Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sex Ed: A Seat at the Table

My old neighbourhood growing up, Thorncliffe Park, in the former East York, has become ground-zero in the controversy over Ontario's 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum. The first day of a one-week strike saw 90% of some 1300 children in North America's largest K-5 school absent at the behest of their parents. Instead of being in the school, many were out front holding signs decrying "irresponsible" sex education and chanting "We Say No!" -- all of this in an effort to preserve their childhood innocence. Some children then accompanied the adults to Premier Kathleen Wynne's constituency office a few kilometres away for more of the same; while others were paraded in front of Queen's Park.

But it is the behaviour of the adults I would like to discuss today. We'll start with the organizer of the Thorncliffe Park spectacle Khalid Mahmood, head of the Thorncliffe Parents' Association. Mr Mahmood is a past chair of the school council at Thorncliffe. On the day of the strike, he sat down with CBC Radio's Matt Galloway, the host of Metro Morning:

Mr Mahmood believes the curriculum sexualizes children and will prompt them to experiment early -- despite evidence to the contrary. A fourth grade expectation, he insists, encourages children to date. It doesn't. It's a possible student response to an optional teacher prompt. Heres the expectation:

Human Development and Sexual Health
C1.5 describe the physical changes that occur in males and females at puberty (e.g., growth of body hair, breast development, changes in voice and body size, production of body odour, skin changes) and the emotional and social impacts that may result from these changes [PS]
Here's one teacher prompt and a possible response.
Teacher prompt: “What can change socially as you start to develop physically?”
Student: “Relationships with friends can change, because sometimes people start being interested in different things at different times. Some people start ‘liking’ others. They want to be more than ‘just friends’ and become interested in going out. Sometimes people treat you as if you are older than you actually are because of how you look. Sometimes classmates, friends, or family make comments or tease you about the changes.” 
And here's the reality. If children are beginning puberty, as they may well be in the fourth grade, some of them will begin to see some of their peers differently and imagine different kinds of relationships with them. It's a thing that is happening to children in the classroom and will impact upon relationships, regardless of faith or culture, or whether we as adults feel they are ready to discuss it.

So going steady might be on the minds of some children. If it comes up in classroom discussion -- and it likely will at some point -- talking about it and understanding that it is a normal part of growing up is not the same thing as sending the young couple to Tahiti for the weekend.

The other point of this is -- if a child asks as question in the classroom, an adult should make the effort to answer it. Unless, of course, we're bound and determined to return to the sperm-and-the-egg (minus-the-penis-and-vagina) lesson I sat through in the same school nearly forty-five years ago.

There's also a lengthy discussion about masturbation and the curriculum's failure to impart that Mr Mahmood objects to it.

So that's the undercard; let's get to the main event. Matt Galloway's mom raised no fools, and so the host probes for a connection between the animus for the curriculum and the sexual orientation of our Premier Kathleen Wynne:
MG: There are people who say that this is about values when it comes to the Premier, that we have an openly gay Premier, and that this is rooted in homophobia. What is your response to that?
KM: They are having their own life and they have a right to spend their life and we have respect for them. We're not asking about anything bad to them. We also want the same respect to our end as well. I mean, Canada has to proud on the diverse value. It is a beauty that we are living in a diverse society, so we believe that everyone has to be taken care and everyone has to be included. 
MG: So this doesn't have anything to do with the fact that Kathleen Wynne is a lesbian?  
KM: Kathleen Wynn, this is her agenda and now her party is paying the cost of that...
MG: So it does have something to do with the fact that she is a lesbian. 
KM: Yeah, I mean they are forcing these things, they are forcing these things, not only now but the last twenty years. And not only sex education curriculum, but telling about homosex... I mean that are having their life, and they can spend it, but they shouldn't enforce to other students, create so many activities, daily basis in the school that is really alarming situation. 
Inexplicably, Mr Mahmood went back for more the next morning on Global TV's The Morning Show. 

Liza Fromer challenges him repeatedly on his facts and stops him dead in his tracks over his explanation of how body parts will be taught in the first grade. Mr Mahmood again harps on the refrain that he and his neighbours weren't consulted. All due respect to him, neither was I -- and I've been teaching HPE, among other subjects, for thirteen years. If he wasn't consulted, then he has no clue about how it will be taught. 

Ms Fromer, pointing out that her children are the same age as Mr Mahmood's, says that she approves of the curriculum, which he says has "bad things." It gets heated, as she continues to correct his claims. In a desperate attempt to sound authoritative and relevant, Mr Mahmood calls for a referendum, and even an opt-in for the curriculum. He is, frankly, far more combative with Ms Fromer than he was with his male interviewer the day before.

