Friday, February 27, 2015

Is Homophobia Behind The Anti-SexEd Movement In Ontario?

Short answer.

Of course. It's part of it. For some.

One cannot, with a straight face, say that acknowledging the existence of  sexual diversity is premature in the third grade, by which time children have been inundated with media that depict families led almost exclusively by a mother and father, and periodically by a single parent formerly in a heterosexual relationship. 

I'm talking about sexual diversity here -- not sex acts -- the simple notion that loving and stable families are built upon different kinds of legally recognized relationships.

But some will try. We begin with Sue-Ann Levy, who writes for The Toronto Sun newspaper: 
No, because homophobes are typically heterosexual, with the exception closeted gays presenting as straight. Ms Levy is neither of these by her own account.It's also a pretty darned curious comment considering by grade three, children have seen classmates dropped off or picked up by two mums, two dads -- you get the picture. They've also seen this:

Vast series of books like Mercer Mayer's Little Critters or Stan and Jan Berenstain's The Berenstain Bears are readily found in great quantities in bookstores, homes and in school and public libraries. They are good-hearted stories about mum and dad and the kids. I was a teacher-librarian in three different schools where I stocked these books. I don't see them as particularly doctrinaire, unless one goes out of their way not to display other titles -- far fewer in number -- that show other family structures.

An excellent example is the picture book My Chacha is Gay, by a friend of mine named Eiynah who is an artist and blogger. I've lost count of the many languages her book has been translated into and the many countries where it's been shared children and families. I've long since lost count of the horrible physical threats heaped upon the author on social media. There's no sex whatsoever. The raciest image in the book is Chacha (Urdu for paternal uncle) holding the hand of his boyfriend Faheem.

My Chacha is Gay from Eiynah NM on Vimeo.

I shared this book with my grade three class last year, one of perhaps a hundred or more books I read to them, including titles by Robert Munsch and Phoebe Gillman, as well as books about Harriet Tubman and Dr King and Terry Fox. Lots of interesting books about all kinds of things.

A blogger broke the scandalous story of my reading My Chacha is Gay with this frothy little post (left), the product of an investigation that led him all the way to my Twitter feed. The same photographs I Tweeted here appeared in my class blog, available to all parents and widely read.

It was a scandal that would be blogged out a few times, along with a piece I wrote about LGBTQ-themed literature for children, in which I reference a small number of books. If you put all those titles together, they would fill a small plastic bin amongst a school library collection of thousands.

I witnessed a rather visceral assault on another elementary teacher after she Tweeted out a photo of an LGBT-themed book she shared with her class. A blogger posted about the perceived indoctrination. A search of her Twitter feed revealed that was only one of hundreds of activities in her room that year. She had undertaken amazing lessons in math, language, health, social studies and science. But let it be known that you read one book about a boy who likes dresses or a girl with two mums, and some will say you are part of a vast conspiracy.

So much for transparency.

But back to Sue Ann Levy's Tweet. The row was sparked by comments made in the Provincial legislature by Monte McNaughton, who, in his quest to become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, has positioned himself as point man in the battle against Ontario's new Health and Physical Education curriculum.

From The Globe and Mail newspaper story (emphasis mine):

Tory MPP Monte McNaughton tried to grill Ms. Wynne on the curriculum. But the Premier, the first openly gay head of government in the English-speaking world, swiftly turned the tables. She pointed to one of Mr. McNaughton’s comments from the previous day, in which he said, “it’s not the Premier of Ontario’s job, especially Kathleen Wynne, to tell parents what’s age-appropriate for their children.”
“What is it that especially disqualifies me for the job that I’m doing? Is it that I’m a woman? Is it that I’m a mother? Is it that I have a master’s of education? Is it that I was a school council chair? Is it that I was the minister of education?” Ms. Wynne thundered. “What is it exactly that the member opposite thinks disqualifies me from doing the job that I’m doing? What is that?”
Mr McNaughton later walked back his comments, saying he was alluding to very serious allegations against the Wynne government regarding interfering in a by-election in Sudbury, a potential breach of Province's Elections Act which police are now investigating.

It was a specious bit of damage control. Mr Mcnaughton's former boss Tim Hudak lost the 2014 Provincial election spectacularly with a promise eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs to pave the way for 1,000,000 private ones. Mr Hudak had run afoul of both caucus and the party executive in making this campaign promise, costing him his leadership. Independent analysis of the plan suggested his calculations were off by a factor of eight. Had he won, what a sight it would have been to see a Liberal education critic rise in the legislature to question Premier Hudak's authority to preside over an updated math curriculum.

But I digress.

The Premier remains adamant that homophobia plays a role in the opposition to the curriculum. Supporters of the grade three is too young argument never suggest a grade at which it is appropriate for a classroom discussion acknowledging -- and helping children to contextualize -- what they already see around them. Her comments:

As I posted previously, organizers of the Queen's Park protest maintained an event page on Facebook Protest to Stop or Revise SEX ED curriculum Start Sep 2015, as well as a closed group page. Both pages have multiple administrators, and organizers posted frequent reminders to limit placard messaging to parental rights and issues of age appropriateness, avoiding references to homosexuality and religion.

So instead of making the homophobic comments that were de regueur in the 2010 anti-curriculum backlash, protestors resorted to messaging like the above. 

