Losing our religion on sex ed

Groups opposed to the province's new health curriculum continue to fuel a conspiratorial anti-gay conversation that has been brewing ever since our first female and lesbian premier took power

There is an amplified voice of annoyance swirling around Ontario’s education system, and it’s not a teachers union leader screaming insults at education minister Liz Sandals from across a bargaining table.

The yelling, screaming and complaining is coming from parents and closed-minded think-tanks who feel “hopeless” their children will finally be enlightened by a new health curriculum in the age of Tinder, Snap-Chat, Ashley Madison and Instagram. 

The spewing of confusion and deliberate misinformation is really a campaign of fear and ignorance under the pretence of “protecting the innocence of our children,” or as one sign at a recent protest outside the Premier’s constituency office read: “Say No to Sex-ed, Let Kids Be Kids.”

Unfortunately, “kids” are the collateral damage in this equation of “parents know best.” What makes sex education or the new health curriculum seem terrorizing to these adults?  Why would anyone not favour students learning the facts of our biological functions and overall anatomy? 

In countless cultures, adults were socialized in households where sex was seen as the worst thing a person could do outside of wedlock. Quite commonly, this domestic invisible and unspoken curriculum laced with religiosity, teaches us to view sexuality as sinful. We’ve lived for centuries with this notion under the guise of religious values. Even our laws attest to these fundamental principles. Religion continues to will its way into various aspects of our lives.

It’s important to underscore its role in giving us a sense of hope, ethics and purpose, even offering meaning to life after death through faith, which motivates us to be good and diligent towards our fellow humans. 

However, when religion preaches, influences and shapes our adult minds to believe that not knowing is best, especially when it comes to issues of our bodies or sexual identity, then we must curb its enthusiasm.  

Groups like REAL Women of Canada, Campaign for Life or My Child My Choice, who declare their opposition to the province’s new progressive health curriculum, continue to fuel a conspiratorial anti-gay conversation that has been brewing ever since Kathleen Wynne, our first female and lesbian premier, turned the keys and occupied the space of her new office.

According to these closed-minded opinions, gays, lesbians and queers alike have an agenda to ram homosexuality down our throats. Blasphemously, gays will soon take over the world, converting our innocent and pure children into thinking Adam and Steve is as natural as Adam and Eve. Such poisonous propaganda is at the heart of the sex-ed opposition. And stands to shatter much of the progressive gains we’ve made in our society.

The story of Adam and Eve deserves some unpacking. We are taught through such stories that we must be terrified of our nakedness, especially our so-called “private parts.” Instead of feeling alive and invigorated for the wonderful nature of our body parts and biological functions, we’re schooled to believe nakedness is a chastising predicament. Why do so many people have sex in the dark? No wonder so many of us become overly self-conscious and filled with anxiety by the mere thought of entering a swimming pool, a gym, a shower or simply soaking up some necessary Vitamin D on a beach: from an early age, we are taught to feel ashamed, unsatisfied and awful about our body. We obsessively ask our mirror reflections, our selfies or those around us: “How do I look?”

Supermodel Cameron Russell not only reminds us, in her famous Ted-Talks presentation, that “image is powerful and… superficial” but also that 53 per cent of 13 year-old girls hate their bodies. This number skyrockets to an alarming 80 per cent by the time they reach 17. Many youth develop numerous eating disorders, self-obsessions, digestive issues and emotional trauma from this stressful psychological weight. 

Moreover, Adam and Eve’s singular and dominant notion of heterosexuality indoctrinates us into the thinking that it is only normal to be heterosexual and thus, any other forms of sexual identity is an abomination to be wiped clean and undeserving of affection, consideration and dignified treatment.  

For too long, normalized heterosexism has ruined countless lives and inflicted inhumane punishment on those deemed different, unnatural, and “un-straightened.”  

The fury of religion breeds a fear of the other, the unknown, the ignored and the misunderstood. Rather than courageous conversations to unearth new understandings, dogma stands to stifle and silence learning. The same innocent story of the Garden of Eden, with its harmless intentions, teaches us that girls make “bad” choices for tempting Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. Our notion of sexism is shaped from these powerful, penetrating stories, which have unfortunately, withstood the waves of social change.  

But as educators, active citizens and societal stakeholders, we cannot afford to gaze passively at another generation of kids being silenced by theological fundamentalism.  We must provide students the critical thinking and analytical tools necessary to question and interrogate unhealthy religious doctrines. 

Youth must begin charting a new course of life studies in developing healthy understandings of their sexuality, speaking freely and openly about their bodies, and learning to fully embrace their personal sense of identity. 

Schools must instruct young minds to speak appropriately about sex, learn to value sexuality and be caring of their sexual identities, comfortable and secure in knowing that healthy sexuality, sexual identity and sexual relationships are cornerstones of living prosperous and fulfilling lives. It is imperative for our students to feel empowered, not threatened, by sexual diversity.

Kirk Moss is a social sciences teacher, mentor, coach, curriculum writer and journalist who works extensively in the field of equity, diversity and anti-oppressive social and educational practices. 

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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