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indicated plans to re-introduce the 2010 Health Curriculum, which her predecessor, former Premier Dalton McGuinty, had withdrawn.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.

No comments:

Post a Comment