Now, does that mean that all criticism of curriculum by the Queen's Park protestors or others is homophonically inspired? Of course not. Where I continue to feel some empathy with skeptical parents is in the apparent lack of public consultation, or at least communication about the development of the document. However, where people see this curriculum as an expression of the gay agenda or a conscious effort to groom children, no amount of transparency will ever be enough.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Michael Coren Calls Out Anti-SexEd Protestors

In recent years I've watched journalist and author Michael Coren truly evolve before my eyes. A devout Catholic and social conservative, he has, in the last months, recanted his beliefs on same sex relationships and the LGBTQ communities. More recently, he's called for cessation of hostilities over the 2010 Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum, which sat on a shelf for five years, and was recently... finally... released. 

I've blogged a little about Mr Coren's broadcasts on the former Sun News Network. From early discussions with Dr Teresa Pierre of Parents as First Educators in 2010; to the genesis of the Ben Levin grooming document conspiracy, which surfaced on the network in 2013; and into speculation about the most recent iteration of the document -- it seemed to me that Mr Coren himself had become impatient, and perhaps a tad embarrassed, about the intellectual descent of the conversation.

Today he broke ranks with fellow Sun News alums Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant, who continue to spin the conspiracies and lament the death of parental rights. His column in the National Post newspaper -- Why critics of Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum are wrong -- is a full-frontal assault on the slender-reed arguments generated by the anti-SexEd crowd. He writes:

It’s almost 250 pages long and you have to read through forests of advice about not smoking, not doing drugs, eating vegetables and keeping fit before getting to the good bits. What is does do, however, is acknowledge that some children feel as if their physical bodies do not represent their psychological and sexual feelings and acknowledges that, whether parents approve or not, anal and oral sex take place. It’s more discussion and explanation than recommendation and indoctrination. In fact most of the curriculum is more banality than Bolshevism and while some of it is surprising to adult eyes, it’s not especially radical or misplaced.
Unlike Mr Coren (you'll need to read his introduction to the piece), I had fairly thorough conversations about sex with my parents when I was in junior grades -- I'm fifty-four -- so I was actually ahead of the curve when the school got around to giving the lesson about where babies come from. By middle school, having transferred from a public board to an all-boys Catholic academy, I knew of the existence of oral and anal sex but little more. And if I understand Michael's thesis correctly, we as parents have to let go of the notion that our children live in some little bubble. It is highly unlikely my now-grown son knew much less than I did about sex coming up through school. What more contemporary sex-ed has provided is an opportunity for children to question and discuss safely in a controlled environment.

The article can be viewed here

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ontario's Sexual Health Curriculum: What (some of) the critics are really on about.

Elvira Kurt's widely circulated Facebook rant about Jian Ghomeshi's early attempts to spin allegations of assault into rough-and-kinky-but-consensual-sex is perhaps best-framed in the following quotation from her post: 
…submitting a sex tape as proof of consent… that’s some next level delusion right there.
She was alluding to a meeting that took place at CBC headquarters in which Ghomeshi showed his bosses video on his smart phone in an attempt to prove that nothing was amiss in popular broadcaster's bedroom. That was last November, and horrified CBC execs severed their relationship with now-former host of CBC radio's Q program. Several women and one man have come forward with allegations against Ghomeshi. A number of them have made complaints to police. And the one-time front-man of Moxie Fruvous is now on bail pending trial.

Fast-foward to January of 2015, when the battle over Ontario's sex education curriculum begins anew. In the midst of what would seem a logical step forward to include the concept of consent in the curriculum, the perennial critics of the plan are experiencing some next level delusions of their own.

As I wrote in a previous blog, shortly after the former and disgraced Deputy Minister of Education for Ontario Ben Levin was arrested on multiple charges stemming from an international investigation into child pornography, the notion sprang up that Health Curriculum document his office shepherded might be, in reality, a tool to groom children to acquiesce to sex with adults.

Now, before I proceed, let's just stop and let that sink in for a minute.

A curriculum document that grooms children for sex. A two-hundred page document which will likely never be read by any child -- certainly not in the elementary grades.

The thought of an education ministry, in consultation with dozens of individuals and groups, proceeding with an agenda to coerce minors -- right under the noses of their parents and professionals tasked with caring for them -- is odious. Horrifying.

And logic-defying.

In looking for current research on grooming, I found an interesting article on which explains the practice, as follows:


A pedophile is often someone that the child knows, and because of this is able to create a relationship through what is referred to as ‘grooming’. The purpose of grooming is to cement a relationship that will ensure compliance and this process is used by the majority of pedophiles. There are five stages to the grooming process:
Stage 1: Identifying a possible victim
Although pedophiles differ in their “type” regarding age, appearance, and gender, all pedophiles will look for a victim who seems in some way vulnerable.
Stage 2: Collecting Information
The next step is for the pedophile to collect as much information on the targeted victim as possible. This is most commonly done through casual conversations with both the child and the parents or care-taker.
Stage 3: Filling a Need
Once the individual has the information he needs he then becomes a part of the child’s life by “filling a need”. If the victim is poor, for example, the pedophile will provide him/her with expensive toys. If the victim is lonely, the pedophile will act as a friend.
Stage 4: Lowering Inhibitions
The pedophile will then start to lower the child’s inhibitions concerning sexual matters. He may come up with games or activities that involve getting undressed, make sexual comments, or show the child pornographic images or pictures.
Stage 5: Initiating the Abuse
At this final stage the pedophile begins to sexually abuse the child. Source:
As a parent (of a now-grown son), this is information I was quite familiar with, and I hope all parents would be familiar with. In recent years -- indeed in my son's lifetime -- we've seen predators adapt to the online world, as shown in this article on the same site. What becomes apparent reading this material is that people who groom minors carefully select their victims for vulnerabilities, and then ingratiate themselves into the child's life. 

