Friday, October 03, 2008
So . . . two priests walk into a bar. Oops, wrong joke. So . . . two priests walk into the Ministry of Education. One priest says, "I'm registering a complaint. I don't like the way you teach sex education and talk so freely about sexuality in English, health and biology courses. The way you present these topics fails to affirm our deeply-held religious beliefs and our lifestyle of abstinence."
Without any discussion, the Ministry officials tell the priest, "Why don't you write the course on Sex Ed? And while you're at it, write a set of guidelines to help teachers better affirm your beliefs and lifestyle in every subject and in every grade. We'll make it happen -- YOUR curriculum will soon be OUR curriculum."
Of course, the scenario is ludicrous. Except that it already happened in British Columbia, where two gay men claimed the public school curriculum failed to affirm their sexuality.
The couple, who are known homosexual activists, went to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to allege systemic discrimination against homosexuals by the B.C. Ministry of Education. A few years later, they filed another complaint. At first, the Ministry of Education denied the allegations but, as time dragged on, it decided to capitulate. The Ministry gave in -- without any defence or discussion, or even an impartial consideration of the allegations. In fact, it rolled over and played dead so fast it makes the Second World War Italian army look like hardcore U.S. Marines.
In giving up, the B.C. government made a legal agreement that gave the complainants unprecedented control and influence over the province's curriculum in exchange for dropping the human rights charges.
The complainants have since developed resources on alternative sexuality that teachers can use to integrate the topic into any subject from grades K to 12, as well as a Grade 12 course that covers issues like sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Education Ministry now proudly proclaims that it is a world leader in diversity training, but not all parents and teachers are pleased. There's controversy over the content and whether it should be an elective or a required course, and how appropriate the resources will be for young children and whether the whole scheme usurps the parent's role as the primary educator of their children. Just this week, it was announced that these events had spurred an initiative to "Take Back our Schools" by parents and organizations who believe the government has overstepped its limits.
The above are all important discussions and ones that should take place between parents, teachers and education bureaucrats.
But lost in these arguments are more foundational issues. First of all, the government handed over the provincial curriculum in exchange for an unprecedented secret agreement (it wasn't made public for over a month and was only then obtained through the Freedom of Information Act) with private citizens who are known to have a controversial agenda. Since when is that the process for curriculum development? No discussion; no consensus; and no scrutiny.
Secondly, the course and resources are geared toward tolerance and acceptance of diversity. There's nothing wrong with teaching kids about respect for others and tolerance for those with different perspectives or lifestyles. But these concepts are based on only one group's interpretation and definition of those concepts.
In these resources, tolerance is not merely an acceptance of another as being different -- it is affirming them for that difference. That is, the issue isn't whether you accept people -- it's whether you affirm their choice (in this case, choice of sexual orientation) and, if you don't affirm their choice, you are homophobic.
There are two notions of tolerance in society: The first assumes that all of society is moving toward consensus on one truth. The second accommodates differing viewpoints and seeks to create a society where people with different viewpoints exist together, with acceptance and respect.
I suspect most of us would agree that Canada should be a society where there is openness and respect for all views, not just for one particular point of view.
Thirdly, this kind of curriculum implies that a lack of education is the only issue at the root of not accepting alternative sexual lifestyles. Anyone who objects to a particular lifestyle -- even for moral reasons -- is simply not sufficiently educated.
So is this curriculum geared toward changing thinking, beliefs and even moral values so that everyone thinks the same?
If so, how will exams be marked? What if educated kids still don't affirm sexual diversity -- do they fail?
The Soviet Union is a prime example of what happens when society believes that education should be used to create uniform acceptance of a particular philosophy. Any who dared to disagree with the philosophy of Communism, as taught in Soviet classrooms, was quickly classified as being mentally ill -- or worse.
There's nothing wrong with talking about diversity and tolerance.
But there is something wrong with forcing the ideals of two individuals (from a known group and with a known agenda) onto children and demanding conformity. After all, true tolerance is accepting opinions that are different -- not demanding that all opinions be the same.
Susan Martinuk's column appears every Friday.
© The Calgary Herald 2008