While Ontario’s education minister Lisa Thompson may have been well intentioned in her plans to scrap Ontario’s sexual education curriculum to allow for more parental consultation, there is no good way to spin going back to a 20-year-old document. The province shouldn’t be doing that.
Cultures evolve over time and there’s little denying that with the boom in technology, young people can be exposed to mature themes and situations much more quickly than they did in the past. In dealing with any situation, more knowledge can be a powerful tool to help address situations that arise and keep young people safe — a primary role of education.
Ultimately, students should be able to turn to parents to learn about issues of sexuality and feel comfortable doing so. In most cases, those parents will also have a good idea of what content their child is mentally able to absorb at what age, but it doesn’t hurt at all to have an expected standard that youth should know at a certain age. That’s the reason schools have criteria and it’s a fail safe that ensures young people get the same knowledge their peers receive and limits vulnerability.
The tricky part of setting curriculum, particularly in a world with a wide range of beliefs and viewpoints, is striking an appropriate balance that identifies the concepts that youth need to learn and finds an age-appropriate time to do them. It is important that youth learn messages about sexual diversity and acceptance, positive body image, and consent. While those concepts will help students have a healthy appreciation for the world around them, educators and parents have a duty of care when discussing topics like gender fluidity, however, to ensure students are mature enough to fully understand the subject material and process what they’re hearing.
Clearly, a more current set of curricula is important, because it reflects the values of the day better. It would be preferable for the government to keep it. If the minister has concern for how particular sections are taught, she should be directing ministry staff to examine those issues and bring back recommendations on future direction.
That said, aside from it being a costly endeavour, there’s nothing wrong with the government planning to do a thorough consultation on where its curriculum should be. That should be an ongoing process with every subject Ontario youth are taught, measuring the preparation they receive in the system versus expectations in the world. If there’s a more effective way to teach math, for instance, it should be adopted. The same is true for sexual education.
The bottom line — and our expectation from the government as this moves forward — is that consultation be shielded from change motivated solely by ideology. By reaching out to as many parents as possible, consulting with credible experts with differing viewpoints in the world of science and social science, and by taking all into account, the government should be able to find solid ground to form a basis for the curriculum. The consultation argument will be removed and governments of all stripes can simply work on updating that document as times change and as needs evolve.
Of course, while curricula are static documents, one hopes that whatever is in place isn’t seen as an absolute. Children live in th real world and they’re going to have questions based on observations and experiences. Parents and teachers need to ready for that and they must build a rapport of trust to be able to communicate with one another and share in their duties to the child. Every child is unique and no one plan is perfect. Children benefit when their educators collaborate to serve them best.