A chilling exploration of this can be found in Malcom Gladwell's piece for The New Yorker magazine, In Plain View: How child molesters get away with it. Among others, Gladwell explores the case of Jerry Sandusky, a once highly-regarded assistant football coach who used his foundation supporting vulnerable youth to find his victims, racking up an appalling fifty-two counts of sexual abuse of boys over the age of fifteen.

How a curriculum document becomes a tool to recruit minors is beyond me. I'm not alone. Here's Michael Coren of Sun News, in an interview with Jack Fonseca, representing Campaign Life Coalition

Mr Fonseca shares his views on OISE, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Though it is one of many institutions within the Province offering Bachelor's or Master's degrees of Education which include an Ontario Teaching Certificate,  the Campaign Life Coalition spokesman sounds the alarm on the University of Toronto affiliated school:
More and more, OISE, the institute that teaches teachers, has become more radical -- especially sexually radical in its programs and how it trains new teachers who are gonna teach in the future. So I think there's more activist teachers out there that subscribe to this kind of stuff. 
This curriculum in particular in 20010 parents were outraged ... ("Some were," Coren interrupts) ... a lot were, enough that Dalton McGuinty was force to shelve the program. 
Mr Fonseca continues,"And they're reading about wet dreams and masturbation, and anal and oral sex being discussed with elementary school children."

Michael Coren interjects briefly to ask if a child is having a wet dream and feels he's the only one, isn't it helpful for a teacher to reassure him? Then Fonseca goes to that next level I was talking about earlier:
The problem is there's reason to believe that there's a sexual agenda behind this stuff, that the people who've written this stuff aren't merely interested in teaching about reproductive biology. And, for instance, Benjamin Levin was the Deputy Minister of Education under which this curriculum was written and he is an accused pedophile. This man has been charged with seven counts of making and distributing child pornography. Now here we have a curriculum that was written under him that talks about, at grade one, with five and six year olds, that talks about penis, vagina, vulva -- all these explicit body parts. It talks about anal and oral sex with twelve-year-olds, encourages masturbation -- actually encourages it. 
After several attempts, Mr Coren interrupts: "It is a bit of a leap -- we can play this game if you like. But it's a bit of a leap to say this man who is accused of the most heinous crimes -- and I agree with you [on the seriousness of the crimes] -- but to say because of that, [the curriculum] is tainted by his views." Coren goes on to his express concerns about the curriculum which are less dramatic and conspiratorial than Mr Fonseca's. 

Source: The National Post
No discussion of next level delusion would be complete without a nod to Charles McVety of Canada Christian College and The Institute for Canadian Values. Quoted in an Ottawa Citizen article by David Reevely last January, McVety had this to say about the issue of consent: “I don’t think it is legal to advise a child before the age of sixteen on how to give sexual consent.”

Mr McVety is part-right -- he certainly wasn't thinking when he made that statement. "I don't think," could be Mr McVety's catchphrase. David Reevely was more blunt in assessing the argument:
If they teach you in gym to climb a rope using both hands and your knees, they’re also teaching you how to fall and hurt yourself by switching to your elbows and one ear when you’re 15 feet up. In some sort of abstract philosophical sense, instruction in a particular area is, indirectly, instruction in its opposite.
In a practical sense, though, how far gone does a person have to be to think The premier wants to teach six-year-olds how to say yes to sex?
Source: The Ottawa Citizen.

How far gone? Although Mr Reevely's question was rhetorical and impossible to quantify, I'll give it a shot.  

It is understandable, to me anyway, that parents who are concerned about this curriculum would launch a protest. Using social media as a platform, several Ontarians have scheduled a protest at Queen's Park for February 24th, 2015 -- just over a week away as I write this post. Their Facebook event page Protest to Stop or Revise SEX ED curriculum Start Sep 2015 shows 1,600 people attending the event as of February 16th. 

Their closed Facebook group is called, STOP SEX ED CLASSES TO 8 YEAR OLDS IN ONTARIO SCHOOLS 981 members as of today. Its description reads:
Premier Of Ontario LIB MPP KATHLEEN WYNNE plans to force teachers to start teaching 8 year old children about sex .
Yet a child who sexually abuses another child at age 8,9 10 or11 cannot be charged until they are 12 under our current Young Offenders Act !!! .
So she's going to force it to be taught about it but when other children start to molest children ,,nothing can or will be done to stop it!!!!!
Feel free to join this support group for parents by parents with no agenda execpt for one ,,, TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM THIS NEW REVISED PROPOSED SED ED CLASS being introduced Sept 2015 .
We have organized a day of protest to let KATHLEEN WYNNE that we as parents will not tolerate this ,This is a parents job to educate their child -Not the Government
Please contact your MP,MPP to share your concerns as well .
RALLY DATE IS FEB 24th 2015 at 11 am to 2 pm Queens Park
Thank you
I've bolded a couple of items from the text. The supporting argument of this group's Facebook page -- certainly not the belief of all parents who are concerned about the curriculum -- is that children in the Primary and Junior grades will molest each other as a direct result, and they will do so with impunity.  Thus their opposition to the curriculum in is the interests of 'protecting children.' 

