Recently, issues around Ontario's Health and Physical Education curriculum have begun to surface as an electoral platform issue. On one side there is support for the updated curriculum that occurred under the Liberal government and, on the other, anger alongside a pledge to scrap the curriculum.
Many of the issues arising have been addressed in the past. And while I'm not here to tell anyone how to vote, it's important that we understand what can and cannot be changed as far as the public school system and this curriculum is concerned.
If this is your burning issue for the upcoming election, here is what you should know:
Scrapping the curriculum won't prevent kids from learning about 2SLGBTQ+ people and families
The lessons in the Health and Physical Education curriculum can be changed or the curriculum scrapped entirely. However, nothing will prevent children from learning about the multiple family structures and gender identities that exist in our society.
Students will continue to learn about these realities in the rest of their classes as teachers use inclusive, diverse examples in their lessons to make sure that all children are reflected in what they are learning. This knowledge is not limited to any one subject area, nor a specific curriculum. Learning prepares children for the world they are living in, and it is a fact and reality that children will see this in their daily lives.
The goal of a public secular system in a democratic society is not to teach children what to believe.
The goal of a public secular system in a democratic society is not to teach children what to believe. It does teach them that there are many people who come to the world differently, believe and live differently, and they all deserve to be treated respectfully and their human rights honoured. This also includes people who come to the world with religious/spiritual ways of knowing. Regarding beliefs, parents are responsible for teaching beliefs at home.
Parents will always have the right request accommodations for their kids
There are parts of the Health and Physical Education curriculum that teach about sexual health and well-being. Even if these lessons will be removed, it doesn't change the fact that parents already have the ability to opt their children out if they find a lesson objectionable. All they need to do is let principals know that they do not want their children learning about specific elements about biology, sexual activity or behaviour. For example, if a parent does not want their child learning about consent, vaginal or anal intercourse in Grade 7, they can ask for their child not to learn this.
Learning about 2SLGBTQ+ peoples and families is protected
However, parents cannot receive/request accommodations so their children will not learn about same-sex couples/families, trans-identifying children or families with trans-identifying members — just as we cannot prevent children from learning that there are people who come to the world with diverse spiritual/religious ways of knowing.
This is protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Code protects the rights of groups of people against discrimination. So, it will protect the rights of same-sex families and ensure that people can learn about this as a part of Ontario's diversity, just as it does so around creed (faith/spirituality/beliefs).
In classrooms this means guaranteeing that students learn about diversity without exception. We cannot expect accommodations that prevent us from learning that entire groups of people exist.
All rights, including religious rights, will always be respected
Some people opposing the sexual education curriculum are framing it as a religious values issue, claiming that teaching about homosexuality is a violation of their faith and religious rights. This is exactly what homophobia and transphobia looks like. We cannot attend to the rights of religious groups at the expense of the rights of 2SLGBTQ+ communities.
Public schools do not teach children what to believe or how to act. But what they do teach is that diversity is real, it exists, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect — that includes teaching children about the people who comprise our society and world.
This right ends when we argue the erasure of an entire group of people from the education happening in schools and classrooms.
Religious communities have the right to their beliefs. These rights are also protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code, but this right ends when we argue the erasure of an entire group of people from the education happening in schools and classrooms.
Furthermore, there are people who identify both with religious/spiritual ways of knowing and as a part of 2SLGBTQ+ communities. That means within the 2SLGBTQ+ communities, there are people who also identify as Indigenous, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh among numerous religious/spiritual ways of knowing.
No one is just a single identity. A person may be Christian and also transgendered. This is what we mean when we say identities "intersect." When we don't remember this, we can end up doing significant harm to some people in particular to those who live in these "intersections."
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Our secular Canadian society is rife with examples of homophobia and transphobia, which is why learning about all types of diversity is a positive thing for everyone and why we cannot be selective in whose human rights we champion.
Our education system will continue to reflect our fundamental rights to maintain personal beliefs and identities, regardless of what happens to Ontario's Health and Physical Education curriculum. So if this is your burning election issue, you may want to carefully consider who and what you're voting for, and if it really should be an election issue at all.
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