The sky is (not) falling – part 2 – Myths and Facts about the 2015 Ontario Sex Education Curriculum

Yesterday I spent the day going over the newly released 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum (Elementary) with a fine-toothed comb to generate a comprehensive précis made up of every single quote that had anything to do with the “sex ed” parts.

Unfortunately, misconceptions and misinformation about this curriculum are continuing to make their way around the internet, mostly because people seem bound and determined to willfully ignore the actual facts before forming an opinion.

So today I’m going to address the most common myths about the new curriculum.

2015 Ontario Elementary schools sexual education curriculum myths and facts

The sky is [not] falling! The 2015 Ontario Sex Education Curriculum Myths and Facts

Myth #1

Explicit sexual content, including oral and anal sex, consent, and rape will be taught to children as young as 6.

Key words/phrases:

“graphic content” “young ages” “desensitizing” “innocent minds” “putting thoughts into young minds” “too young to learn about sex” “age-inappropriate content” “explicit content” “children will be taught to consent to sex” “protect our children’s innocence”

Truth:

In grade 1, children will be taught to identify body parts, including genitalia, using their correct terms (eg. Penis, testicles, vagina, vulva) and to recognize exploitative behaviours such as inappropriate touching. In grade 2, the concept of “consent” will be introduced very broadly as the right to say “no” in threatening situations. This has been misrepresented by many critics as “teaching children the concept of consent” which is then in turn further misrepresented as “teaching children to consent to sex.”

The concept of human and animal reproduction – presented broadly as the union of the egg and sperm – has actually been pushed back a grade, moving from grade 3 to grade 4, and the first discussion of sexual intercourse occurs in grade 5, the same as in the previous curriculum.

Masturbation is defined in grade 6 and characterized as normal and not harmful, but students are not “taught masturbation.” A 1950’s-era Sex Ed video that I found in my research describes masturbation more graphically than the 2015 curriculum. Oral-genital contact and anal intercourse are discussed in grade 7. They are listed as potential sexual activities that one should consider abstaining from or delaying – not described graphically, “taught,” or offered up as alternatives to delaying vaginal intercourse. They are described as part of a comprehensive sex education curriculum, which is the only type of sex education curriculum that is proven to reduce teen pregnancy and STI infection rates and raise the age of onset of first sexual activity. (Here, here, here, here, and here.)

Myth #2

Children will be taught graphic information about homosexuality and gender fluidity and forced to view them as normal, accepted practice.

Key words/phrases:

“gay premier of Ontario” “homosexuality” “homosexual activities” “sick” “homosexual agenda” “Kathleen Wynne, a practicing lesbian” “family values” “personal beliefs” “neo-liberal beliefs” “lifestyle choices” “impressionable children” “gay sex acts” “gender fluidity” “gender expression” “gender is determined by your sex organs” “gender identity” “choose to change gender”

Truth:

In the 2015 curriculum, children will be taught to respect people’s differences. Starting in grade 3, they will be introduced to the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation as invisible characteristics; other examples include learning abilities, allergies, and cultural values. The teacher prompt for this topic includes “Give me some examples or things that make each person unique,” to which an example student response is “We all come from different families. Some students live with two parents. Some live with one parent. Some have two mothers or two fathers. Some live with grandparents or with caregivers. We may come from different cultures. We also have different talents and abilities and different things that we find difficult to do.”

Yes, the fact that we must treat everyone with respect regardless of their personal characteristics is emphasized throughout the curriculum. Yes, the concepts of same-sex relationships and gender identity are introduced in grade 3 and treated as normal. That’s because, under the laws of this country in which we live, we must treat everyone with respect regardless of their personal characteristics, and same-sex relationships are normal and gender expression is protected by law (here and here). It really doesn’t get any more cut and dry than that. Entrenching the pretense that LGBTQ people simply don’t exist in our public school system is discriminatory. Saying that it’s not the statistical norm to be in a same-sex relationship and therefore we don’t have to talk about it a curriculum that covers human relationships would be akin to saying, “Well, 80 percent of our school’s population identifies as Canadian, so what’s the point in learning world geography? Consider the risk that students will be influenced by it and want to become Japanese.”

If your personal values do not line up with the laws of Canada, it is your right to impart those beliefs to your children at home, but your children will be required to be versed in and abide by those laws while in the public school system.

Myth #3

This curriculum was designed by a pedophile.

Key words/phrases:

“Ben Levin” “Benjamin Levin” “child pornographer” “should want to distance themselves” “alleged child molester”

Truth

It is very unfortunate that a man charged with multiple counts relating to child pornography had a hand in developing the failed 2010 curriculum. This does not change the fact that the current curriculum is outdated by almost 2 decades and in dire need of updating. It probably would have been the easier choice for the government to leave the curriculum issue alone for a few more years to let people forget about Ben Levin before quietly reintroducing it (or not bothering at all), but they chose to persevere with the new curriculum.