But there's a next level to this next level. Citing sections of the Criminal Code of Canada, at least one organizer of Protest to Stop or Revise SEX ED curriculum Start Sep 2015 have been doing some citizen lawyering. In a post, that person writes:
DEAR MEMBERS ****** THE LAW CLEARLY POINTS OUT TEACHER CANNOT BY LAW TEACH THIS PROPOSED CURRICULUM -PLEASE READ THIS DOCUMENT The Criminal Code protects all Canadians, including children, against sexual abuse and exploitation.
Citing a federal Justice Department web page, Age of Consent to Sexual Activity, 
Frequently Asked Questions, the author continues:
The proposed curriculum talks about teaching masterbation -here is th elaw prohibiting that and it mentions teachers in it ! "Sexual Exploitation (section 153) - no one in a position of trust or authority over a 16 or 17 year old (for example, a teacher, religious leader, baby-sitter or doctor) or upon whom the young person is dependent, can touch any part of the body of the young person for a sexual purpose or invite that young person to touch himself/herself or them for a sexual purpose. The penalty for this offence is a mandatory minimum period of imprisonment of up to a maximum of 10 years;"
(Note: I've added quotation marks for clarity.) 
In other words, according to this view of the Criminal Code, teaching someone that masturbation exists; that it is normally done for pleasure; and, that it is physically safe is tantamount to sexually touching that person -- a child no less. 

A number of posters on that thread made a point of suggesting the author is over-reaching and that they support protest but not all of the underlying arguments advanced on the Facebook page. However, this concerned parent is not the only one to suggest this.

Enter former Toronto Diistrict School Baord Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos, a name well-known to Torontonians, particularly those who follow Toronto and Ontario education happenings on Twitter. 

A brief digression is necessary.

Mr Sotiropoulos had been a trustee for the TDSB's Ward 20 Scarborough-Agincourt until the October 2014 election, when he was defeated by challenger Manna Wong. He made quite a name for himself in around the springtime of 2014 when he launched a motion to have the Chair of the Board write a letter to Toronto City Council and The Mayor asking if Toronto Police Services would be enforcing Canada's public nudity laws at WorldPride 2015 in Toronto, an event the school board had for some years participated in. The imbroglio had begun on Twitter when the trustee repeatedly questioned a city councillor about nudity at Pride, using the phrase "buck-naked men," likely a reference to comments made by then City Councillor Doug Ford defending his brother Mayor Rob Ford's statement that he would snub the Pride parade for yet another year.

Likewise, the former trustee and self-proclaimed whistle blower has jumped into the fray with several Tweets on the curriculum, some of which are screen-capped below:

What this "deal" is nobody knows. Mr Levin has yet to formally enter his plea; although at a previous hearing, his lawyer said the former Deputy Minister would plead guilty to some of the charges, after which he is to be sentenced. All of this is scheduled to unfold in the coming months. So far that makes one 'deviant or pervert' formerly 'in power' that Mr Sotiropoulos had nothing to do with defending children from. That was thanks to law enforcement working collaboratively in at least three jurisdictions internationally that we know of.

This volley of Tweets, I suppose, is to advise parents to keep an eye on the Premier, the Minister of Education, and, evidently, the entire teaching profession in the Province.

There's some next-level stuff, right there. Martin Regg Cohn has some choice words for this kind of thinking:
Beyond the hyperbole and hypocrisy, brace yourself for a bigger smear campaign. Opponents of the reforms, including members of the PC caucus in the legislature, and various religious groups online, keep raising the name of Ben Levin, a former deputy minister of education who was arrested last year and charged with seven counts of child exploitation. These critics cite Levin’s shocking public downfall as proof that the entire sex-ed curriculum — he served under Wynne at the education ministry before retiring — is damaged goods.
Despite Wynne’s assertion that Levin was only tangentially involved as deputy — the issue was handled primarily by her then-parliamentary assistant, Liz Sandals, who is now spearheading the update as education minister — the anti-sex-ed brigade persists with the theory that Levin’s influence lives on.
For all the fulminations from critics about child sex predators, the reality is that most educators and law enforcement authorities strongly support a modern sex-ed curriculum that teaches students about their body parts and proper terminology, believing it would help empower and inoculate children against improper behaviour, or at least help with police investigations.
Mr Cohn is kind to call it a theory. In as much as Mr Levin's name was hardly spoken when the 2010 curriculum was released five years ago, I'd put this more in the realm of whole cloth.

In concluding this post, I really don't want to denigrate the sensibilities of parents who have questions and concerns about this curriculum. I've said repeatedly in past post that the consultation/communication on the curriculum has been abysmal. The Ministry survey of one parent per Ontario school was a head-scratcher, I acknowledge. After all of this drama and mayhem, Education Minister Liz Sandals has announced a forthcoming pamphlet which will focus on the sexual health components of the new curriculum. The Premier and Minister cannot be held responsible for the ranting of Charles McVety et al, but they have might have done more to populate the discussion with legitimate facts and arguments.

