Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum and Fully Alive

    Despite protests from thousands of concerned citizens, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal party are determined to launch their new controversial health and physical education program in September 2015. Education Minister Liz Sandals claims the government had “strong consensus” from the one parent they consulted at each school.

    Like many  Catholics, I hoped for a strong statement from our Catholic leaders. On 24 February 2015, Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins, the President of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO) addressed Ontario’s Catholics: “While Catholic schools have a responsibility to follow the curriculum set out by the Ministry of Education, they have always sought to do so in a way that conveys, respects, and models Catholic Christian principles to our students. They will continue this tradition.”

    In our Catholic schools, the Fully Alive program is part of the religious education program. My twelve-year-old daughter recently came home with a Grade 7 Fully Alive assignment on how to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI). Her answer included the use of condoms.

    “Condoms?” I asked. “Who taught you about condoms?”

    “Oh mom,” she replied. “Everyone knows about condoms. The teacher calls them protection.”

    “Did she tell you that condoms are a method of artificial contraception and the Catholic Church teaches that it is wrong to use them for any reason?”

    “Oh,” my daughter answered. “She didn’t say that.”

    I further learned that in the same discussion much less had been taught about chastity and nothing was discussed about the sexual act as an expression of love between a man and a woman in a committed, sacramental marriage.

    A few years ago, I objected to the detailed explanation of artificial birth control methods in my son’s Grade 12 religion class at a publicly funded boys’ Catholic high school. While many days were spent covering these methods, only one period was given to Natural Family Planning. I argued that the boys should have spent the majority of the unit learning Catholic moral teaching on sex and sexuality instead of having what should have been the most important part of their instruction relegated to an afterthought at the end.

    As the mother of eight children who have attended or are currently students in publicly funded Catholic schools, I can tell you about many similar incidents regarding the Fully Alive program. While my children have been taught by some teachers who tried to uphold Catholic moral teaching in the classroom, I contend that Fully Alive as taught in our Ontario schools is not very Catholic at all.

    It is easy for our children to be exposed to  inappropriate sexual content. They are curious about their bodies from a very young age and as they become older, they search for ways to satisfy their curiousity. Parental vigilance is necessary as is calm, intelligent dialogue with our children that helps them to understand who they are as sexual persons in God’s plan. What we tell our children must be consistent with the teachings of the Church,  factual, age appropriate, sensitive, and take into consideration the level of maturity of the individual child. Our Catholic schools should be helping us with this responsibility; clearly they are not.

    The ACBO failed to send the Liberal government a strong message that we will not be complicit in teaching the revised curriculum. In his statement, Cardinal Collins said that the Institute for Catholic Education (ICE) “will produce resources that support Catholic teachers so that the new curriculum is implemented in a way that is consistent with our Catholic teachings and appropriate within the context of a Catholic classroom.” Michael Paulter, the executive director of ICE, confirmed that much of the material in the new sex-ed curriculum is already part of the Fully Alive program.(Catholic Register, 1 March 2015)

    ICE includes bishops’ representatives,  Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education, Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA).

    OECTA supported the implementation of  Gay- Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs in Catholic schools. Representatives of OECTA and their supporters marched in Toronto’s World Pride Parade in 2014. Now they will be major contributors in an updated  Fully Alive program.

    We must tell our church and education leaders to send a strong message that we will not participate in the new curriculum. Furthermore, the Fully Alive program must be re-written to clearly represent Catholic moral teaching and all teachers employed by Catholic school boards must agree to convey the teachings of the Catholic Church and not their personal beliefs. Parents must reserve the right to have their children removed from the classroom while the Fully Alive program is taught.

    All Catholics, whether or not they have children attending Catholic schools,  should be concerned. What children learn in school will shape their ideas of morality. The stability of Catholic family life, the future of our parishes, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, in fact the health and future of the Canadian Catholic Church will be greatly affected by what we teach our children today.

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