Many other people, including education, child development, and policy experts, as well as 4000 heads of school parent councils across Ontario, were involved in developing the 2015 curriculum, Levin NOT included. The proposed changes are research-supported and intended to make children less vulnerable to exploitation, including over the internet.

Pedophiles, child pornographers, and child molesters, in fact, are the ones who would benefit MOST from the older curriculum remaining in place.

Myth #4

Parents are being forced to accept a curriculum they had no say in.

Key words/phrases:

“force-fed” “police state” “not comfortable” “opt out” “not in agreement” “forced upon us” “right to our beliefs” “freedom of speech” “should have a democratic poll” “majority disagree” “catering to the minority”

Truth:

Parents can choose to remove their children from all or part of the Physical and Health Education curriculum. Children whose parents make this choice are usually kept home or supervised in the library or another part of the school while the class takes place. In fact, the public education system is not mandatory. While the United Nation Convention on the Rights of a Child recognizes a child’s right to an education, the Ontario Education Act states that a child is excused from attendance at school if they are receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere. This means that you are free to withdraw your child from the public school system provided you are committed to educating them at home or within the private school system.

As to the second point, having no say, a) this curriculum is being implemented by the Ontario Ministry of Education, a Ministry of the democratically elected Government of Ontario; and b) the process of creating this curriculum included consultation with 4000 chairs of parent councils (ie. Parents who were democratically elected to chair parent councils in each of 4000 schools across Ontario).

Myth #5

It’s up to parents to teach their children these concepts, not the schools.

Key words/phrases:

“why aren’t they teaching math” “what happened to the 3 Rs” “when did this become the school’s responsibility” “underfunded and understaffed school” “these kids can’t read or write but they know about sex” “this is the parent’s job” “my child should learn about this from me”

Truth

Sexual education has been taught in schools FOREVER. Seriously – here’s a direct quote from this 1950s sex ed film: “You can cause an ejaculation by yourself too, by masturbating – rubbing the penis. Sometimes you hear that masturbation affects your mind or your manhood. It isn’t true. For kids your age, it’s just something normal.” We’re talking Wally and the Beave here. This is nothing new. Depending on how old you are, it might have been putting condoms on bananas, or a filmstrip in a dark classroom. Maybe the boys and girls were split up, maybe they stayed together? But you learned it.

Very little has actually changed from the previous curriculum in terms of what is actually being taught. There have been major, necessary updates in keeping with law and technology – changes to marriage equality, social media and digital safety. The main difference between this and the 1998 curriculum is that the 2015 curriculum includes much more detail. Where the 1998 curriculum provided broad topics and left it to the discretion of the individual teacher to interpret them, the 2015 curriculum actually makes it EASIER for parents to see and understand exactly what their children will be learning in school. By providing the detailed concepts and teaching prompts, the curriculum makes it clear what information teachers are expected to provide and makes the curriculum less susceptible to the teacher’s intentional or unintentional biases.

The curriculum (both 2015 and 1998) also indicates that students should seek guidance from trusted adults in their lives, such as parents, doctors, elders, or religious leaders, when considering sexual choices, supporting the rights of parents to influence their children’s values and beliefs when it comes to making decisions. Just as ever before, the 2015 curriculum provides the basic facts, at developmentally appropriate ages, leaving moral judgments at home.

***

I don’t really know how many more ways I can say it. Educate yourself. Get the facts. Don’t be influenced by hyperbole.

And then support the 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum.

~ karyn

16 thoughts on “The sky is (not) falling – part 2 – Myths and Facts about the 2015 Ontario Sex Education Curriculum

  1. I have appreciated you summing up the curriculum for me in these last few posts. I have a niece just starting JK, but she and my little nephews will be learning this and growing up in this updated world since I was in school and the internet was barely a thing.
    🙂
    I linked to your first post yesterday and I wasn’t even writing a blog about this whole controversy.
    I am quite annoyed by all the frenzy surrounding it. People are so paranoid. I have been trying not to get too riled up about it, but considering writing my own blog post about it. I liked not having to read through everything and that is why I appreciated the time you’ve put into this. We need to debunk myths and get these things out in the open, if we ever want to destroy the silences around abuse and misinformation.

    • Thank you! I really liked your post yesterday too. The more diversity we can build into the school system and curricula, and the earlier, the better. I want our next generation to be made up of kids for whom it’s just second nature to say “spouse” because they don’t assume a gender for someone’s partner, or to caption blog images with descriptions so they get picked up by a screenreader (something I learned along the way!).

