As back to school approaches next week, the controversies surrounding Ontario’s new curriculum are flaring up yet again. While there is a lot of support for the new curriculum, there’s almost equal amounts of pushback.
There have been dozens of articles posted online, almost daily, over the last couple weeks. If you read comments in response to the articles, it isn’t uncommon to come across comments such as:
“babies are born to mom's and dad's so they can guide them through life; that is common sense and that is why they are under parents authority…”
But you also have comments in support of said articles, such as this:
"...you think that the curriculum includes ideology, a "vision", of how things should be. The major problem with this is that the curriculum teaches facts & actualities of what currently happens in our society today. I have read every part of the curriculum that has to do with sex education and there is nothing in there that is untrue. if you disagree with facts or choose to ignore them - that it your problem and your ignorance showing."
There are copious research studies proving how abstinence-based education has a positive correlation with STI, teen pregnancy and abortion rates. Colorado offered a subsidy for birth control for teenagers in 2014 (IUDs, specifically) and their teen pregnancy rate dropped 40% that year. I think that's probably greater than statistical chance.
For some research evidence, there's the Teen Survey from 2010:http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/…/…/2010/06/TTS_report.pdf and Healthy Futures from 2014: http://www.toronto.ca/…/20…/ts/bgrd/backgroundfile-80356.pdf
If people don't understand why we need sex ed, this quote says it all: "Many older students are having unsafe sex. By grade 12, one in three students reported having had sex. One in three sexually active students had more than one partner in the last 12 months. Only 60% had used a condom or other barrier the last time they had sex, increasing the likelihood of a sexually transmitted infection or pregnancy. Just 37% reported that their school sexual health class was very useful or essential."
33%, 1 in 3, a third of Grade 12 students in Toronto have had sex and nearly half didn't use a barrier method when engaging sexually. They need to get the information somewhere because we can't assume they're getting (correct) information at home, and relying on their friends (which is their #1 go-to for sex ed information as per these two studies) is not reliable either.
There’s also the religion debate (i.e. offended that sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed). However, I have heard numerous religious leaders and figures over the last few months say how they support the curriculum because at the heart of most religions is respecting and love people for who they are. Furthermore, we live in Canada – a country that supports marriage equality – as such, schools will promote diversity and inclusion that aligns with the law and Human Rights.
There is so much misinformation out there. The problem is, those who oppose the curriculum don’t listen to those who support it. Reversely, those who are pro-curriculum are not necessarily listening to those against it, and do not have the opportunity to respond to those concerns and unpack and explain the curriculum. Both sides - the pro- and anti-curriculum - need to listen to one another.
There are many other elements to the curriculum, (as stated in the curriculum documents: “Sexual health, understood in its broadest sense, can include a wide range of topics and concepts, from sexual development, reproductive health, choice and sexual readiness, consent, abstinence, and protection, to interpersonal relationships, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, affection and pleasure, body image, and gender roles and expectations.”) We are too busy focused on 1. The act of “sex” and 2. Sexual orientation and gender identity. These are two, relatively tiny, components of the overall curriculum. Not to mention Sex Ed only takes up 10% of the entire Health and Physical Education curriculum.
I would be happy to respond to any of your questions!
There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about the new curriculum. Check out this link to test your knowledge! It gives you an explanation for each answer as well, which are very accurate.
The Ontario government released a powerful advertisement about the new "sex ed" curriculum (formally known as Human Development and Sexual Health) http://toronto.ctvnews.ca/liberals-to-release-sex-ed-ad-blitz-as-school-year-begins-1.2539952 . This new clip is by far one of the most accurate, too. I'm glad the reporter highlighted that teacher prompts and student responses are only suggestions to help navigate the curriculum - they are not mandatory, and teachers can choose to approach the specific expectations in other ways.
I could only find the full version in French - see here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYPaOTEHyJg. To translate loosely, the ad says that kids have questions and this new curriculum will help answer these questions.
At the start of each of my workshops, I begin by asking a question: "what does sexual health education mean to you?" Almost consistently, the first couple answers are "puberty" and "STIs" (sexually transmitted infections). These answers are not wrong; in fact, they're very essential components of holistic sexual health education, but these are just two pieces of a much larger puzzle.
There is a push for student-centred learning and critical thinking across North American schools and beyond. As the new school year approaches, I challenge teachers to re-evaluate their pedagogical approaches across all curricular areas, but especially in sexual health education.
Ontario has a new Health and Physical Education curriculum that lends itself to student-centred learning and critical thinking. Historically, sexual health education was very biological- (e.g. reproductive system) and risk-focused (e.g. STIs and unplanned pregnancy). Ontario, as well as other provinces across Canada, have realized that there is more to understanding sexuality and sexual health beyond the biological and risk scopes. But, how do teachers approach the new curriculum when they have spent decades developing lessons based on curricula that don’t go beyond much further than menstrual cycles, puberty, and chlamydia?