Enough of Mr Mahood, for now.

Another player in the Thorncliffe Park protests is Sam Sotiropoulos, who spoke on the first day of the strike, demanding that Kathleen Wynne "come back to the table" to discuss the demands of parents he professes to represent. Today, he appeared by telephone on CBC Radio's Ontario Today with Rita Celi. If you're bound and determined to hear Mr Sotiropoulos opine, his interview is in the first segment. During the exchange, Ms Celi begins to share a personal story in which she was being chased as a seven-year-old by older boys using vulgar language. She was trying to make the point that nearly forty-five years ago, these boys already knew about sex and power.

The former trustee interjects, "Are you saying they were about to have sexual intercourse with you, maybe anal intercourse, oral intercourse?" And he talked about sexual "proclivities" of homosexuals. 

As the kids might say, @trusteesam gonna @trusteesam.

In the most eloquent of rebuttals, Ms Celi chose her Call of the Day very well:

And here's the Call of the Day: Some people are bad parents

And I have a little something to say about the behaviour of Mr Mahmood and Mr Sotiropoulos. 

Between the two of them... Pulling children out of school. Telling them not to trust their teachers. Spinning conspiratorial tales about the machinations of a lesbian premier. Jokes about sexual harassment. Insulting LGBTQI children and families.

And they want a seat at the table?

Here ya go, fellas.

The grownups are talking.


  1. No conspiracy. The Gov consulted with only ONE specifically chosen family from each school. It has been evidenced that the curriculum is essentially the same curriculum tabled in 2010 under convicted sexual predator Levin. Evidence shows he was directly involved with creating this curriculum. Yes the Gov has lied to distance itself from him however this does not change the fact he was involved. Simply disagreeing with LGBT is not in itself an insult, no more insulting than the LGBT community racist comments towards the Muslim and other cultures of the community.

  2. I grant you this much: The 2015 questionnaire -- given to school council chairs, not "specifically chosen families" -- was nonsense. The questions were vague and general. It was Wynne's effort to keep a promise made by McGuinty for a "rethink" of the document back in 2010.

    A “rethink” wasn’t needed.

    The development of the 2010 curriculum -- essentially the same document, as you state -- included included consultations with 2000 people, parents and faith leaders among them.

    The internal emails obtained by Ezra Levant through FOI show that Ben Levin was responsible for everything that went on in Curriculum and later in the Ministry, working under the orders of the Minister and Premier. This is only revelatory to anyone who has never heard of a Deputy Minister before.

    When the 2010 curriculum came out, and later when The Accepting Schools Act (2012) was passed, a conspiracy theorists pointed to out MPPs Wynne, Glen Murray and George Smitherman as promoting the "gay agenda."

    Levin -- whose personal acts are despicable -- is a handy prop. The lead writers of the curriculum were academics and researchers specializing in Health and Physical Education. (Levin is a policy wonk — his fingerprints are all over the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy.) Under the lead writers are teams of people working various elements of the document, like teacher prompts and possible student responses.

    I’m having trouble picturing Ben Levin walking in and saying, “I need the room;” whereupon everyone walks out and a curriculum document is magically morphed into a tool to groom children to acquiesce to the sexual advances of adults. That pig won’t fly. Vulnerable children are groomed by people who have access to them, and we’ve seen the accounts daily in the press: Parents, teachers, clergy, coaches taking advantage of children in their direct care.

    As for “disagreeing with LGBT,” that phrase can mean a lot of things, so I have no idea what you specifically are trying to say in this. I tend to disagree with a lot of what is said by some in the name if Islam or Christianity, which doesn’t mean I believe children shouldn’t learn about these beliefs.

    What I’ve seen very plainly in the protests and heard from the major players (Lifesite News, Campaign Life Coalition, REAL Women of Canada, Charles McVety):

    Children, upon hearing that some people are LGB, will experiment in same sex activities.
    Publications like LifeSite News constantly refer to Kathleen Wynne being a lesbian, and then go on to talk about Levin the pedophile. This movement is unashamed about conflating the two.
    Children are being taught to consent to sex — a blatant lie.
    Children are taught how to perform oral and anal intercourse — also a lie.
    Grade three children are too young to know about families led by same-sex couples, which is news to every primary child I’ve taught who had two moms or dads.
    Children will display and touch each other’s genitalia in Kindergarten.

    I’m sure somebody in the LGBT community has made racist remarks; although, I needn’t point out to you that Islam is a religion and not a race. But I am quite content to say that along with ignorance and fear, yes indeed, there are homophobic and transphobic views driving the protest.

    And these views cannot be excused by invoking religion or culture.