Grandmother disappointed with governments retreat on sex-ed

Open letter to:

Douglas Ford, Premier of Ontario/Lisa Thompson, Ontario Minister of Education

As a mother and grandmother, I must express my great disappointment and utter frustration regarding your decision to turn back the clock on the Health and Physical Education curriculum for Ontario schools. Contrary to some public beliefs, the studies and research regarding this matter were comprehensive and extensive, spanning nearly a decade, with much consultation involving teachers, parents and medical experts. I urge our Premier, Douglas Ford, and our Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson, to re-examine and reconsider the sound analysis that gave birth to the newer curriculum because it addresses the many challenges that young people face today.

Campaign promises notwithstanding, this is not a matter for partisan politics. This concerns our children’s health, safety and well-being. So very much has changed in 20 years, and the 1998 curriculum is not only silent but glaringly blind to many of the issues children face each and every day in 2018. Burying our heads in the proverbial sand will not make the problems – such as bullying, cyberbullying, sexual exploitation and sexual violence – or the risks – such as STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), online sexting or information sharing on social media – disappear. It will only give them free reign while we hide.

Many parents are uncomfortable speaking about sexual issues. If they do not want their children to even hear the word masturbation, or to know what LGBT means, will they themselves inform their children in a positive way? Will they teach them that differences are to be appreciated, that we all have human rights, all deserve respect? Or will they choose to postpone the talk rather than broach the subject?

The goal of the new curriculum is to provide informative supports and to promote responsible choices.

Children need to feel good about their bodies regardless of physical appearance or limitations, or of cognitive ability. Self-worth and self-confidence are crucial to development and lead to sound judgment.

Children should be able to properly identify all of their body parts, one as comfortably as another: a penis, a lung, a hand, a vagina. Accurate terminology allows easy, more open communication, which is important if a child has questions, and particularly if a child is caught in an abusive situation. Gone are the days when sexual body parts were unmentionable, which inferred a certain amount of shame or dirtiness, and which left many struggling in silence.

Children need to appreciate the differences in people, be it in cultural values and beliefs, family environment and social mores, or sexual identity/orientation (LGBT). When respect and acceptance – not mere tolerance – are fostered in young minds, they come to understand that diversity is the norm, thus removing all stigmas. This can greatly reduce or even eliminate the bullying that so traumatizes young minds and bodies.

Children should know in a positive way that there are different types of families, including some with single or same-sex parents.

Boys and girls need to learn about consent, that no means no. Unequivocally.

Children will use cellphones. They will surf the net. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle. They need to learn of the risks in sharing personal information or explicit photos and images across social media. They need to be aware of sexual exploitation, sexual violence and cyberbullying. As a crucial defense, they will learn online safety precautions they can adopt, including the use of passwords.

They will learn about masturbation, contraception, sexual expression and STDs, which will equip them to make more informed decisions and to feel confident enough to say no when the situation warrants it. Better that they get accurate information with supporting guidelines as opposed to a questionable schoolyard, TV or internet eye opener.

Unfortunately, misinformation is what drives fear of change. The newer curriculum is not a how-to instructional sex-ed lesson, as some wild rumours claim, but rather, it is a “to be forewarned is to be forearmed” education.

Knowledge is power. It is to be embraced, not feared. I ask Premier Ford and Education Minister Lisa Thompson to revisit this issue and to reverse this decision. Do it for Jenna Bowers-Bryanton. Do it for Amanda Todd. Do it for Rehtaeh Parsons. Do it for all the future pain it can prevent in both children and parents. Do it because it is the right thing to do.

Marcy Bézaire