Right now, there is a storm raging about sexual education in Ontario schools.
I have seen picket signs in front of local schools that say "Teach facts, not sex." What does this mean? Isn't sex a fact? We all arrived in the world because of it. And now that we are here, why can't we use our shared education system to encourage our children to lead safe and healthy lives?
Certain adults are keeping their children home to protest the new curriculum that will be introduced this coming fall. What will happen if we divide our students into two groups -- those who receive sex education and those who are being "protected" from it?
The new Ontario health and physical education curriculum, which has been the topic of much anger and debate, has the health and safety of all of our children as one of its primary goals. While I agree that children are in need of protection, I would like someone to explain how refusing to educate children could in any way protect them.
After all, while we sometimes need to protect our children from the world around them, we often need to protect them from one another. If my child does not learn that your child has the right to respect and the right to say either yes or no to any kind of touch, my child may endanger your child's health and safety. The issue of consent is vital to healthy sexual relationships.
Those relationships start with a four-year-old learning that it is ok to tell Grandma that he doesn't want any kisses. Learning about consent needs to begin early and needs to be part of our learning about one another. A recent survey revealed that two thirds of Canadians do not fully understand the nature of consent. Could teaching them how to negotiate healthy sexual relationships at an early age reduce the numbers of sexual assaults that occur? If we fail to educate our children about sexual consent, we will never find out.
The arguments about the Education Ministry's new health education curriculum are bringing out the very worst in many people. These arguments are encouraging the expression of fear and hatred of "the other" like few other issues. We know that if anyone uses the words children and sex in the same sentence, many people want to run for cover. The topic of children's sexuality makes nearly everyone uncomfortable. But, why?
Children have a sexual identity. The very first thing anyone asks when they learn a baby has been born is whether the child is a boy or a girl. The sex of the baby matters. In fact there was a huge uproar when an Ontario family decided not to announce their baby's sex, gave the child a gender-neutral name, and told people that the child could decide which of many genders to adopt once old enough to do so.
There are specific body parts that help us to decide how to identify ourselves. Knowing the correct names for these body parts contributes to our identities and to our safety. If a part of a child's body hurts or is harmed, adults need to help. How will anyone know the site of the pain or problem if the body part is not named or given a non-specific, cute baby name? Children need to know the correct names of all their body parts, and they need to know the biological and social functions their parts may play.
This begs the question, how do we decide our sex or gender? Do our families tell us who we are and we go merrily along accepting the assignment -- unless we don't? Not so simple for many families whose members identify as being along the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning spectrum. These individuals may have a tough road ahead. Do we really need to make it more difficult for them to receive respect by protecting some youngsters from learning that LGBTQ individuals are valuable members of our communities with whom they will have interactions? We only add to everyone's discomfort and confusion when we rely upon silence, rumour, misinformation, or only the most conventional and outdated health and sexuality education. If children are well served by knowledge, they are endangered by ignorance.
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