Wednesday, 5 August 2015

From Safe Harbour to Slippery Slope - The "New" Ontario Health Curriculum

Here comes the Boom

Last spring, the Ontario Government released the details of the updated Health and Physical Education Curriculum. However, it was quickly branded the “New Sex Ed” curriculum by both detractors and defenders. Controversy and commentary began immediately, and I was soon hearing and reading everything from legitimate, well-considered critique to absurd criticism and outlandish generalities.  

Within the month I was fielding questions from parents, friends and intrigued strangers at social gatherings. It was a political hot-potato and teachers were often thrust into the spotlight as instant authorities. The big questions (other than the occasional “Is it true that…?” inquiries) seemed to be “Did I agree with it?” and “How was I going to implement it?”

My Temporary Harbour of Ignorance

At that time, I was safe.  I was far too busy with the current school year and the existing health curriculum - so I didn’t have to comment.  My grade 4 students were dealing with the dangers of smoking - creating skits about “saying no” and manufacturing warning labels with Google Draw - safe from the storm of controversy in our little harbour of ignorance.

I did, however, remind any inquisitor that the classroom teacher remained an important human factor standing between the specific expectations of the curriculum and the delivery of that information to the student. He or she is the filter who will make a sincere, prudent and professional effort to meet the expectations of as many people as possible.  It was a good sentence and it afforded me many thoughtful nods of approval.  At the least, it was long enough for me have time to change the topic - “So, how about those Jays?”

How do I square that circle?

It is now mid-summer and I do have the time to examine the documents for myself.  I should preface that I am only looking at the Grade 5 (C1.3 C1.4 & C2.4 pages 156-158) and Grade 6  sections (C2.5 C2.6 &C 3.3, pages 174-177) of the curriculum.  I am setting up my lessons for the upcoming year and I know that the flames of controversy will be fanned again on the next "slow-news" day. I know that, this time, I will need to be prepared.

After reading it for the first time...I remarked that it didn't seem markedly different from the curriculum I remembered when I last taught Grade 5 & 6.  Looking back at the 1998 document - I was correct.  

Regardless, I typed the following in my lesson plan notes to use as my anchor moving forward...

“So, how do I professionally approach this curriculum in a way that respects the importance of these concepts? How do I ensure that students are prepared for the changes they will undergo while also respecting their innocence? Concurrently, how do I respect the multiple values of each family and culture in my school community?”

I keep thinking about an image I saw on the CBC website several months ago.  A group of chilly protesters are gathered in front of Queen’s Park with a flag that read “Math not masturbation, Science not sex!”

I know I echo the sentiment of many educators when I say - We agree - we don't relish the idea of teaching the "prickly-topics". We would far prefer that the family navigate the edges, angles and corners of human growth and sexuality. In fact, we would rather focus on many of the more conventional topics and leave much of the health curriculum to parents - including dental hygiene, healthy eating & internet safety.  It would certainly free up a lot more time for things like coding, writing, and problem solving.  

However, the prickly topics are unavoidable because we should all be in the business of making informed thinkers. We all want to be difference makers and provide our young charges with the important information they need to protect them from as many avoidable pitfalls as possible.  The question seems to remain - Who needs the information and when do they need it? Additionally, if my students are not able to make healthy choices with their bodies, diet, dental hygiene or internet interactions - things like coding, writing and problem solving become a minor concern.

At this time, I need to take a necessary pause and turn my attention to something else - perhaps the recently adapted Social Studies curriculum.  A fall election is looming and I need to be prepared to maximize that learning experience.  Hopefully, someone much smarter than I will provide me with the ideal approach to this slippery slope.  Volunteers?

1 comment:

  1. Since the new Health curriculum was released we have seen inaccurate generalizations, uninformed misconceptions, informed parents who applaud the new items and a display of courage from some parents who don't feel the focus aligns with their family values and beliefs. I appreciate this post that summarizes the feelings of many caring teachers and as you accurately mentioned we "... will make a sincere, prudent, and professional effort to meet the expectations of as many people as possible." Your students are certainly lucky to have you as their teacher.

    Marc, I really appreciate your anchor questions as they are thoughts that all teachers should be using as a guide. So great to see you share your insight and expertise and look forward to further posts!