Back to Ottawa Citizen piece I quoted earlier, David Reevely gets at the core of what makes sexual health inherently different from other curricula and why the discussion needs to be lifted above conspiracy and fear-mongering:
There’s a legitimate debate we can have about how schools can teach facts without usurping parents’ right to teach both morality and their idea of prudence. Sex isn’t photosynthesis — just a thing that happens, the facts of which can be taught with strict neutrality. Reasonable people of goodwill can disagree about who should do what with whom and how these matters should be talked about. Schools and the politicians who oversee them need to respect a range of parents’ views on these things, which isn’t easy.
McVety’s take is not a contribution to that debate, except in that it demonstrates that the noisiest of the objections to the new curriculum aren’t to be taken seriously.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

And, Cue the Moral Outrage -- Part 3 of 3

Back in April 2010, most Ontarians probably didn't know the name Benjamin Levin, who had been the Provincial Deputy Minister of Education during the development of the 2010 Health curriculum. Before that, Dr Levin served as Deputy Minister of Advanced Education and also of Education, Training and Youth from 1999 through 2002 in Manitoba. The OISE -- University of Toronto professor would go on to work on Kathleen Wynne's transition team when she became Premier.

That changed in July of 2013, when Levin was arrested by Toronto Police Services, following investigations in London, Ontario and New Zealand. All tolled, Mr Levin was finally charged with seven counts of child exploitation, including charges of possessing and accessing child pornography.

Before I proceed, let's be clear. There is indeed a place for moral outrage in this story, and that has to do with Ben Levin's conduct. The charges against Mr Levin are serious and disturbing to anyone with a grain of decency. Notwithstanding those small groups of individuals who advocate for adults having sex with children, in no corner of humanity -- whether it be the LGBTQI community, educators, parents, people of faith -- is his alleged conduct is acceptable. This entry is about how his conduct has been construed in service of another agenda.

The Levin story was a bombshell for the beleaguered Liberal government of Ontario. Following the resignation of Premier Dalton McGuinty, Kathleen Wynne was voted leader of the Liberal Party and took office. She had plenty on her plate: the government was reeling from internal scandals including ORNGE, EHealth, gas plant cancellations. The new Premier was also tasked with restoring peace to the education sector following fractious labour disputes

Then there were these and other photographs, published by media outlets following the arrest. They were taken Sunday, June 30th, 2013, at Toronto's annual Pride Parade

L-R. Benjamin Levin, Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, former Ontario Premier and federal Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae.
Prior to Mr Levin's arrest, this was the way some photographs were framed, showing Mr Trudeau, Ms Wynne and Mr Rae. The non-descript and largely unknown Levin was not shown.
L-R. Trudeau, Wynne, Rae.
After allegations became known, it was understandable that media would publish a recent picture of Mr Levin with the Premier.
L-R. Benjamin Levin, Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
This third picture, however, of an alleged child pornographer sitting alongside the federal Liberals' best hope for the Prime Minister's office and Canada's openly gay Premier started a feeding frenzy. As an added bonus, the trio was photographed at Pride, and Trudeau -- whose father famously got government 'out of the bedrooms of the nation' -- was holding a rainbow flag.

Sun News was quick out of the gate with various journalists from their newspaper and television operations sounding the alarm. With little more to go on that charges released to the press, Sun's personalities would use the allegations against Levin to hint that something might be terribly untoward about the health curriculum. In one report, Faith Goldy cuts away to then PCPO Leader Tim Hudak who still had his sights on toppling the fragile Wynne government. Mr Hudak wanted to know if the Premier was "cooperating" with investigators, implying somehow that was not. 

Faith Goldy unearthed the following 2009 quotation from Mr Levin, as if it were a bombshell that the Minister and Deputy-Minister of Education regarded the updating of an eleven-year-old curriculum document for Province-wide use in schools as a priority.

Of course it was a priority.

After Ms Goldy had said her piece, there was a cutaway to a Sun Poll asking viewers to chime in on whether the Premier Kathleen Wynne should "break her silence" on allegations that had just become public amidst an active police investigation. Such a lack of information has never prevented Sun reporters, viewers or readers from polling and opining.

Contrastingly, outlets that didn't partake of the frenzy of fear-mongering and speculation were soft on Wynne, so it was alleged the liberal media was deliberately ignoring the story. Which doesn't explain the absence of the Globe and Mail or National Post newspapers.

The perverse sideshow continued, with bloggers and conservative religionist groups -- not just implying -- actually saying that the Health curriculum might be a device to groom children for sex.

Any suggestion that the curriculum is a tool to teach children to consent to sex is some out-of-the park conspiracy theorizing. Hundreds of people, not just Mr Levin, had their fingerprints on that document, and once released, it will pass through thousands of hands: directors of education, superintendents, instructional leaders teachers, and parents. That's a helluva conspiracy, with remarkably few able to see through it.

