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Ben Babcock

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Haters gonna hate: we need Ontario's new sex ed curriculum

Ontario’s new health and physical education curriculum landed today. As with all curriculum documents, you can read it yourself. This marks the first revised curriculum since 1998/1999.

I remember in 2010 being disappointed when the McGuinty government backtracked hard on its revised curriculum. Both Premier Wynne and Minister of Education Liz Sandals seem pretty committed to keeping this one around, however, and that’s a very good thing. We need this, and the groups who claim we don’t or who feel that elements of the new curriculum are not “age appropriate” need to open their eyes. It’s not 1998 anymore. It’s 2015. Same-sex marriage is legal, transgender people are people too (always have been, but now let’s act like it), and the Internet is here to stay.

And I don’t know if you’ve looked lately, but there is a lot of stuff about sex on the Internet. Like, a lot. And that’s before you start looking for porn on purpose.

Concerned Parents, you are absolutely right: we have a huge problem with sexual education in Ontario. But the reason for that problem is not because of terrible revisions to the curriculum. It’s because the curriculum is so out of date that it’s laughably unusable. So where are kids going to learn about sex? From you? Unlikely, because you apparently aren’t going to teach them about sex until it’s “age appropriate.”

They will probably have already figured it out for themselves by them.

They’ll have figured it out with the help of their friends, their peers, and the Internet. If you’re lucky, they’ll find some of the great and responsible YouTubers, like Laci Green and Hannah Witton, who will set them down the path towards an inclusive and empathetic approach to understanding their own and others’ sexuality. If you’re unlucky, they’ll just find porn. And, Concerned Parents, you and I agree one hundred per cent that porn is not a good source of sexual education.

See? Common ground. We have some.

You cannot put the genie back into the bottle. Unless you forbid your child from owning a cell phone, using a computer with an Internet connection, and visiting friends’ houses, you are going to fight a losing battle, Concerned Parent. The information and the misinformation is out there, so we’ve got two choices: we can teach kids how to judge the information they find online—or we can leave them in ignorance and fail to properly equip them with the tools and skills they need in the modern world.

We live in an information-dense society. This is true of every facet of our lives. It behoves us as educators, parents, adults, citizens, to make sure we help children understand how to navigate these deep pools of information. We have to teach them what questions to ask, the best places to ask those questions, and how to evaluate the answers.

So if your issue with the revised sex. ed. curriculum is that it raises certain issues “too soon,” then you need to check yourself. Because you’re not being realistic. And, look, I can sympathize a little if your personal values mean you don’t think it’s appropriate—but that’s not the society we live in, and it’s our education system’s responsibility to prepare students for this society, and not the weird version that lives in your head. Children are finding out about sex at a younger age, and they have access to unfiltered, unregulated information about it at a younger age. We literally cannot stop that. The best we can do is make sure we are there to help them figure this stuff out.

I get it, Concerned Parent. You have your children’s best interests at heart, and you want to make sure they learn about sex at an “appropriate age.” And they are—the appropriate age is whatever age they happen to be where they need to learn about this stuff in order to deal with it in real life. If kids don’t have this knowledge, it’s dangerous. It leaves them open to abuse. And we need this to be a part of the curriculum, because we need a consistent way for teachers to approach it across the province. Otherwise, you just have teachers trying to fill in the gaps however they possibly can—and that can’t possibly be better than this.

So I feel for you, Concerned Parent, but I think you need to take a step back and consider the realities of our society and then consider what’s best for the children.

Don’t forget that your input is always going to matter. Be cool and show your kids you are willing to talk about what they’re learning in school, and break it down for them and talk about how these concepts fit into your own cultural or religious beliefs. Because if you’re not cool, and you aren’t open about talking to your kids about this when they ask, they aren’t just going to shrug and stop thinking about it. They’ll Google it.

You can Google pretty much anything these days.

And if you figure out how to turn off Safe Search (which I know you might not be able to, Concerned Parent, but your kid defintiely can), then pretty much anything you search for is going to turn up naked photos.

So … yeah. There’s that. We need this curriculum, because Internet. Be cool, Concerned Parent.

Now, if your issue with the revised sex. ed. curriculum is that it talks about gender identity, homosexuality, or the fact that gender and sex aren’t binaries, and you think these things should be erased or extirpated from both curriculum and society because it offends you … well, congratulations. You are a bigot, neither the new curriculum nor I have time for that. The world does not exist to conform to your personal prejudices, and shame on you for making someone feel like less of a human being or implying their very existence is offensive.

Bottom line is: it’s super-important that we learn about our bodies. And it’s super-important we learn about the bodies of people whose sexual and gender identities don’t match our own. I received a pretty good offline sexual education, both in school and from my parents. But I particularly remember in Grade 6 we got split into “boys” and “girls” for sex ed. While I can understand the desire to emphasize and focus on the aspects of anatomy and sexuality that apply to one’s own body, to this day I feel like that was detrimental, and it only further contributed to the Othering of the “opposite sex” that is so pervasive in our society. If we really want a more tolerant, more empathetic society, then we need to understand each other’s bodies and be open about talking about our bodies.

That is what we want, right? Tolerance, empathy, self- and mutual respect? Right?

Are you still reading this? Or are you busy trying to figure out how to turn off Safe Search so you can find porn?

Go ask your kid. I guarantee they know how.