Earlier this year, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister of Education Liz Sandals unveiled the new health and human development (Sex Education) curriculum for our public (including Catholic) elementary and secondary schools. A version of this curriculum was first announced about four years ago but was shelved by then Premier McGuinty after some political push back by some religious and parents groups.
This new curriculum which introduces and explores topics ranging from proper names of body parts for younger learners to online safety, anti-bullying, diverse families, gender identity, and consent in sexual relationships for older students replaces the outdated materials in use since 1998.
The world has changed dramatically in the past seventeen years. We have seen an explosion of technological advancement and a democratising of access to information – good and bad. Our children and young adults have skills and abilities in the use of technology that we only dreamed about (those of us interested in those sorts of things). Our Human Rights regime is finally catching up to the realities of people's lives and identities, with individual and group rights being codified in a way we haven't seen since the mid-fifties and sixties in North America with the struggle for civil rights for racialized communities (primarily African descent) and women.
Over the past few weeks we have witnessed a well-organized campaign of misinformation about the new health, human development and sex education curriculum. There were broad-based calls for school boycotts which occurred sporadically across the province including in some racialized immigrant majority communities where in at least one community over ninety percent of young children were kept out of school. From media and other reports, we are hearing that some parents who support or are neutral on the curriculum are being pressured to side with those who disagree and to keep their children out of schools. Most troubling, we have heard frontline sector practitioners echo the wrong, non-factual and misleading information that is being disseminated in many immigrant communities.
Discussions about equity, fairness and equal opportunities are germane to the immigrant and refugee-serving sector. Human rights and the values and principles that are grounded within those rights must be held sacred by those of us charged with facilitating the successful settlement, integration and inclusion of newcomers to Canada. This means that not only must we be informed but we must internalize and consistently practice and model behaviours of inclusion. It means that at times we are called on to be the voice that speaks truth to those who don't want to hear it. It means that at times we must stand in uncomfortable spaces and defend these values of human rights that may go against all cultural and religious teachings we hold dear. This is such a time.
Service participants (clients) often take their cues from us as service providers. Particularly for agencies serving specific ethno-cultural, Faith or gender groups, the agency and/or the programs and the people in leadership roles are the cultural and political translators, the brokers and/or bridges between the minority and majority cultures. This is a serious responsibility.
Membership in OCASI and participation as frontline practitioners or leadership in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector is confirmation of an agency's and an individual's commitment to human rights and equity for all who call Ontario and Canada home. We must be and be seen to be facilitating constructive dialogue on contentious issues, all towards the goal of the promotion of human rights and inclusion. We cannot and must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the naysayers and the fear mongers in our clientele, communities and staff teams. We must recognize and confront the underlying discriminatory beliefs about sexual minorities that appears to be at the heart of some of the push back against the curriculum. Silence in the face of discrimination means agreement. We must ‘speak'!
See link for information and Parent Resources from Ontario Ministry of Education, on the updated Health & Physical Education Curriculum (scroll to the end of the link page):