some common products related to sexual health that SHOULD NOT be flushed include:
- Sanitary pads
- Condoms and condom wrappers
- (While not listed on the website), dental dams should not get tossed into toilets!
Share this with your students to create a dialogue on environmentally friendly (well, friendlier) ways to dispose of these aforementioned items. There are also environmentally-conscious items women can use during their period, such as the The DivaCup.
I Don't Flush: http://idontflush.ca/personal-hygiene-products/
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!
International Day of Pink!
Today, April 13 2016, is International Day of Pink!
The Day of Pink is the International Day against Bullying, Discrimination, Homophobia, Transphobia, and Transmisogyny across the world. We invite everyone to celebrate diversity by wearing a pink shirt and by organizing activities in their workplaces, schools and communities.
How to get involved:
Encourage your friends to wear pink
Organize a flashmob!
Safe(r) versus Brave(r) spaces
I attended a very interesting session today on making university spaces more welcoming and diverse. At the start of the panel discussion, the facilitator said (paraphrased):
We should always strive to create safe(r) spaces for our students - to provide opportunities to engage in discussions on challenging topics. But, sometimes, it isn't possible to create safe(r) spaces when we are talking about certain things, like homophobia, or racism, or sexism, or any other phobias and "isms" that exist. Sometimes we have to create BRAVE spaces. It's okay to not feel comfortable all the time, as long as the conversation is managed and bravery is respected and honoured.
Food for thought of the day.
Unpacking the curriculum: Grade 6.
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.
Best Practice Strategy for Teaching Sex Ed Series!
I am going to be posting different best practice strategies for teaching sex ed over the next few weeks.
Best practice strategy 1: Teacher comfort level
When teachers have more content knowledge about a given topic, in this case sex ed, the more comfortable you will be with the content. Let's use math as an example. If you don't know much about trigonometry, you will feel very nervous if you need to teach it, and as a result your teaching will not be as effective compared to a teacher who knows trigonometry and feels comfortable sharing it. The same applies to sex ed.
When teacher comfort level increases, students notice the shift - the class will be more relaxed and open to conversation. You will be less nervous and more prepared to enter topics you may have originally knew little about (and no one likes to feel under prepared!)
Set a goal for yourself to look up a different sexual health resource every week and build a repertoire of resources you can use to support your own sex ed learning, and in turn help your students!
Two of my personal favourite online resources are Planned Parenthood ("Learn" tab - https://www.plannedparenthood.org/) and SexualityandU (http://www.sexualityandu.ca/). Click on a different topic every week and learn something different about human development and sexual health!
Next best practice strategy will be posted this week.
Unpacking Masculinity and Feminism
On Wednesday, November 18, Alexander - founder of Ride For A Dream - Lavinia (who also works for Ride for a Dream) and I co-facilitated a really powerful workshop on unpacking feminism and masculinity at Ryerson University. The most powerful take-away message I had from this experience was that ideas, social norms and gender norms get embedded into our gender identities at a very young age. Many of the participants in the workshop talked about how, as kids,they learned that their "utility" was the primary defining feature of their masculinity, while female participants talked about how compliance and obedience was expected of them.
I think that having discussions with students, starting in primary grades, about what they think it means to be a "boy" or "girl" could be very powerful. We have to break down and unpack the expectations and pressures we assign ourselves based on our gender. Gender is fluid and should not prescribe the way we behave or the things we do. If we unravel these ideas at an early age, hopefully it will create more equitable, inclusive and safer communities.
My Sex Ed is Rebranding!
My Sex Ed is rebranding with a new logo - MSE. We will still be offering the same events and resources, but wanted to change up our image a bit.
Thanks for your ongoing support with this new venture!
I am very excited to announce that My Sex Ed is collaborating with CANVAS Programs on an exciting initiative to provide arts-based sexual health education to students and teachers. Please see below for more information.
Arts-Based Sexual Health Education Programming for Students and Teachers, Presented by CANVAS Programs and My Sex Ed
Who are we?
CANVAS Programs is a youth-led grassroots organization in Toronto, Canada that offers arts-based education for youth on gender, sexuality, consent and body image. Our programs use a variety of art-forms including theatre, spoken word poetry, photography and visual arts. CANVAS encourages students to engage in critical thinking about social norms and provides creative tools to combat gender-based and sexual violence, homophobia, transphobia and negative body image. We provide programming for youth in schools, community organizations and summer camps.
At the heart of CANVAS is a commitment to supporting youth in developing critical thinking skills, learning to embrace different identities and challenging harmful social norms. Through our programs, youth develop creative tools to challenge gender-based violence and bullying, and create an environment where they can feel comfortable and confident in their gender, their sexuality and their body.