  2. Rethinking opposition to new sex-ed. Things we know:

    – Abstinence-only education doesn’t work (nor do dressed-up versions of it — the Intelligent Design treatments)
    – higher education is correlated with lower birth rates
    – working women have fewer children than non-working (chicken or egg?)
    – women with less comprehensive sex-ed are more likely to become pregnant before finishing their desired level of schooling
    – Church enrollment is on the decline
    – social conservatives have lower levels of education on average (and higher birth rates, greater levels of poverty, etc)
    – voting patterns frequently follow family lines (all politics are tribal)

    Could it me that social conservatives actually know exactly what they’re doing? By promoting ineffectual sex-ed are they actually executing a plan to bolster their numbers?

  3. Can you point me to more detailed information as to your statement that “4,000 heads of school parent councils across Ontario, were involved in developing the 2015 curriculum”. When was this done? What did these heads recommend and not recommend be done, and how many actually responded to this survey? I would like to see what these 4000 heads actually said or is it not available and we have to take the Ontario Ministry’s word for it?

    • Hi John,

      Thank you for your question. Here is a link to the memo from the Deputy Minister of Education describing the timeline and implementation of the parent survey. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/memos/oct2014/Oct2014DM.pdf

      Parent Councils are elected bodies comprised of parents and community members which serve in an advisory capacity in each school in Ontario; as they are elected by the members of the school community who choose to vote, they should be considered representative of the views of those people who opt to involve themselves in the process, just as our elected government officials are.

      Here is a link to the survey that was distributed. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/memos/oct2014/SurveyHPE.pdf

      I personally am comfortable “taking the Ontario Ministry’s word for it,” as they are my duly elected representatives, so I see the results of the survey in the updated curriculum. Since members of the general community, including parents, are not child development and education experts, I prefer to rely on those who have those skills, educational background, and experience to shape educational policy for all of Ontario.

      ~ karyn

  4. Interesting that the survey linked to does NOT ask anything about when children should learn about the sex topics in the new curriculum. The questions are very general, a parent could be thinking of them as applied to a teenager and not a grade 3 student. The same parent could have a different answer if asked about teaching a teenager versus a grade 3 student.

    Really, there is zero input from parents as to whether a grade 3 student should be taught about trans-gender or homosexuality, I can fully understand why people are concerned that Ben Levin had a hand in teaching grade 3 students this kind of material. The claim that ‘4000’ heads were involved in this is pretty disingenuous.

    • The fact that parents were consulted in the curriculum development at all is quite unusual. In general, we rely on our educational experts to design curricula. Parents were not consulted, for example, on the recent updates to the Ontario Social Studies/History & Geography curriculum (2013).

      I see no need to restate what I have already written about the importance of recognizing diversity in the context of today’s Canadian culture or the involvement of Ben Levin.

      The heads of the parent councils at 4000 schools (4000 heads of parent councils) were invited to complete a survey, which included both multiple choice questions and open-ended comment sections. I’m not sure what more you want. I think the views of the majority can be summed up by the fact that while fewer than 8,000 people have signed Ezra Levant’s online petition http://www.forcanada.ca/protect_our_kids, more than 74,000 have “liked” my article on Huffington Post.

      Wait, make that 75,000. I hadn’t checked in half an hour.

  5. Thank you for clearing a few things up about the new curriculum. But I wonder, will the education stop a child’s natural curiosity? When the various types of sex are mentioned, but not explained, do you think that these young minds hungry for knowledge won’t go home and use the internet to fill in the gaps? Perhaps this is the point where the parents are require to step in and explain anal sex to their 12 year old? For most parents, this isn’t going to happen. The response to such questions will be: “You’re not old enough to worry about that.” or “Our religion forbids it.” or something similar. The only recourse for these kids is Google. They will use it to find the [often-times horrible] information that the curriculum does not provide.

    Also, children are quite keen on practising what they learn in school and are encouraged to practise. We teach them math, they practise their times tables. We teach them science, they practise making paper planes to show aerodynamics and baking soda/vinegar rockets and volcanoes to practise chemistry. We teach them music, they practise the clarinet. We teach them geography, they practise naming the provinces and large cities. With the new sex ed, by Grade 8, they will have learned risk-free sex. The odds are good that they’ll practice that, too.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment. I have heard from many parents who mention that at a young age children are already hearing about these concepts on the playground and heading to the University of Google for clarity, which as you point out is definitely not the best place for them to learn! Many parents share your concerns; however the research actually shows the opposite. Many studies have shown that abstinence-only and no sex ed is correlated with earlier onset of sexual practices and higher rates of teen pregnancy and STI transmission, while comprehensive sex ed such as the new Ontario curriculum is correlated with delayed onset of sexual activity and lower pregnancy and STI rates.