Campaign Life Coalition unleashed a series of dire warnings about the subliminally harmful nature of the curriculum. The Interim, which bills itself as Canada's Life and Family Newspaper, has published multiple articles on Wynne, Levin and the curriculum, including this one, warning of a campaign to 'normalize homosexuality': 
“This is about normalizing homosexuality by indoctrinating the next generation,” said Jack Fonseca, project manager of Campaign Life Coalition, to LifeSiteNews. “In other words, propaganda to further a new sexual revolution.” Fonseca added: “Kids are already over-sexualized in school. We need to reduce the already extreme sexualization of the classroom, not increase it.”
As I've said before, the Provincial government is reaping what it sewed when it failed to promote and publicize the 2010 curriculum way back in, well, 2010. More recently Education Minister Liz Sandals has promised a parent-friendly brochure will be sent home, explaining the nuts and bolds of the sexual health units. Presumably, this was the purpose of an online questionnaire that was available to one parent in each Ontario school, seeking feedback on health curricula. This too was the source of some controversy.

While I agree with the general sentiment of many activists and that consultation has been lacking, I suspect we disagree on the meaning. 

Now we turn to a more recent story of two Ontario teens who launched an online campaign to have the topic of consent introduced into the new curriculum, and the how the grooming conspiracy is reignited. Grade eight students Tessa Hill and Lia Valente began their petition in January of 2015, recently passing 40,000 signatures in less than a month.

Multiple outlets picked up on the story and before long, the teens were speaking to Premier Wynne, who had just announced the topic of consent would be included in the 2015 curriculum. The ugly accusations continue.

LifeSiteNews, with US and Canadian editions online, is the HuffPo of repressive fundamentalism. Same sex attraction, gender variance, and abortion have all been folded into what they and other groups term, "the culture of death." Their headline about the young students meeting with Premier Wynne: Lesbian premier orders Ontario’s sex-ed update to teach kids about giving sexual ‘consent’ from ‘the very earliest stages.’ Above the headline -- you guessed it -- there's that photo of Ben Levin, Justin Trudeau, Kathleen Wynn and Bob Rae again. The free-spending liberal monsters are coming for your kids. Think I'm making this up? From the article:
Gwen Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, told LifeSiteNews that teaching children about giving consent “presupposes that sexual activity even at the ‘earliest ages’ is alright, providing that you consent.”
Landolt called the sex-ed 'consent' add-on “very worrisome” since it could eventually lead to adults having “access to children, providing the children give their consent.”
“You have the question about the exploitation of adults and young children. You also have the question about homosexuals, namely will this allow them to have access to children, providing the children give their consent?” she said. Note: Emphasis mine.
So now we get to the heart of the matter -- at the core of the concern of some parents and activists decrying the 2010 and 2015 curriculum documents is the vile conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia. From REAL Women of Canada, Ms Landolt, quoted above, has more to say in an article on the group's website:
This program was devised previously by Ms. Wynne when she was the Minister of Education together with her Deputy Minister of Education, Benjamin Levin.  The latter has subsequently been charged with the offences of making and distributing child pornography and sex exploitation.  Ms. Wynne, known publicly as a lesbian, together with the above-mentioned former Deputy Minister of Education, have developed this sex-ed program for vulnerable children as perceived through their own personal distorted lenses. Note: Emphasis mine.
Similar sentiments can be found on various blogs. At left is a graphic from an article appearing in the blog BlazingCatFur entitled, Kathleen Wynne Kiddie Diddler Adviser “Bad Touch” Ben Levin To Plead Guilty To Child Porn Charges.

NAMBLA refers to the North American Man/Boy Love Association.

This time, the blatant conflation of pedophilia with same-sex attraction is compounded by the imagery of Communist China. I guess the Liberal Party of Ontario is analogous to Red China.

Or something.

This line of reasoning is not limited to extreme right-wing activists and their blogs. Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington, covered Premier Wynne's presser with Tessa Hill and Lia Valente. "What the heck were they doing there?" Warmington asks. "Imagine if Prime Minister Stephen Harper pulled something like that?" 

The same Stephen Harper who said that hundreds of missing or murdered aboriginal women were not 'on our radar'? No, Joe, I just can't imagine him next to women or girls advocating for progressive change.

Mr Warmington quotes Charles McVety:
“Teaching six-year-old children to consent to sex is abhorrent,” he said. “The Institute for Canadian Values has fought Premier Wynne’s radical sex education initiative for years. On behalf of the 105,000 members and parents across Ontario who defeated this in 2010, the president speaks out against the latest announcement to start teaching Grade 1 children how to give sexual consent.”
And OPCP leadership hopeful Monte McNaughton had this to say:
“I believe this thing is signed, sealed and just isn’t delivered yet and a lot of people feel there is a hidden agenda” and “the parents should be the first educators.”
If the phrase, "first educators," sounds familiar, it's the name of the organization, Parents As First Educators, which introduced a petition against the sex ed curriculum. McNaughton has positioned himself as the faith candidate for Tory leader in Ontario, having held forth on the curriculum on the religious television program 100 Huntley Street.

Finally, Mr Warmington quotes a political science professor on the optics of introducing controversial legislation early in government's mandate, suggesting it will likely be off the electoral radar when the polls open. Nowhere in the article on a key change in the sex education curriculum does he attempt to quote and expert on sex or education.

There are more, cringe-worthy examples out there, but you get the picture. There's a really good argument to be made for better consultation and communication about curriculum. As  much as I like some of Wynne's education policy, I really don't like the idea of important decisions about Ontario's schooling swinging back and forth -- left and right -- in the winds of power and approval. There are decisions that need to be made by educational leaders, teachers, parents, and even students.

