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May 13, 2010

McGuinty wants to teach children about sex

The Canadian Charger

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After a public backlash from parents and faith-based groups, the McGuinty government has decided to reconsider its new curriculum on sex education.

Not surprisingly, strong opinions are being expressed for and against the Ministry of Education's proposals to change the sex education curriculum, part of a curriculum that has been in place for 12 years.

The Ontario government will implement its new physical health and education program this fall, based on healthy living and making good choices. It was slated to include discussions in Grade 3 about relationships and respecting differences, including same-sex couples.

The proposed curriculum was also to have included, in later grades, emotional and physical changes of adolescence; teacher discussion points were to include talking about wet dreams being natural and masturbation being pleasurable.

In grade seven students were to have learned about delaying sexual activity, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how to prevent them, including abstinence. Discussions could also have included topics such oral sex and anal sex.

Premier McGuinty said the 12 year old program needed updating in the Internet age. Lyba Spring, of Toronto Public Health sexual health protection said the curriculum will help students avoid problems related to sex.

“This is primary prevention,” said Ms. Spring. “Learning about STIs they have to learn about transmission.”

Those in Grade 7 probably aren't having oral sex but some surveys indicate that by Grade 9 about one-third of Canadian teens are.

“We are preparing them with information and we are also preparing them with skills,” she added.

Meanwhile, several faith-based organizations, including Christian and Muslim organizations, are vehemently opposed to the proposed new curriculum.

“There's a big reaction in the Muslim community,” said Suad Aimad, president of Somali Parents for Education. “We believe basically that sex education may be taught by the parents to their children. It's not public; it's a private matter and that's why I don't think (sex) should be part of education, especially at such a young age.”

Meanwhile, sex education has been part of the curriculum in Ontario schools for at least a couple of generations.

Jan Bentham, co-coordinator of Religious and Family Life Education of the Ottawa Catholic School Board, said the ministry consulted with the ICE (Institute for Catholic Education), but the ICE didn't agree with teaching visible and invisible differences in grade three, in part because this would raise the issue of homosexuality, which is currently not raised until grade 8. Ms. Bentham says that when homosexuality is taught it's covered from a faith perspective. Catholic teaching considers homosexual acts to be “disordered.”

However, Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said the ministry worked with the Catholic Church and it's her understanding that they support the new curriculum proposals.

Murielle Boudreau, of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network said Catholic parents aren't happy that the government is condoning such an explicit approach to sex education.

“I don't understand how the business of sensual behavior between consenting adults has anything to do with Grade 3 ... Grade six, getting them ready for masturbation and vaginal lubrication ... They're going to traumatize these children – they're going to be doing everything out in the school yard.”

Charles McVety a Canadian evangelical Christian leader, who's been president of Canada Christian College, in Toronto since 1993, and is also the current president of Canada Family Action Coalition, had been threatening to pull the organization's children from schools if the policy wasn't rescinded. He feels that this curriculum will corrupt children.

“It is unconscionable to teach, 8 year-old children same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity. It is even more absurd to subject 6th graders to instruction on the pleasures of masturbation, vaginal lubrication and 12 year-olds to lessons on oral sex and anal intercourse. Mr. McGuinty plans to teach our children sexually explicit material that he did not give to his own. The Premier is not acting in trust. He must stop this form of corruption.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael McCabe, a professor in the Faculty of Education at Nipissing University, said he thinks it's the blatant language in the proposed new curriculum that's caught the attention of, and offended so many people. He points out that the curriculum changes have been posted on the government website since January, and now, in late-April, they've created quite a controversy.

He says after 12 years it's time for a new curriculum to keep up with the times students are living in.

“The curriculum is responding to the ever-changing world, where students have access to more information; and government is responding in a way that allows the curriculum to respond to what kids are experiencing in terms of language.”

He stressed that the government consulted widely with parents, faculty of education professionals, church groups and other stakeholders; and he has gotten periodic emails about vetting the proposals, based on concerns expressed by various interest groups.

He said many parents consider the teaching of sex education to their children to be an important landmark in their parenting lives, and they don't want the schools infringing on this process.

“Parents think sex education is one of the rites of passage of parenthood. 'Don't you do my job. ' “

He added that children are engaging in sex at an earlier age and they're reaching puberty at an earlier age, so the curriculum should respond to these earlier-aged experiences.

“There's no point in teaching puberty in grade 7 if 50 % (of students) have gone through it in grade five.”

He said the curriculum is focused on teaching wise decision-making, moral aspects of behavior and strategies to make wise decisions. In other words, the curriculum is not a “how-to guide” on having sex.

“I hear from educators that 'Kids are doing it anyway, so we should teach them.' “

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