Visit our website at www.canvasprograms.ca.
My Sex Ed
My Sex Ed provides holistic and sex-positive sexual health education (SHE) to a variety of audiences and populations in an engaging, accessible and inclusive manner. My Sex Ed’s current focus is to offer professional development to pre-service and service teachers as well as other educational personnel on Ontario’s 2015 Human Development and Sexual Health curricula. Inquiry, collaboration and discussion are at the forefront of our programming, which includes workshops, conference presentations, discussions at small group events (e.g. PTA meetings) and more.
In many provinces across Canada, SHE is mandatory. However, few teachers receive formal training in SHE. My Sex Ed’s workshops for teachers and other education personnel offer a well-balanced overview of theoretical and practical aspects of SHE. While it is important to understand the theories and research behind SHE, My Sex Ed also ensures that teachers establish a good understanding of SHE pedagogy through reflection, collaborative brainstorming and group discussions.
The three objectives for SHE teacher training are:
1. Curriculum. Provide educators with an in-depth overview of the curriculum content which they are required to teach.
2. Knowledge. Provide educators with a fundamental understanding of important content knowledge and topics related to sexual health (education).
3. Comfort and pedagogy. Discuss and develop best practice strategies to increase confidence in teaching SHE through a variety of activities; studies have shown that teacher comfort level and ability to teach SHE effectively are positively correlated.
Visit our website at www.mysexed.ca
Why are we collaborating?
When the founders of CANVAS Programs (Ayla Lefkowitz and Miriam Selick) and My Sex Ed (Carly Basian) met for the first time, we instantly realized the complementary potential in our work. CANVAS Programs works directly with students; their unique approach to Sexual Health Education (SHE) integrates for-youth, by-youth programming with arts-based education practices, providing meaningful spaces for students to explore gender, sexuality, consent and body image.My Sex Ed focuses on working with pre-service and service teachers, parents and other (adult) education stakeholders, providing them with the tools and resources they need to teach and discuss sexual health topics, including those covered by CANVAS.
CANVAS and My Sex Ed are collaborating to offer complementary programming for both students and teachers (as well as other education stakeholders). This collaborative approach ensures that after CANVAS has started the conversation with students, teachers have the training and expertise to continue that conversation and integrate evidence-based sex education into their curriculum.
What is our project?
At the core of our project, we want to blend the student experience with teacher training.
The leaders of CANVAS Programs and My Sex Ed bring together expertise in education, SHE and community development. As recent graduates from Bachelor and Master of Education programs, respectfully, we recognized that oftentimes workshops for students last an hour and aren’t discussed in the classroom. We want to bridge this gap by offering engaging and relevant arts-based student workshops, and train teachers in creating effective health units with cross-curricular connections.
List of potential workshop topics
● Gender, Body Image and Social Media
● Gender & Sexuality (LGBTQI identities)
● Consent and Social Media
● Body Image
List of different art forms
● Spoken Word poetry
● Mural art
Ages of students
● Option A: Middle School (Grades 6-8)
● Option B: High School (Grades 9-10)
● Option C: High School (Grades 11-12)
● Option D: High School (Grades 9-12)
Depending on the topics, art forms and student ranges, the teacher training/professional development component will be in alignment with student learning, which will ensure that teachers can help carry the conversation from the student programming. We will also offer training for teachers to teach beyond what students learned in their workshop.
Sample of a student workshop (CANVAS):
Title: Imagine This
Grades: 5 to 8
The Imagine This program uses photography as a tool to create social change and celebrate youth voices. Participants critically examine gender expectations, societal pressures, and bullying/harassment, with an emphasis on social media. The program culminates with a creative photography project that encourages positive self-expression. Participants’ photos are shared through the youth-led online photography project Imagine This.
Sample of teacher training workshop (My Sex Ed)
Title: Unpacking Ontario’s Sexual Health Education Curricula
Audience: Teachers, school administrators, non-profit organizations, parents, nurses, guidance counsellors, superintendents
This timely workshop, analyzing and understanding Ontario’s new Sexual Health Education Curriculum will be divided into three sections. In the first section participants will review the significant changes between Ontario’s previous Growth and Development/Healthy Growth and Sexuality strands (1998-2000) and the recently released Human Development and Sexual Health strand (2015). The second section will be devoted to analysis of some specific expectations to clarify any misconceptions and/or myths that have been suggested by the media. Finally, the third portion of the workshop will be dedicated to exploring how teachers can introduce and navigate some of the topics covered in the Human Development and Sexual Health strand in our Grade 1 to 12 classrooms.
For more information, please contact:
Ayla Lefkowitz and Miriam Selick