With all the discussions, especially in recent days, about the new Ontario Sex-Ed curriculum (actually, it’s called the Health and Physical Education curriculum), I figured I should read it over to get a better idea of what it’s all about. (Let me rephrase that, I skimmed over the grade 1-8 version; didn’t read it in depth.)

From that, some observations:

  • Given the change in culture, society and early adolescence, many of these issues needed to be addressed.
  • Whether explicitly stated or not, the curriculum is presenting moral decisions. (e.g. The curriculum draws the line between having unprotected sex as harmful and protected sex as permissible.)
  • I didn’t see anything about age of consent. Given all the legal ramifications emphasized on issues like sexting, I find it interesting that age of consent isn’t even addressed. (e.g. For someone who’s 12 or 13, do they realize that they can’t be engaged in sexual activity with anyone older than 2 years from them or who is in a position of trust/authority/dependency? Given how many girls seem physically older than they are, I would think this is vital information to be aware of.)
  • It addresses masturbation from the perspective of exploration (and addressed as an acceptable type of exploration). However, for many, masturbation is the outlet for pleasure (and other emotions) especially when stimulated by visual cues (i.e. pornography). As far as I noticed, pornography isn’t addressed at all.

With all this, some reminders I’ve thought about:

  • While the onset of puberty is starting earlier in many children, not all kids start it early. Let’s not assume that all kids are ready for specific parts of the discussion. (Differentiated learning will become vital in this area, I would suspect, more than any other subject.)
  • Sexual health can be a very vulnerable and sensitive discussion (even the naming of the parts). There is a reason why we use the term “private parts” for genitalia; most people are sensitive and very self-conscious about that area because bringing it out in the open (both literally or figuratively) is, in many ways, allowing others to see a deeper part of you.
  • These issues do need to be discussed. However, it needs to be discussed amongst people (including specific peers) the child is comfortable with. To have the discussion amongst people you don’t fully trust heightens that self-consciousness (and leads to feelings of embarrassment).
  • Once something has been exposed, it can never be “unexposed”. Given the sensitivity of the subject, some parents are cautious of what exactly is being discussed, including the types of topics like anal sex and oral sex. Those subjects do need to be discussed at some point. However (back to the issue of trust), who is doing that and when is key.

Why are so many people upset about this?

  • Because sexuality is a sensitive subject to begin with for many kids, some parents are protective with whom their child has that discussion. The deeper issue is trust. Many parents do not trust the explicit or implicit agenda set by this curriculum, its authors (e.g. the perceived connection with Ben Levin) and/or the teachers who are delivering it. This subject is uniquely different than most others because this does address the fundamental issue of our individual identities. Many parents are very guarded who brokers that issue and what are they teaching, especially from positions of authority.
  • In the curriculum, it states that “Parents are the primary educators” of their kids. However, I’m not sure just how much consultation was really done in the preparation of this curriculum. I’d speculate that they didn’t really have a representative set of parents to address topics that are this sensitive. The fact that they have essentially shut down any further discussion on this with the actual release of the curriculum also suggests, in action, that the Ministry of Education actually doesn’t believe the parents are the primary educators because they don’t really value the broad spectrum of opinion and insights from their stakeholders (i.e. parents).

So might we respond?

  • Parents: Start talking with your kids if you haven’t already. Proactively evaluate where your kids are at, and how best to address these issues. The fact is, assuming this does get implemented in September, you’ll need to address it anyway. Even if you take your kids out of class those specific classes, they’ll likely be discussing it with their friends. Get ahead of the curve and appropriately address it with your kids before there’s first-exposure by someone else. As parents, we need to help our kids think critically about what they are being exposed to, so they can at least decipher what is being presented, and how they can handle it.
  • The church needs to be ready to respond. Early adolescence and how the church needs to respond has been an issue for a few years now. While we may not model after the curriculum itself, these are issues that we need to equip parents and be ready to address ourselves (both in children and youth ministries). The fundamental issue the church can address is identity. Out of that stems many of the issues in this curriculum (such as bullying, violence, orientation and behaviour). Sexuality is tied into our identity, but it does not solely define our identity. We need to continue to help our children think critically. The church also needs to be a safe place where those discussions can happen. The difference between school and church is attendance to church is solely voluntary (whereas attendance at school is mandatory). We need to ensure the church is a place where honest discussions and doubts can be expressed without ridicule or dogmatism. It’s not to say the church can’t have an opinion or a conviction; we need to allow space for people to wrestle with where their faith is going.

Likely many other subjects before, this one is not apocalypse coming. I’m sure there will be a lot of dialogue to still take place. However, rather than having a fight/flight response, as a Christ-follower, may be we the salt and light, ready to engage respectfully in this continuing discussion.