07/27/2018 14:58 EDT | Updated 07/27/2018 15:18 EDT

No, Parents Aren't The Best Teachers When It Comes To Sex Education

It's a false assumption that serves as a pretext for "protecting" children from scientific reality and limiting their personal freedoms.

One of the first moves made by the new Ford government has been to scrap Ontario's sex-ed program introduced to Ontario in 2015. This came with a promise of conducting "the largest consultation ever in Ontario's history" — a promise with no timeline or budget. In the meantime, Ontario will return to a 48-page sex-ed curriculum that was passed in 1998 and does not mention gender and LGBT issues, consent or online safety.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks during question period in Queen's Park.

Why? Well, In Ford's own words: "We take the approach that the best teachers are the parents, not a special interest group," and because, "For too long the Liberals have ignored Ontario parents... They have introduced the sex curriculum based on ideology." Ford also wanted something more "age appropriate" for kids at school.

But all of this is simply untrue or misleading. Ford's statements invoke several problematic arguments that conservatives have long used to support the notion that "parents are the best teachers" when it comes to sexual education — false assumptions that serve as a pretext for "protecting" children from scientific reality and limiting their personal freedoms.

Teachers are a kid's best resource

In pursuit of this goal, Ford is willing to leave sex education to parents who may not have received any such education themselves or have received an antiquated version of it. He wants them to determine, for themselves, what and when their child needs the information they deem necessary — information that would be disconnected from a child's biological needs, development and social reality. Furthermore, this information will be delivered in an environment that may limit questioning due to the typically authoritarian familial relationship.

Ford is willing to leave sex education to parents who may not have received any such education themselves or have received an antiquated version of it.

Anyone who has had to endure "a talk" with their parents about the matter would know this, and those who are lucky enough to escape such an encounter will be left to the whims of their own research (which may be unreliable), the grape-vine, or pornography (which is mostly performative and skewed towards male tastes) to try and make heads from tails.

The idea that teachers are best equipped to provide sex-ed is not a radical fringe idea; in fact, "70 per cent of Canadian parents have said that they would rather their kids learn sex ed in school than sex ed at home." At the end of the day, we do trust them to teach our kids everything else.

Science is not ideology

Of course, it would be rather silly to assume that a Conservative Party leader wouldn't fall back on tired talking points about progressive politics poisoning our society. Trans rights have, strangely, become the new political battleground, especially with our neighbours to the south, and later popularized here with the rise of the likes of Jordan Peterson.

Here enters the "it's too early" argument which is, in reality, a thin argument and cover for blatant homophobia and transphobia. Parents afraid that having their children exposed to the existence of trans and gay individuals may turn them away from "normal" heterosexual relationships — poison their mind with liberal propaganda or "confuse" them.

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One way conservatives paint gender as a topic unfit for young children is by echoing stereotypes long used to criminalize and vilify same-sex relationships — the idea that trans people are "sick" in some way. This, even though the World Health Organization, which is the public health agency of the United Nations, has declassified "transgenderism" as being a mental illness, has not stopped some conservatives like columnist Barbary Kay from leaning on that argument.

Conservatives fuel this fire with an equally thin-veiled political argument: that sex ed is government overreach into family affairs.

But, how would this argument be perceived if it was coming from another place — if, let us say, a Muslim family decided their daughters shouldn't attend a swimming class for religious reasons? Would people argue in defence for the right of families to decide what is best for their children? Or will outrage ring about the lack of social assimilation?

Why then is this any different? Children need to be educated so they may assimilate into the rich and diverse tapestry that is Ontario, and this includes an understanding of the various sexual orientations and identities.

Conservatives need to stop perpetuating the illiberal idea that parents are the sovereign rulers of their children.

The importance of this becomes especially apparent when we consider that LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers and adolescent youth who have been rejected by their families for being LGBTQ are more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

Alternatively, providing students with a safe environment in which they can discuss sexuality, love and biology with those trained to do so and at an early age has corresponded with increased compassion, empowered decision making — postponing the age of sexual activity and increasing the chance of using contraceptives, naturally reducing teenage pregnancy rates — and reduced risk of sexual predation. All of this is especially important as the age for the onset of puberty can be as early as eight years old.

Special interest, you say?

So, who are these special interest groups Ford speaks of, and what exactly is their ideology? It would seem Ford and his followers fit the bill better than any supporters of a supposed liberal agenda.

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The 2015 sex-ed program was introduced after consultations with thousands of parents (around 4,000), community members and experts, including 70 health-related organizations. The idea that anyone ignored parents then is simply unfounded. As for the idea that this is an ideological endeavour, elements taught in the program and the age at which they are taught are in line with other Canadian provinces, so unless there is a nationwide ideological takeover of some sort, it remains unclear as to what "ideology" Ford is referring to.

On the other hand, Ford gained a 76-seat majority with only 40.6 per cent of the vote thanks to our first-past-the-post voting system, so it's hard to say that his mandate for power reflects the real sentiment of Ontario better than the previous consultations conducted. However, backing Ford during his campaign was Charles McVety, an evangelical Christian who has had a TV show cancelled for "discriminatory comments on the basis of sexual orientation, religion and mental disability." Those like Charles who have backed Ford have a clear agenda when it comes to sex, and it's fuelled by the biggest ideology out there — religion. This ideology, in some evangelical forms, includes opposition to LGBTQ rights and sex for any means other than procreation. It's clear then that if anyone is pandering to "special interest groups," it's Ford, and he is doing so at the expense of general public safety.

The sins of the parents

Conservatives need to stop perpetuating the illiberal idea that parents are the sovereign rulers of their children when it comes to matters of identity development, especially when this idea comes at the cost of children's safety and goes against any scientific data available. It's an unacceptable notion that children should pay the price for their parent's antiquated ideologies and Victorian-age prudishness.

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This is not to mention that beyond this being a progressive or conservative issue, sexual health has an impact on our public health system. Teaching up-to-date sex-ed is a surefire way to cut down on avoidable medical expenditure. And since "efficiencies" seem to be a big-ticket item on Ford's list, just like sex is on pretty much everyone else's, it remains unclear why so much more money is going to be spent on re-working something that already works.

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