Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Sin of Omission

A particular Catholic blog that has caught my eye over the last couple of years is Everyday for Life Canada, written by veteran educator Lou Iacobelli. There are two reasons I read it: Unlike many blogs in this arena, which simply link out other materials with a bit pithy commentary, Mr Iacobelli's entries are original essays. These range from personal reflections on faith to thoughtful explanations of the inner workings of the vast complex that is the Roman Catholic Church. The other reason I read it is that Mr Iacobelli was my eleventh-grade English teacher in 1976, just shy of forty years ago, at De La Salle College in Toronto.

Mr Iacobelli was among a handful of teachers who provided me with an arena in which I could thrive. Having little interest in hockey or football in a school that excelled in both; being among the very few non-Catholics in the all-boys collegiate; and showing absolutely no talent for maths or sciences, to which the school's curricular scales were tilted -- I was kind of a ship at sea. Mr Iacobelli was meticulous in his preparation and presentation, and the weekly cycle of classes included a menu of activities ranging from literary exploration to a firm foundation prescriptive skills that speakers and writers need. He was also a very calm, thoughtful person who seemed to enjoy working with youngsters.

Through his blog and other works, Mr Iacobelli has registered his disapproval of a number initiatives of the Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne Liberal governments in Ontario: The Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, Bill 13 -- The Accepting School's Act, and, most recently, the updated Health and Physical Education Curriculum. That he and I should differ on these matters is not terribly surprising. As regards the overall arc of his thinking on education, if I may summarize, I would say that sees the religious autonomy Catholic schooling being encroached upon by secular values with which he takes exception. A conservative Catholic and a left-wing atheist are likely to disagree -- there's not much to say about that. 

Live and let live, as they say.

However, I take exception to two recent entries in Mr Iacobelli's blog: The bottom line in Ontario's "new" sex education: it's to promote homosexuality, published on February 8th, and his March 2nd entry, Parents beware: neither the school boards nor the government intend to respect your rights. Both essays quote at length an equity document produced by the Toronto District School Board called Challenging Homophobia Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism, first published in 2011 and building upon anti-homophobia materials dating back several years in the board. 

For the purposes of this post, I shall focus more Mr Iacobelli's earlier writing, which discusses two pages of the document devoted to frequently asked questions. Since I will be quoting Mr Iacobelli and contents from the document, his comments have been italicized.
One of the questions in the guide says this: "Should schools send notes or permission slips home before starting any classroom work on LGBT issues?" The answer, "NO." Because if a school treats the topic of sexual orientation or anti-homophobia work differently from the range of other curriculum topics, this could be construed as discriminatory practice.
Quite so. But he left out something else the document, which reads:
Sending a school newsletter home at the beginning of each term is a best practice for keeping parents/guardians/caregivers informed of all upcoming equity topics in the classroom without having to single out one topic over the other. 
For me, like many elementary teachers, updates are more frequent once-per-term. When I have a homeroom, I tend to send home a calendar prior to the start of the month, listing major events, and also to help parents and guardians reconcile our numbered days (1 thru 5) with actual calendar dates. I also blog in greater detail about all upcoming units, classroom visits, tests, what-have-you. Consciously concealing content from parents suggests that I am either embarrassed to teach it, or I am fearful to parents being reacting aversely to it -- for me, neither is the case. (I should note that this passage is included in his later post.)

Moving on, Mr Iacobelli addresses the TDSB document's response to religious accommodation.
Here's another question: "Can a parent have their child accommodated out of human rights education based on Religious grounds?" The answer, "NO." Why? To allow parents asking for their child to be exempted from any discussions of the LGBTQQ  issues as religious accommodation would violate the Ontario Human Rights Policy.
Religious faith is not the wild card in the deck -- it doesn't trump other rights. Should the day ever come that a same-sex couple asks me not to seat their child near another who is Catholic or Muslim, I know exactly what I will say: I cannot accommodate your unease with someone who is different, regardless of what reason you give. I have taught children who have told me they've been admonished by parents not to play with a classmate because of race or religion. I simply cannot accommodate or enforce that.
And then teachers are told: "Can schools/teachers choose not to address controversial issues for fear of negative parent response?" The answer again is "NO." And to this question, "Who is responsible for addressing controversial and sensitive issues?" The answer is not parents, but "All teachers and administrators are responsible." 
This is hardly news. Controversial and sensitive issues that arise at school have to be addressed at school. When I was in high school, racial epithets flowed freely in hallways and classrooms with no intervention from staff that I ever saw -- this was common at the time, I'm sure. Even today, school boards are in tricky place. They certainly cannot dictate how discussion of any issue take place at home -- nor should they -- but neither can they assume such discussions happen at all. Here's the sum of what schools can  expect parents to do under The Education Act of Ontario:
Duty of parent, etc.(5)  The parent or guardian of a person who is required to attend school under this section shall cause the person to attend school as required by this section unless the person is at least 16 years old and has withdrawn from parental control. 2006, c. 28, s. 5 (1).
More on accommodations from Mr Iacobelli's blog: 

Lastly, "Should schools send notes or permission slips home before starting classroom work about any of these sensitive topics?" You guessed the response, "NO." Since singling out one topic/group as too controversial and relying on parents’ discretion shifts responsibility from the school to the parent and creates a poisoned environment contrary to the TDSB Human Rights Policy. Now you know why this revealing document was deleted: a school board, backed by the government, is publicly recognizing homosexuality and homosexual concerns. Parents need to pay attention to this information.
This policy applies not just to discussion of LGBTQ topics but to the full spectrum of human rights issues. This is an equity and human rights policy statement in the FAQ which clarifies that LGBTQ issues are to be covered in exactly the same manner as others -- race, religion, and so on. 