      In terms of practicing, judging by how difficult it is to convince my 8 year-old to sit down at the piano for 10 minutes a day, I’m not too concerned about that! Joking aside, though, learning the names of the sex acts and how to protect from STIs and pregnancy is a very small part of the curriculum, so if they are going to practice what they have learned in school, I hope it will lean towards the majority of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum, which includes bodily autonomy, good hygiene practices, physical fitness, healthy eating, respect for self and others, recognition of diversity, and many, many other concepts.

      ~ karyn

  6. Some kids are only 10 years old in grade 6, and the curriculum prompts teachers to encourage them to masturbate, and I quote….”tell the children it won’t hurt them (not harmful) and that it is pleasurable.”
    Last time I checked encouraging a small child to masturbate would get you thrown in jail…..oh wait, who wrote this again? Oh that’s right, a convicted pediphile!

    Encouraging small children to act sexually with themselves or others is illegal and wrong. This is elementary school for goodness sakes!

    When parents in desperation for their voices to be heard are pulling their children out of school by the thousands, it needs to be reviewed and updated.

    • Hi Jenny,

      I appreciate your taking the time to comment despite the sarcasm. Respectful discourse is very important.

      I believe I have already addressed the concerns you mention in the post above as well as in my previous post about the curriculum.

      The 106,000 people who have “liked” this article on HuffPost and the 28,000 who have signed the change.org petition supporting the new curriculum clearly disagree with your assessment.

      ~ karyn

  7. 28,000 support it at change.org and almost 80,000 oppose it at “lifesitenews.com/petitions/stop-ontarios-graphic-sex-ed “and another 58,000 at p-first.com

    I wasn’t being sarcastic, I was simply disagreeing with you. Respectful discourse is so very important! Truth is, if a convicted pediphile had a hand in the curriculum – alot of parents feel it should be scratched and a new curriculum shoud be presented that comes from a credible educator (and preferably medical doctors and nurses as well) to discuss if this is age-appropriate and to assure parents that there are no pedophilic undertones.

    I’ve read the curriculum and feel it is not age-appropriate at all. Sorry I don’t agree with you.

    • You are absolutely welcome to disagree.

      But do you honestly believe that this curriculum was not written by and in consultation with “credible educators” and medical professionals? How do you think curricula gets written? It’s not just one guy, pedophile or not, scribbling down whatever he wants. There’s a long and involved process involving many trained professionals who have spent *years* determining that in their expert opinions it is in fact age-appropriate. And the version that Ben Levin was involved in – the 2010 version – has in fact been “reviewed and updated” – just as you suggested. The parts that were kept were the ones these educators and professionals felt, in their educated and professional opinions, still belonged.

      The curriculum – which is a Health and Physical Education Curriculum – includes information about proper handwashing, healthy eating, and physical fitness. Do we scrap that too because of taint of Benjamin Levin?

    • Thank you for the video, Jenny. I invite people to watch it. I honestly do feel for concerned parents like you, and I understand the fear that some of the information is being presented too young. This is a case, though, where the big picture is more important – 12 year-olds already know about anal sex and oral sex – your child too. 12 year-old girls are being pressured by 12 year-old boys into having anal or oral sex because “it’s not real sex”. It is well-documented fact that giving these children the information – yes, blow jobs ARE sex. Yes, you can get STIs from anal sex. Yes, these are just as emotionally-laden as “real” sex” – results in them NOT engaging in these acts. Ignorance and fear are the real enemy here.

      So my response to the concerned parents is: I know it’s scary, but the reality is your kids are already hearing about these things. In trying to protect them, you’re actually putting them in more danger of being coerced into acts they aren’t ready for. That is the reality of the world we live in, much as I wish it wasn’t, and that is why, scary as it is, this curriculum is important.

      Read my latest post to see what 12 year-olds are saying at school and you’ll see why having open conversations about these topics is important.

  8. Yes we all want to protect our children here. That is the only thing that matters. And one thing we all can agree on. And power to them introducing some of these concepts to 12 year olds….but my child won’t turn 12 until grade 8. You see my issue is having a teacher talking to children at the elementary school level about private sexual acts like *masturbation* before their own natural curiosity for sex may have even developed. I feel like that could potentially be harmful or possibly even a form of child abuse.

    A child may hear things on the playground, yes, and from their peers, yes but the majority of times I am sitting in my car reading a book, with one ear on the playground I don’t hear them discussing sexual orientation, masturbation, anal and oral sex – I see them flying kites and swinging on swings and skipping rocks and being kids!! Again, I am talking about elementary school. I am not naive regarding what goes on once children hit adolescence.

    MY issue is *age-inappropriateness* of sexually explicit topics at the elementary school level.

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