Alas, that's not the conversation taking place at the moment.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

And, Cue the Moral Outrage -- Part 2 of 3

When Kathleen Wynne was first sworn in as Premier of Ontario on January 23, 2013, she had already indicated plans to re-introduce the 2010 Health Curriculum, which her predecessor, former Premier Dalton McGuinty, had withdrawn. Following her party's return to majority status in June of 2014, the only question was when. That answer in the late fall of 2014, with Premier Wynne and Education Minister Liz Sandals promising to have the updated sexual health components online for September 2015.

How did the original curriculum get killed, and how did it take five years to make a return? Here's the backstory.

As I previously blogged here, in April 2010, the Ontario government -- led by then-Premier Dalton McGuinty -- launched an ill-fated revision to the 1998 Health and Physical Education document. I say, "ill-fated," because the Premier would withdraw the curriculum within two days, later replacing it with an interim document -- minus content deemed too controversial by a handful of well-organized religionists.

Writing for the National Post newspaper, Kathryn Blaze Carlson would later highlight the key changes to the curriculum. The following four items -- quoted from Ms Carlson's article -- proved to be the most controversial. You'll need to refer back to these because critics of the plan have been notorious for misrepresenting them.

Grade 1: Identify body parts, including genitalia (penis, testicles, vagina, vulva).
Grade 3: Identify the characteristics of healthy relationships (i.e.: accepting differences, being inclusive), describe how visible differences and invisible differences make each person unique (i.e.: gender identity, sexual orientation)."
Grade 6: Discuss the development of a person’s sense of self (i.e.: stereotypes, cultural and gender identity), discuss homophobia and gender stereotyping. The curriculum suggests a teacher say: “Having erections, wet dreams and vaginal lubrication are normal things that happen as a result of physical changes with puberty. Exploring your body by touching or masturbating is something that many people will do and find pleasurable. It is common and not harmful and is one way of learning about your body.”
Grade 8: Identify and explain factors that can affect an individual’s decision about sexual activity (i.e.: curiosity, acceptance of gender identity and sexual orientation, religious beliefs), demonstrate an understanding of gender identity (i.e.: male, female, two-spirited, transgendered, transsexual, intersex).
Source: Kathryn Blaze Carlson, The National Post.
Another element of the curriculum consistently ignored by the critics and overlooked in press reports is this one: 
Grade 7: Explain the importance of agreeing with a partner to delay sexual activity, (i.e.: choosing to abstain from having vaginal or anal intercourse, choosing to abstain from having oral sex), identify common STDs.
Yes, the 2010 curriculum explores the role of abstinence.

Cue The Outrage

"Shocking Sexual Perversion" 

Here's Sun News host Michael Coren, introducing a segment with parent-activist Dr Teresa Pierre, who would later found Parents as First Educators: "It's about kids who still believe in Santa being taught about anal sex, oral sex, masturbation..." Not exactly, but it was a good lead-in.

Together, Mr Coren and and Dr Pierre parse, by grade, items of the curriculum. "Anatomically correct names for their genitalia," warns Pierre, are to be taught in the first grade. Coren observes that he might use the word willy with a child that young, while Dr Pierre prefers private parts. "Do you want your kids coming home and having that conversation?," Dr Pierre asks Mr Coren rhetorically. 

Note that the 1998 curriculum document lists among its specific expectations that, "By end of Grade 1, students will identify major parts of the body by their proper names."  

Words like "graphic" and "explicit" have been given free reign in the war of words over the sexual health curriculum. I suppose, compared to willy or privates, penis and testicles are more explicit -- in much the same way that the word automobile is more explicit than magic chariot. If six years of age is too young to know the word penis, what exactly is the ideal age, and how do I -- I'm a parent too -- magically know this? The whole point of the Ontario Curriculum, introduced in the late nineties by then-Premier Mike Harris -- is that children across the province are learning the same thing at the same time. That was an actual selling point in a Common Sense Revolution PSA on television.

Premier Harris effectively seized control of education policy and funding, taking away the autonomy of all school boards, including Catholic boards. His supporters -- whose numbers seem to include just about everyone opposed to the sexual health curriculum -- overlooked the possibility that another Premier with different political leanings could move policy and curriculum in directions they might not like.

Long story short -- the proverbial chickens have come home, and they are roosting.

"Parental Rights"

Back to Dr Teresa Pierre, founder of Parents as First Educators (PAFE)which "holds Ontario Catholic Trustees accountable to taxpayers through grassroots activism," according to the mission statement on the group's website.
"We inform and mobilize over 15,000 supporters throughout Ontario.

Dr Pierre, an independent scholar and parent activist, has been a vocal critic of policies of the government regarding education. In addition to speaking, blogging on her website, and appearing in media, she's spearheaded a number of petitions whose results fell somewhat short of the 15,000 mark cited above:

  • A 2013 petition to encourage the Toronto Catholic District School Board to vote to ban GSAs in defiance of Bill 13, The Accepting Schools Act -- 1680 signatures. The motion to defy the Province was defeated.
  • Another 2013 petition to oppose HPV vaccinations in Halton Catholic District School Board -- 1673 signatures. The board voted to go ahead with admitting health officials to schools to provide the vaccinations with parental consent.
  • A 2014 petition to have trustees in Catholic DSBs across the Province lobby against the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association for officially marching in WorldPride 2014 did draw from media and support from some boards, but drew 5402 signatures. Although the heat was turned up on OECTA, with its President summoned to meet with the Cardinal and Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins, the exercise was doomed to failure. Note: Site data viewed on February 3, 2014.
Teresa Pierre's activism has gone to the next level, however, with her latest petition to Stop Graphic Revisions to Graphic Revisions to Ontario's Sex Education Curriculum. Launched in November, the petition has drawn 33,319 signatures. The covering letter to the Premier and Education Minister says the updates to the curriculum are, "graphic and age-inappropriate and don’t align with the principles of many religious and cultural groups."