And, no, this does not tell us why the document has been deleted. It's still very much in use and is available on the internal website. If Mr Iacobelli were so inclined, he could drop a dime and contact the TDSB, to find out why. It's a public agency which he helps to fund through taxes, just as I help to pay for the TCDSB, so there is not reason for him not to. 

I actually know the stated reason, but I'm not saying because I don't like indulging conspiracy therories.

Here's where the rubber meets the road. In Mr Iacobelli's own words, emphasis mine:
The big lie behind the new sex education curriculum is that its needed to address issues of cyberbullying and sexting. This is the same deceptive approach that was used by former Premier Dalton McGuinty. The political spin was all about protecting children and creating safe schools. The Liberal government gave Ontarians this biased rationale for passing the "Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy" and then Bill 13.  But one of the actual goals of the new and old sex curriculum is to promote and normalize homosexuality and "gender identity." However, the government nor the school boards will ever say so. There is no other reason when one of the largest school boards in the country releases a document and then delinks it unless the intention is to challenge society about 'heterosexism" and "homophobia." The real aim is to change the thinking of Ontarians. Our premier is a lesbian and so one should expect her to promote her sense of identity and lifestyle. And that's what she's doing, but just not saying nor admitting it. Ontarians for too long have been far too polite and understanding. It's time to question her actual motives and desires. 
Accusations of "normalizing homosexuality" in Ontario in this day and age are roughly akin to accusations of normalizing the helio-centric universe or gravity. To recap, homosexuality was dropped from the DSM by American Psychiatric Association in 1973, triggering a cascade effect through health community worldwide. This was four years after Pierre Elliot Trudeau pulled the trigger on anti-Sodomy laws that were being enforced selectively against homosexuals, not the general population. Non-discrimination based upon sexual orientation was added to the Human Rights Code of Ontario in 1986. In 1994, the rights of same sex couples were equalized with those of heterosexual couples living together common-law. Same sex marriage has been with us as a country for over a decade, with no church being compelled to perform or recognize such a union -- a respect for the separation of church and state.

The only thing that has not changed is Mr Iacobelli's right to believe, as the Catechism teaches him, that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered." However, secular institutions will not and cannot accommodate that belief because -- whether he likes it or not -- such discrimination is legally equivalent, for example, to racism. No greater, no less.

Let's talk about Mr Iacobelli's observations of our premier, Kathleen Wynne. Her government has some skeletons in the closet to be sure: ORNGE, eHealth, and the gas plant closures. I'm no apologist for that; nor did I vote for her or Mr McGuinty, despite my support for some the initiatives the two Liberal governments have produced. And yes, she is an out and proud lesbian, and it galls some to no end that despite this apparent deficit, she soundly defeated her main rival Tim Hudak. It shocks me a little though, in 2015, that a queer-identified person is still presumed to be so obsessed with their queerness that they have no other interest or agenda. The Catechism may see her sexuality as "intrinsically disordered" and her relationship with her partner as a "grave depravity;" however, the Balkanization of her identity down to a single trait displays deficits of imagination and humanity. 

But this is, without a doubt, the most gravely obscene charge levelled by Mr Iacobelli:
Thirdly, children can give consent to sexual acts even in elementary school. This is to do away with parental rights so that children can be primed and used and abused for sexual encounters, and it will all be curriculum driven and thus acceptable. 
No they can't. That's not what's being proposed, and that is not what is being taught. To suggest that thousands of educators would accede to such a proposition, or that any parent would support it, is both scandalous and a departure from reason. If there's anything that crosses the line from expressing a strongly held belief to whole-cloth fabrication, it's that statement above. If Mr Iacobelli wants to interpret a document produced by a secular school board for his readers, he's free to do so. If he chooses to accuse me and thousands of colleagues of suborning child abuse, he ought to bring some evidence to bear -- say, something more than the humanoid grunting of Joe WarmingtonEzra Levant, or Charles McVety


  1. Hi Gordon,

    Thank you so much for posting a comment on my blog at Everyday for Life Canada. May I say that your blog is a wonderful learning and teaching tool. You also brought back for me some wonderful memories about teaching young people. At this point, I can learn from you.

    I have read your entry responding to my position on the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy and Bill 13. It seems that we disagree. However, this should not stop us for sharing ideas and continuing to build the common good. When you take some of my statements on their own it can sound or be interpreted to mean that I'm a bigot or homophobic. But I'm not. I just disagree with the way the government has gone about implementing these changes. They haven’t respected the constitutional right that Catholics have to their schools and to teach the Catholic doctrine.

    I want you to know that I do believe in a God and that he is merciful and good. I also believe that I'm called to love my neighbor, and I do not qualify that with who the person is or identifies as. In the public schools sadly they cannot adopt this policy, but surely Catholic schools should have the freedom to do so. This has not been the case. I assure you Gordon that the LGBT need not fear people like me. I hope to answer your entry in greater detail. But for now I merely wanted to acknowledge your comment and thank you for the kind words including the criticism. Best wishes!

    1. Hi Lou,

      Thanks so much for the reply. Would love to chat. My email is