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.

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