Many perhaps, but not all. The success of Dr Pierre's latest petition hangs on two pegs: 

1. The unifying power of homophobia. 

I've not seen so much Christian ecumenism in Ontario in my lifetime since the imbroglio began over the passage of the Accepting Schools Act, Toby's Act, Bill C-279, the federal trans rights bill. This love fest has reached beyond the shores of Christendom to fold in Muslim and Jewish activists. Everyone, of course, claims to speak in behalf of the entire membership, and those who don't go along are not truly people of faith. While Dr Pierre herself typically avoids the usual conspiratorial, anti-LGBT rhetoric -- homoheresy, gaystapo, gay agenda, etc. -- many supporters, bloggers and petitions signers express these notions. 

2. Dr Pierre is right about one thing, and I can't pretend otherwise.

If the Province ever had any serious ideas about consulting parents at large on the content of the curriculum, we've seen little to no evidence of it. I'll go a step further and say the process has been mismanaged to the point that it gives oxygen to homophobic conspiracy theorists. More about this later.

"Six Genders"

Enter Charles McVety. Evangelist, President of Canada Christian College, founder of the Institute for Canadian Values, McVety is an influential figure in Canada's conservative fundamentalist movement -- with ties to both Conservative Party of Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader Tim Hudak.

Mr McVety has been omnipresent in his criticism of the sex ed component of the health curriculum, facts be damned. In an article published January 30th, 2013, in The Toronto Sun newspaper, Joe Warmington recalls a 2011 interview McVety gave to the paper's Christina Blizzard: 

McVety said that the previously proposed 2010 curriculum was “disgraceful” suggesting students in “Grade 3 are taught there are six genders, in Grade 4 the pleasures of masturbation, in Grade 5 oral sex and in Grade 6 anal sex.”
Absolutely everything McVety said in that brief statement is factually wrong when compared to the 2010 curriculum document or my handy crib notes above. Apparently, neither Ms Blizzard or Mr Warmington felt compelled to question him on this. 

Mr McVety's Institute for Canadian Values is the subject of a documentary by Heather Kirby, entitled Please! Don't Insult Us! based on a bizarre campaign alleging conspiracy to sew gender confusion in the Ontario schools. Ms Kirby's film can be viewed on Vimeo.

"A serious rethink"

In 2012 I wrote the following reflection on the failed 2010 curriculum:

In April of 2010, the Ontario government released a update to the 1998 Health and Physical Education curriculum. Included in the document was revised information on healthy sexuality. For instance, in grade three, students were to be taught about "invisible differences" as an age-appropriate way introduce gender identity and sexual orientation.

This sparked some controversy of among religionists, not just for the content of the curriculum, but for the manner in which it was released. There was no press release or announcement. The Ministry of Education simply uploaded file to its website. By the afternoon of that day, talk radio and the blogosphere were abuzz with callers who had not read curriculum but had an opinion anyway.

This created a perfect storm for Dr Charles McVety of Canada Christian College. His response: “This is part of a militant homosexual agenda to normalize homosexuality in everyone’s mind and thereby promote homosexuality,” he told the National Post last April. “If we teach our children these things … guess what? That’s what they’ll practise.”

Within two days, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that the province would withhold the document, which was later re-released -- minus the LGBT-positive content -- saying it needed a "re-think." Bereft of moral highground for not having gotten in front of the Ministry's policy, the Premier -- to be blunt -- caved like a cheap suitcase in the rain.
McGuinty called for a rethink of the curriculum. That had to be a shock to the many professionals who toiled over it. Kathryn Blaze Carlson writes:
That document was based on a two-year consultation with 700 students, 70 organizations and more than 2,000 individuals. The government has since launched a watered-down interim curriculum, and has said it will seek “further consultation” before launching a final revised version.
It looks like the document was pretty well-thunk to begin with. As quoted in the Globe and Mail newspaper at the time, the former Premier sounds almost incredulous:  
"For most parents, it came out of nowhere," Mr. McGuinty said. "They are obviously not comfortable with the proposal we put forward."
You may insert your choice of sarcastic rejoinder here. My preference is, "Ya think?" followed by a facepalm

In the world of political stagecraft, I'm more inclined to believe that the former Premier knew he was going to hit resistance, and I've suspected for some time that the withdrawal of the document was one of a number of strategies on the table before the brouhaha began. The Provincial Liberals' fortunes had been waining. A subsequent election would leave the McGuinty Liberals in a minority government heading into contentious contract negotiations.

Up next. I'll have a look at how Premier Wynne and Minister Sandals are managing the purported "sex ed scandal" version 2.0; some rather visceral attacks on a couple of grade eight students; and the spectre of former Deputy Minister of Education Ben Levin.