Righting' Sex-Ed in Ontario: Adult Anxiety Over Child and Adolescent Sexual Knowledge and the Government's Undemocratic Mismanagement of Ideological Pluralism
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There is no doubt that relevant and up-to-date elementary school curriculum is vital for the adequate education and socialization of youth, however, when a society is characterized by ideological pluralism and multiple visions of morality the debates over curriculum can be acrimonious and tempestuous. These debates are particularly heated when sex education is concerned since adults in Western society have a longstanding cultural discomfort with child and adolescent sexual knowledge and, more specifically, there is a strong belief that sexual knowledge compromises the “natural” innocence and ignorance of young people. This research focuses on a debate that occurred in Ontario in April and May of 2010 after the Government attempted to revise Health and Physical Education curriculum for grades 1-8, the subject that contains sex education. Following considerable backlash, the Ontario Premier shelved the proposed revisions a mere 54 hours after the curriculum was publicized. What led to this curriculum being received so poorly by the public and what were the contributing factors that led to this abrupt reconsideration? My research examines the debate that the new sex education curriculum produced and draws attention to the ways in which the deep seated anxieties of adults regarding adolescent and child sexual knowledge were able to overpower the voices of researchers and educational experts who were promoting the revisions. Some adults were concerned about the way that the curriculum presented a particularly liberal vision of sexual morality and argued that the new content would corrupt, mislead, and confuse youth. Though there were some individuals and groups who supported the revisions, arguing that they were relevant, necessary and overdue, their voices were not as organized or influential as the religious and social conservatives who dominated the debate. I argue that the proposed revisions to the Ontario sex education curriculum failed to gain public support because of the Government’s inability to adequately prepare for and mediate the Province’s competing liberal and conservative sexual ideologies. In my defense of the abandoned revisions, I explore how they failed to gain support not only because of the vociferous opposition of conservative religious groups who did not want to see a more liberal vision of sexual morality in the curriculum, but also due to a longstanding cultural discomfort with child and adolescent sexual knowledge and an unwillingness to fully affirm non-heterosexual identities and practices within the education system.