Parents rally outside Queen’s Park earlier in the year to protest the former Liberal governments revised sex education curriculum. The new PC government wants more parent input.
This week, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario launched a lawsuit against the provincial government over its decision to revert to an older sexual education curriculum while it reviews the most recent syllabus. A promise to do exactly this, played a role in the government’s election.
Despite all the bluster, all the rhetoric and the tidbits of scandal, the unadulterated truth of the matter is this: none of the loudest voices in Ontario’s sexual education debate really gives a damn about Sex-Ed. Not the teachers. Not their unions. Not the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Not the NDP opposition politicians. Not even the government.
An Ontario teacher recently announced he will refuse to follow the Ministry of Education approved curriculum and will teach whatever he wants to teach about sexual education to his grade school students. In addition to its own lawsuit, ETFO said it will pay the legal costs of any teacher who ignores the government’s curriculum. The CCLA is suing the government of Ontario for its “discriminatory” changes to the province’s Sex-Ed curriculum. And, the government’s NDP and Liberal party opposition say the ministry of education’s action puts the lives of students at risk.
Let’s face it. Nobody likes talking to kids about sex. Well… nobody, with the possible exception of the convicted pedophile who oversaw development of Ontario’s new Sex-Ed curriculum.
Kids don’t like talking to parents or teachers about it either. It makes people uncomfortable. Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe, in a perfect world it wouldn’t. But, it does. Alas, our world is not perfect.
Some parents are uncomfortable with the curriculum because of what’s in it, others because of what they think is in it. Still more are uncomfortable because they’re afraid teachers will wander off the curriculum and teach values at odds with their own. When teachers promise to ignore the curriculum and teach what they please, and unions ardently defend their “right” to do so, it validates those fears.
In truth, teachers and their unions don’t care about the Sex-Ed curriculum. It’s only a few classes on a few days each year. Their anger is not about what’s in or what’s out of any syllabus. It’s about their visceral hatred for Doug Ford and conservatives in general. Sex-Ed is just a juicy rallying point around which they can celebrate that hatred.
Opposition politicians don’t care who teaches what to your kids about sex. Or, about math, for that matter. For them, the Sex-Ed curriculum is a convenient bat to hit the government with. That’s their job, after all: opposition. If they can make Sex-Ed appear to be a life or death issue, even better for earning media air time.
The CCLA certainly doesn’t care about educating students about sex. That’s well outside its mandate. But, Michael Bryant, the controversial new CCLA president, is a smart and ambitious man. He’s using Sex-Ed as a podium from which to rebuild a tarnished personal brand and to build-up his organization’s bank account. A two-for-one deal, if you will.
Doug Ford was elected leader of the PC Party of Ontario on March 10. The next morning, the CCLA launched attack ads against him. When I asked Bryant how he squared this very partisan attack with the CCLA’s supposedly non-partisan status, he confessed it was all about fundraising.
“Earned media to support a fundraising campaign? How could I say no?” Bryant responded. The CCLA’s lawsuit against the Ontario government over Sex-Ed is the same. It’s got nothing to do with the curriculum. It’s entirely about raising money to pay Michael Bryant’s salary.
Alas, the government too, doesn’t even care about the Sex-Ed curriculum. But, it knows thousands of parents do. That’s why the PC Party promised to axe the new curriculum and return to the 1998 version. A promise that motivated tens of thousands of voters – maybe even hundreds of thousands – to the polls in June to cast their ballots for the only party willing to hear their concerns.
The government may not really have an issue with the curriculum, but it understands that when a huge block of parents is concerned about it, it’s worth revisiting.
So, they’re revisiting it. Sex-Ed was a wedge issue – the kind of issue political strategists salivate over. It served its purpose: motivating voters to the polls. Now, they’ll revoke it and review it and consult on it and eventually replace it. It might take 3 years – they might even win two elections out of this one issue.
That leaves just the parents… who hate talking to their kids about sex – almost as much as the kids do.
Mark Towhey is a trusted advisor to business and political leaders, host of #TheBestShowEver on NEWSTALK1010 Sundays in Toronto, author of “Mayor Rob Ford: Uncontrollable” and a dynamic keynote speaker. Twitter: @towhey FaceBook: Mark Towhey