Before you implement the new curriculum, ask yourself: What is the purpose of me teaching this? What do I want my students to learn? The core of Health education, overall, is learning to live a healthy life and developing the skills and insight as to how to go about living healthily. Personally, I'm not very concerned with specific details like identifying the exact symptoms for each STI; we are not here to teach students how to be medical doctors and diagnose maladies. We are here to teach them strategies and skills to make healthy and informed choices – instead of memorizing a list of symptoms for STIs, teach students to recognize "if my body doesn't feel right, I have to decide how I am going to handle the situation in a healthy way. Contact my doctor, tell an adult I trust and with which feel comfortable discussing these matters, and be proactive about my health. Also, I need to be responsible enough to take care of my sexual health by regularly getting tested to be proactive about my health since STIs may be asymptomatic” (as per specific expectation C2.3, Grade 11).
We need to help students feel agency, to help them realize that they have the power to make choices. However, teachers have the responsibility to make sure that students are getting the information, resources and tools they need to exercise their agency in a responsible and healthy way.
One of the newly added topics in the Health and Physical Education curriculum in Ontario is cyber safety. The Toronto Police has a useful handout for tips to engage in cyber safety practices.
I am excited to host the Canadian Safe School Network's first ever Twitter chat! Join CSSN on September 2nd, 2015 from 8-9 pm for an Interactive Twitter Chat on how to make LGBTQ students feel safe at school. Follow CSSN at @CndnSafeSchools and use the hashtag #TeachTheTeacher
Ryerson University just opened an Office for Sexual Violence Support and Education (OSVSE). There has been growing attention paid to the amount of sexual assault and sexual violence on campus, and surprisingly, very few universities had explicit policies when sexual violence and assault occurred on campus. Ryerson is clearly taking steps in the right direction to educate their students about consent. Take a look at this video that describes what consent means.
Superstore and chain Target decided to remove labels from some of their items - specifically, items for children and youth. This is a big step forward with regards to challenging gender stereotypes and the construction of gender.
Considering that even adults have difficulty understanding gender, children have an even more difficult time deconstructing this complicated and loaded concept. Commercials, print ads, and the language we use is loaded with expectations for "girls" and "boys". Big boys don't cry. Girls wear pink. Boys wear blue. Girls fight with words and boys fight with fists. Girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks. Youth don't understand that they can challenge these concepts, because if they do, they'll likely get responses from their peers such as "you're a boy, you can't play House," or "you're a girl, you can't play on our soccer team." It takes small steps, such as removing "girl toys" from shopping aisles and replacing it simply with "toys" that make a difference. These changes do not go unnoticed.
Kudos to you, Target.
I was fortunate enough to do a guest lecture for an additional qualification course for Ontario Health and Physical Education teachers, ranging from the primary to the secondary division, last week. One of the workshop participants asked me a really important question:
"Should we be asking parents/guardians for permission to have their child take part in my sexual health unit - whether it is through an email or a permission form?"
Every school has different policies and routines when it comes to preparing both students and their families for the sexual health unit. Regardless, I think it is important to look at this question from a different perspective.
I understand that teachers want to make sure that parents are well informed about what their child is learning in school, especially when it comes to subjects as sensitive as sexual health education. But let me frame this predicament in a different way: would you, as a teacher, send a permission form home before starting a new Math unit? Or a new Language unit? Would you email parents and guardians to ask for permission to teach the ecosystem in Science?
Some may argue that comparing Math, Language or Science to Health (or Human Development and Sexual Health specifically) is like comparing apples to oranges, but I beg to differ. The Ministry of Education spends a lot of resources to develop the most relevant and current curricula for students in Ontario. A lot of time, effort and thought was put into developing the Human Development and Sexual Health strand. As teachers, we have an obligation to follow the curricula.Therefore, we do not have to ask for permission to teach the content we have been provided by the Ministry.
Having said that, there is absolutely nothing wrong sharing ahead of time what your unit will look like. Many experienced and expert teachers I have spoken with tend to do the same thing every year - about two weeks prior to commencing the sexual health unit, they will send an email home outlining the topics that will be covered over the course of the unit, and at the end encourage parents/guardians to email back with any questions or comments they may have. Also, suggest parents/guardians to bring up these topics at home ahead of time to start the conversation about sexual health before it happens in the classroom. That way students, the teacher, and parents/guardians are all on the same page, and hopefully students will be coming to class more prepared ahead of time and ready to learn.
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: