Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sex Ed Redux

The papers are full of stories about the fight for and against new sex education legislation.  Wynne seems to be holding her ground this time, though, so I'm not sure any of the debating will come to anything.  But it's raised some interesting questions and ideas, and provoked a long talk with my 10-year-old daughter, which I get to below.

The curriculum (and all school curricula) is easy to find on-line.  Curriculum documents are unwieldy though, and it might take a while for the uninitiated to know which bits to look at.  There are many pages that aren't really essential reading for parents, so I've included the important pages for each grade below from the grade 1-8 Health and Physical Education Curriculum, revised 2015:

Grade 1 - Caring and exploitative behaviours and feelings; potential risks; body parts - including the external genitalia (penis, testicles, vulva, vagina); hygienic procedures (92-93)
Grade 2 - Standing up for yourself; medicine use and substance abuse - there's a bit leaning towards healthy living over the use of medication; stages of development (106-110)
Grade 3 - Processed vs unprocessed foods; broadening the range of eating choices; safety guidelines; factors you can and cannot control; real and fictional violence; more on substance abuse, healthy decision-making, and misusing medications; healthy relationships; respecting differences - this is the bit about the variety of families out there now (120-124)
Grade 4 - Healthy eating and nutrients; food safety; safe use of technology; bullying - particularly on-line issues; assessing risk; smoking; changes during puberty (139-144)
Grade 5 - Nutrition; media influence on eating; threats to personal safety; effects of alcohol use and abuse - including alcohol poisoning; the reproductive system including menstruation; interpersonal stresses (155-160)
Grade 6 - Nutrition; positive social interactions; community resources; conflict management; anger management; illicit drugs; decision-making in relationships - including wet dreams and masturbating; risk assessment - including dental emergencies, caring for pets, and hypothermia; stereotypes and assumptions including homophobia, racism, bigotry (171-177)
Grade 7 - Healthy eating; technology dangers including online privacy, bullying, harassment, body image, substance abuse, delaying sexual activity and how to say no (what consent looks like), sexual acts (vaginal, oral, and anal sex are explicitly in there), STIs and pregnancy, sexual health, relationship changes  - I think this is the scare the crap out of them year.  (194-201)
Grade 8 - Healthy eating; addiction; sexual decisions including reasons to wait; reducing risks; impact of violence; mental health; stress management; gender identity; sexual orientation; contraception; consent; intimacy; dating violence (214-220)

I was a really innocent kid.  I didn't think other kids were even kissing in grade 7, but then one of the kids in my class actually got pregnant - for real.  I didn't kiss anyone until well into grade 11.  But I don't think kids today are significantly worse in this respect.  From surveys we do in social science classes, I'd guess that most kids are still pretty innocent in grade 9.  There are a few doing a lot in earlier grades, but I get the sense that's uncommon.  If they're misleading on the surveys, I'd expect them to say they're doing more than they are, and I only get a couple doing anything harder than pot in grade 12.  Despite the norms generated by movies - particularly the kind we watched in the 80s - many kids in grade 12 don't drink OR have sex.  At all.    

The curriculum is, as always, jam-packed, and I'm a little unsure that everything can be covered thoroughly.  But it's clear to me the focus is on personal safety - how to stay alive and in one piece, physically and emotionally, as you grow up.

One concern I have is how the line "...including First Nation, Metis, and Inuit food choices, cultural habits and teachings, relationships..." is unceremoniously plunked down throughout the teaching strands. It feels uncomfortably like tokenism.  I appreciate the idea that we have to be more inclusionary, but this doesn't quite feel like the right way to go about it.  And I question to what extent these teachings really will be incorporated into every section of the health curriculum at every grade when many of the teachers haven't learned any of this material in university or come across it in life. Unless the ministry is willing to provide teachers with more than just "mention that medicine wheel stuff," then teachers might do a cursory job or worse.

Here's what my 10-year-old had to say; she told me I could write about it here.  What she thinks should be taught is pretty close to the above.  Mainly.  She wasn't sure 6-year-olds need to know about the names of their body parts, but I asked what if someone touches them there, and they need to be able to use the right word to tell somebody.  She's pretty convinced nobody would do that to a little kid, and then I felt it necessary to ruin that illusion for her.

She thinks being gay or lesbian should be discussed earlier - in grade 3 - because "it helps people understand who they are and will be so they know they're okay".

Most importantly, in about grade 4, they should tell you everything to NOT worry about:  "wet dreams, period, B.O., crushes on people of either sex... because people start to ask questions and worry about the things they don't understand, so they need a list of things that are normal and okay."

I told her that one concerned parent was worried that there's lots of talk about sex, but nothing mentioned about love.  He's right.  She actually seemed to be more uncomfortable talking about love with me than about sex. "Love is a strong word" was about the most I could get out of her on this one.

My stance is towards adding to it - as if there's time in the day.  I see teens after they've been exposed to prejudices and cruelty - particularly online - so I applaud any and all efforts to nip that in the bud. I want them to know that they're okay.  I've had more than one student hospitalized for alcohol poisoning because they had no idea it was possible to die from drinking a lot at once.  I've seen kids destroyed by the idea that there's only one true love for them out there, so if it ends at 17, then it's over for them forever.  And too many think if they can't get a date, then they can't go to any dances or proms because we're stuck in a coupley mode of thinking.

First of all, back to grade 1, I'd like it if we could all acknowledge that the entire external part of a girl is the vulva, and the entryway to the uterus is called the vagina.  That's just what they're called.  I'm glad the clitoris is mentioned in grade 7, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

By grade 8, at least, I'd like to see acceptance of all types of sexuality discussed - those who think it's an act of love to be saved for one person - and we're doing a serious disservice to some if love isn't mentioned at all -, those who think it's a form of recreation (but only with profound respect from involved parties), and those who don't have any interest in engaging for any reason.  Imagine if we could obliterate the terms "prude" and "slut"!

This is a long shot, but what I'd really like is to get rid of words related to LGBTQ and trans and cis.... and just have people who wear a variety of different clothes and make-up and are attracted to a variety of different people and have different levels of comfort with their own bodies that are sometimes helped with surgery.  We're bags of bones mysteriously drawn to other bags of bones of random shapes and sizes.  But that's probably asking too much of society yet - and too much of struggling individuals who get comfort in the support of groups of people who similarly self-identify.  But one day...

I'd also like to see more on body image and how quickly people, young and old, hone in on that one vulnerability in order to destroy one another.  My little girl biked to St. Jacobs with me yesterday, in 30 degree weather, in jeans because she doesn't like her legs.  Heartbreaking, that is.  It's not the shape, but the hairiness.  Despite the fact that I often don't shave, she felt self-conscious because kids at school have already made fun of her for having hair.  So I bought her some razors and taught her how to shave, and now she's wearing shorts.  I would have LIKED to changed the patriarchal world we live in and convinced all the girls in her school that hair is cool wherever it grows, and that shaving pubes can lead to infection (which garners no mentioned in the curriculum), and that Juliette Binoche had hairy pits in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and she was sexy as all get out!!  But that's a job for tomorrow.  For today, she shaved.

We do what we can.  Baby steps.

...ETA - And then there's Norway.


karen said...

Oh god. Parenthood. I was such a confused kid and my parents were uptight and homophobic and impossible to talk to. I tried really hard to raise my kid more respectfully of her personhood. Society keeps crossing you up though. I used to threaten to keep her in a box till she was 30 so it couldn't hurt her. I was (mostly) kidding. She's a really fine adult now, talented and smart with a confidence I didn't have at 26.
I don't see what is so scandalous about that curriculum. Except that it's a lot more to be trying to cram into a year.
Happy Mother's Day.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks Karen. I think the curriculum is fine, and everyone will get used to it within a couple years. Change is hard for people.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well it sure beats what I got - a grainy, b&w, 1950s US Army film on venereal afflictions in bootcamp. Actually, thinking back it might not have even been postwar vintage.

Marie Snyder said...

We had a male gym teacher tell us, very nervously, about menstruation in about grade 5. It was painfully awkward. Then we all secretly read "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask" from cover to cover. And then watched the Woody Allen version which was markedly different. I don't remember sheep being such a big part of the book.