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May5TueIs sex education best taught at home or in the classroom? May 5, 2015 by Major Kathie Chiu
"How do babies get inside a lady's tummy?” My mom was unfazed by my question. She sat me down, drew the female and male anatomies, and showed how they fit together. She explained everything carefully—the whole kit and caboodle. I was just 10 years old, but she thought I was ready to understand.
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What my mom didn't know was why I was asking. She didn't know that the boy across the street knew all about sex and regaled us with his knowledge, or that when I was six, a boy had tried to get my friend and me into touching and doing what adults do with each other. No way was I going to tell my mom, who I knew would march straight up to that boy's house and raise—well, you know what.
That was the 1960s. Sex education came from kids in the neighbourhood who peeked at their fathers' dirty magazines or found out from older boys. My mom wasn't the norm back then. None of my friends knew, and when I told them what my mom had said we all sat with our jaws hanging open, astonished at the craziness of the whole thing. Many of my friends received their first formal education about sex and reproduction in Grade 8 at school. In high school, many of my friends were sexually active at 15 and 16. Other than the biological facts, my mom's only advice was not to let boys get me into a corner.
With my own children, I answered their questions as I felt was appropriate for their age. Having much more information at my disposal and being from a generation that grew up during the sexual revolution, I taught my children how to keep themselves safe, how to prevent pregnancy and the values that I hoped would keep them as pure as possible for as long as possible. I had an overwhelming need to protect them and felt that giving them too much information too soon would not be wise. I also knew that the more information they had the more chances they had to stay safe. It was a delicate balance.
Fast-forward to 2015. Much of what was a parental responsibility has shifted to the schools. Children have the world at their fingertips with the Internet and television showing sexually explicit movies and videos. Pornography is everywhere, pedophiles wait in chat rooms and sexting happens between kids as young as 10.
Big in the news lately is the Ontario government's new comprehensive health and physical education curriculum for Grades 1-8. There was a similar brouhaha back in the mid-2000s when British Columbia instituted a new curriculum that introduced the reality of homosexuality in Grade 6. Many conservative Christians were up in arms because, to them, homosexuality was wrong and children don't have to know about it so young. They argued that only parents should teach this within the bounds of their religious values.
Ontario has stepped it up a notch. I've read the new curriculum, and it's quite comprehensive. Children in kindergarten will learn the correct names of their body parts, that they are private and how to say no to bad touching. In later grades, students will learn about their changing bodies and sexuality perhaps earlier than ever before, but children are also maturing earlier than ever before.
In Grade 3, teachers will explain that there are many kinds of families in our communities. The reality is that society has normalized same-sex marriages and there will be children at school who come from families with two dads, two moms or even transgendered parents. The curriculum will ensure children are taught tolerance and that all kinds of differences are normal, not just sexuality and gender. I'm not sure this is a bad thing considering Jesus' teaching to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Many religiously conservative families are protesting. They are not happy with this new curriculum and accuse the government of trying to indoctrinate their children with the idea that homosexuality is acceptable, when to them it is not. They feel strongly these topics are not age-appropriate and that it is not the school's responsibility to teach them to their kids. Thankfully, for them, the law provides an option to withdraw their children from classes with inappropriate content—from sex education to Harry Potter books.
Not all Christian families are opposed to the new curriculum and statistics show the majority of parents are in favour of a comprehensive approach to health education. As parents we have an opportunity to review with our kids what they've learned in school. Before, these conversations may have felt awkward, but our children may now be more open to discussing them. It's then we can teach them how to view all of these things through the lens of Jesus and the values he taught.
Major Kathie Chiu grew up in The Salvation Army and has been an officer for 22 years. She has five children, including two teenaged boys still living at home, and eight grandchildren. She is the corps officer at Richmond Community Church, B.C.