It’s hard to pin down what, exactly, is the worst part of the Ontario government’s decision to roll the clock back on sex ed in our classrooms.
Is it the fact that the word “transgender” now only appears once—as part of a rather broad definition of homophobia—in the newest version of the provincial health and physical education curriculum for students as old as 14?
Maybe it’s the part where, instead of teaching principles and equity and acceptance, the updated document treats homophobia as just another reason kids may bully each other. The new document fails our students because it fails to teach kids as old as 14 that who they are is accepted. It fails our kids because about half of LGBTQ youth in this country have contemplated suicide. In case the stats don’t strike you, perhaps the story of Jamel Myles will. The nine-year-old Denver boy killed himself this week after coming out to his classmates and suffering relentless bullying.
Because, unlike what the latest version of sex ed in Ontario states, homophobia and transphobia are more than “discriminatory.” They are deadly.
We shouldn’t need stories like Jamel’s to remind us why LGBTQ acceptance should be ingrained in our schools in 2018. That’s why it’s been so heartening to see teachers, their unions, school boards, parents and others pledge they will continue to teach modern sex ed, continue to support gay straight alliances, and continue to uphold the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
So maybe, then, the worst thing Premier Doug Ford’s government and its education minister Lisa Thompson have done is urge parents to tattle on teachers who dare to teach kids about consent or gender identity. (Full disclosure: I worked for the government that brought in the 2015 sex ed and on the Ontario Liberal campaign earlier this year). The new government’s move that undermines teachers’ professionalism and at its core is intended to create a chill in the classroom.
Here it’s worth noting high school students will still be taught the old/new curriculum that includes consent, sexting, and other realities of 2018; however, this is hardly being shouted from the rooftops as the government blasts dog whistles to its base. It’s hard to imagine high school teachers will be exempt from the effects of the new snitch line. Even if they are, sex ed is actually more important in the younger years, before kids are sexually active and when their ignorance is more likely to be exploited by predators.
Will a grade 8 teacher now pause before assigning a young adult novel with an LGBTQ lead character? I’d like to believe most won’t, but the implication is there. And if we’re real, do we really think the parents calling these snitch lines or scrabbling out hate-filled screeds on the government’s purpose-built website will only be offended by the use of the word “penis”? No, this snitch line is a signal to teachers across the province to watch out, watch their words and kowtow to the most hateful impulses of the most ignorant parents of their students. It’s suggesting the lowest common denominator gets to determine more than the easiest way to add fractions.
Could the name of the website be the worst part? For The Parents? A play off the government's "For the People" slogan that clearly signals this isn’t about the kids at all. It’s about the parents and their inability to understand that kids grow up, and they need to learn uncomfortable truths."
What next? Will the For The Parents crowd start reporting teachers who tell their kids the true, dark history of how this country was formed lest it give them a little shot of white guilt?
The answer, the real horror, is all of the above and more. It’s the bald-faced hypocrisy with which the whole process played out.
If you remember, the crux of the PCs argument against the updated, consent-based curriculum was that parents weren’t consulted. A false flag and quite literally a mistruth that even some smart people claim to believe. To be clear, the 2015 curriculum was the most consulted educational document ever in Ontario. Literally thousands of people and parents weighed in. Teachers unions—including the Catholic ones—police, public health experts, and more lauded its benefits.
The rub is that the Tories imposed this new, regressive version without a single public consultation. Then they publicly threatened teachers to limit their speech, or else. This again, from a party that has promised to restore “free speech” on campuses across the province because some of their supporters don’t understand that a right to free expression is not a right to a platform.
The hypocrisy is so rich it’s almost funny, until you remember real kids lives are on the line to pay back a tiny constituency that made Doug Ford the leader of a party. It’s almost funny until you realize Ford actually had the gall, while politicizing teachers, questioning their professionalism, and threatening their livelihoods, to say with a straight face, “We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games.”
Maybe someone should call the snitch line on the new premier. I think he just violated his own red line.
Ashley Csanady is a Toronto-based writer. She's currently the Director of Strategy and Content at Crowns Creative. Ashley has worked as a senior writer to former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and prior to that as a journalist at the National Post, Queen's Park Briefing and the Waterloo Region Record.
Follow Ashley Csanady on Twitter.
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