Fulfilling yet another campaign promise, the Progressive Conservative government confirmed earlier this week that for the coming school year, students in Ontario would not be learning the updated sex education curriculum that had been revamped and reintroduced in 2015. Instead, students will be learning a curriculum that dates back to 1998. That’s an era that predates social media, cyberbullying, sexting, legalization of same-sex marriage, and the ubiquity of hardcore porn on the internet.
Every politician makes promises, and every politician has to decide what they want to prioritize. The prioritization of sex education over improved mathematics education, which Ford had also promised during the campaign, is somewhat perplexing unless one is willing to concede that placating social conservatives in this province is more important to the government than assuaging the concerns of mathematically literate parents in this province, who have legitimate concerns about the substantive gaps in math education.
Nevertheless, nobody can criticize the government for pulling a fast one on the people of Ontario. Even as a leadership candidate, Doug Ford was quite transparent about the fact that he was not a fan of the curriculum, and often employed the same rhetoric as prominent social conservatives like Charles McVety and former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate, Tanya Granic Allen.
However, keeping a campaign promise does not inoculate the decision to follow through on that promise from criticism, especially when the promise to revert to a 20-year-old curriculum was underpinned by a mobilization campaign led by a minority of vociferous social conservatives who had no problem peddling misinformation and blatant falsehoods. This policy decision is not only ill-informed, it is essentially fact-free, based only on feeling and unsubstantiated rhetoric.
WATCH: Should sex-ed be left up to parents?
One of the most consistent criticisms levelled at the revamped sex education curriculum was this patently false notion that parents were completely left in the dark about the change, and were not consulted in any manner on the issue. It remains a mystery to me how this piece of misinformation managed to regularly make its way into right-leaning newspaper columns and onto the radio waves of talk radio, my own station included.
Parents were indeed consulted. In fact, in the fall of 2014 the Ministry of Education surveyed approximately 4,000 parents, which according to the ministry, represented one parent for every elementary school in the province. The parent representatives were chosen independent from ministry input, and were put forward by individual school principals and parent committees. In addition to the parental consultation, there were 700 students that were consulted in face-to-face regional consultations, input provided from 2,400 educators, as well as 170 organizations that provided feedback to the government.
In other words, detractors of the curriculum are pushing flat out lies when they say parents were not consulted at all.
Similarly, critics of the curriculum have propagated falsehoods of the content of the curriculum itself, despite numerous fact checks — including this one from Global News — on the issue.
Ultimately, though, the underlying problem with going back to a curriculum that is divorced from the reality facing kids today is that it will undoubtedly end up negatively impacting kids. Making sure children know anatomically appropriate terminology, and instilling the notions of boundaries and consent are vital in protecting children from sexual abuse. There is also ample research to show that cutting back on sexual education does not lead to lower incidences of sexual activity among teens. Rather, teens will have sex without the tools they need to make safe and informed choices. And as former NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo points out, LGBTQ youth in this province are going to be at particular risk.
One can certainly understand that Premier Ford wants to be a man of his word. Here’s hoping he will opt to be a man willing to look at the facts and potential harm involved instead.
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