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Sex ed. the least of the problems with curriculum

We’re halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, but there’s still nothing that gets some people riled up like the topic of sex. Unless it’s a discussion about sex taking place in a classroom, at which point some people boil over.

That’s precisely why it’s taken 17 years to revise the current sex-education curriculum.

Within hours of the government’s announcement this week, tempers were flaring both inside Queen’s Park and around the province, driven primarily by those opposed to anything related to sexuality being taught in schools.

The prospect of a franker discussion about all matters sexual – including homosexuality and gender identification – had conservative groups up in arms, as it did the last time the Liberals tried to introduce curriculum changes.

The province is in a no-win situation, however. For some people, any discussion about sex is out of line – they argue the topic is a private matter, to be dealt with at home. Others say schools aren’t doing enough to protect young children from sexual abuse nor to warn sexually active young people about the risks of disease and pregnancy, not to mention the issue of bullying as it relates to sexual orientation.

Many parents would rather avoid the subject altogether. Some will think it fine for their kids to learn as they did: in the school yard from equally ill-informed peers. Plenty of kids who received no sex ed. managed to figure things out for themselves.

Still, times change. Not only is it important for kids to be informed, many parents actually agree that’s a good thing. Perhaps because some of them would rather the schools deal with “the talk” – the birds and the bees being, well, for the birds.

While some parents are hypersensitive to any reference to sex, kids are inquisitive and they will try to find out about things – it’s better that they have the right answers.

Sex ed. is still controversial in some circles, but kids should be given age-appropriate information from a variety of authoritative sources. In the case of the curriculum, it’s a great chance for parents and educators to work together.

The teaching should be age dependent: you don’t describe physiological functions to kids in kindergarten. Rather, with the younger kids, you teach them proper anatomical terms so as not to confuse and you deal with the issue of good touch and bad touch, for instance. You can tell them their body is theirs; they have the right to say ‘no.’

At the high school level, you talk to students about sexually transmitted infections, birth control and relationships. For those slightly younger, you can discuss dealing with puberty.

A return to old-school methods – nothing said in the classroom, nothing said at home – isn’t in the cards. Today, kids are exposed to far more sexual messages in the media and among their peers. That gives rise to the lament that kids grow up too fast – ask anybody with a preadolescence daughter.

Given what’s at stake, new teaching guides will emerge sooner rather than later. The quality of school-yard discussions might be better for it.

If critics really want to take the schools to task, there’s the whole matter of falling standards and overall decline in fundamentals, particularly math. Arguing that dropping the extras in favour of the basics might find more traction.

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