Thursday, 17 December 2015 15:19

Peel Region Releases Sex-Ed Guide for Parents

by Sukaina Jaffer in Toronto

Unlike those in the Toronto and York districts, the Peel District School Board’s (PDSB) schools have taken a proactive approach in creating a 14-page sex-education guide for parents in the Peel region based on the controversially revised health curriculum issued by the Ministry of Education.

The guide provides information about the sexual-development topics introduced this year by the Ministry of Education. The PDSB translated the guide into 11 different languages and sent it home to all parents in November.

“The new curriculum has caused lots of questions and concerns about what was going to be taught, and there was a lot of misinformation circulating in the community,” says Ryan Reyes, communications officer at PDSB, who was the lead on creating this guide.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This will help dispel misinformation and allow parents to play an active role in their child’s education.”[/quote]

He says he gathered content for the guide by working in consultation with different departments and taking feedback from community members.

The guide was translated into multiple languages in order to meet the needs of diverse populations in the Peel district, and has received endorsements from several of these diverse groups.

“The Peel District School Board’s parent guide to the revised health and physical education curriculum provides parents with a clear understanding of what their children will learn in each grade,” writes Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health at the Region of Peel. “This will help dispel misinformation and allow parents to play an active role in their child’s education.”

Balancing today’s realities with cultural values

Zaynab Zaidi received the guide from her four children’s public schools in Mississauga.

“I’m not a naive parent,” she says. “I understand why the curriculum is changing, because knowledge is power.”

“Teaching a child the proper names of their body parts is a way to protect them from sexual predators so a child is less vulnerable,” she adds. “I don’t have a problem with my kids learning about anatomy, physiology and human reproduction in an age-appropriate manner.”

However, she says she is concerned about the curriculum because it treats relationships between boys and girls as normal.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We can reinforce our values without demonizing other people.”[/quote]

“Since this type of socializing is not in line with our values, we prefer to cover the material at home in the context of our values,” she says.

She adds that in Islam, there is a certain code of conduct for “appropriate social interaction between boys and girls.” The Zaidis are opting to pull their daughter, who is in grade seven, out during these lessons.

“We'll cover what material we think is appropriate at this point within the framework of the Islamic value system and the Islamic guidelines for interacting with the opposite gender,” she says.

Zaidi concurs that not participating at all is not possible because her daughter will be exposed to the issues by her classmates.

“We cannot ignore this and have to be involved parents, but the information has to be handled in the framework of our value system. We can reinforce our values without demonizing other people.”

Arun Anandarajah, president of the Senior Tamils Society of Peel, echoes Zaidi’s sentiments.

“Immigrants are coming into a new environment here, and kids here are more exposed than in other immigrant societies,” he says. “It was taboo to discuss sexual matters in the old environment, but in the new environment we live in, it has to be addressed.”

He says he believes that the provincial government has not made the changes blindly. “They have looked at it before introducing it and the impact it will have,” he says.

More resources are available

Not all school boards have taken the step in creating such a guide.

“The TDSB has not created resources like those in Peel,” says Ryan Bird, communications officer at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). “We have been encouraging parents to look at the Ministry of Education resources, which are available online and through schools. We also encourage parents to speak with their school principals for more information.”

Christina Choo-Hum, York Region District School Board (YRDSB) communications manager, also notes that they have sufficient material on their website from the ministry in multiple languages, and some simple guides for parents in different languages.

Although the human development and sexual-health component of the curriculum will be taught in all public schools in the spring of 2016, Reyes says, “Any parent can make a choice to apply for religious accommodation to pull out their child from class,” as parents will get notice two weeks before lessons are taught.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Sometimes kids may feel more comfortable speaking with their teachers than parents.[/quote]

However, there is no exclusion granted when inclusion and different kinds of family systems are taught. Inclusion is taught throughout the year in all forms of the curriculum.

Communication with children difficult but necessary

Indira Sayanam (name changed for privacy), whose two daughters attend a public school in Richmond Hill, says she likes the new curriculum.

“It’s really hard for parents to explain these matters to their kids,” she says.

Sayanam’s daughters are in grades eight and five. She says she is concerned that her older daughter must be informed of all these issues before going to high school.

However, she says, she finds it challenging to speak to her because her daughter avoids the conversations, as she feels uncomfortable hearing about it from her mother.

“It’s necessary children are educated,” says Sameena Bhimani, a Grade 5 school teacher in the YRDSB. “In grade five, students are beginning to go through puberty and very early in the year are asking questions and talking amongst their peers.”

Bhimani says that parents need a push to discuss these matters, although she acknowledges that sometimes kids may feel more comfortable speaking with their teachers than parents.

According to Bhimani, there is not very much difference between the old and new curriculum.

She advises parents to discuss their values with their kids in order to open up the lines of communication.

“Many parents want to shelter their kids, but don’t realize kids are already discussing with their peers,” she says. “Unfortunately, children today are maturing faster.” 

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Published in Education

by Surjit Singh Flora (@floracanada) in Brampton, Ontario

It is surprising that the Ontario government has launched an advertising campaign about the controversial sexual-education curriculum, instead of engaging parents more directly and responding to their concerns.
 
Queen’s Park is using electronic and print media and some advertisements have already been released. The government surely hopes the campaign will lay to rest any remaining questions on the controversial curriculum change, but in my view, parental concerns run much deeper.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s a sign that we understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Education Minister Liz Sandals was quoted as saying.[/quote]
 
The government’s curriculum has many shortcomings, written in a language that makes it difficult to forecast the outcome – all in the name of “education”. Protesting organizations have called this curriculum "indoctrination". But at this juncture, the government sees the advertising campaign as the solution, adding more public spending to an already indebted government.
 
Not listening
 
“It’s a sign that we understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Education Minister Liz Sandals was quoted as saying. “This is a case where there’s enough misinformation out there that we believe that we actually need to get more accurate information into the public discussion.”
 
The government has shown that it is incapable of paying heed to the many parents who consider this curriculum a risk to the raising of their children. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government appears keen to implement its agenda by all means. There is a chance this fight will be waged over a long time.
 
website advocating for parents claims it has been threatened with legal action by the Peel District School Board, which I find condemnable. This raises the following question: will the right of freedom of expression be taken away? Will legal action be taken to silence the voice of those who oppose this controversial curriculum?
 
Trust in the public school system has weakened over the last several months. The people’s trust in public institutions is much more important than the stick of law-and-order. The people’s trust can be regained through transparent dialogue and consultations, not through advertisement campaigns and the threat of legal action.
 
Mainstream media bias
 
The discriminatory behaviour of the mainstream media is also worthy of condemnation. In my experience, the mainstream media are so biased that they do not want to listen to anything or cover anything against the curriculum, with many journalists aiming to completely bury opposition.
 
Whenever protests were held, the mainstream media either failed to report them or have tended to downplay coverage.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Is the protection of our children “homophobia”? Will this topic that is of crucial importance to immigrant parents now be left in the hands of the government and mainstream media?[/quote]
 
The mainstream media may have different perspective on other subjects, but they seem united in opposing the protesting parents and favouring the government on the matter of the sex-ed curriculum.
 
At this point, it seems clear to me that the Wynne government and mainstream media want to suppress the voices of parents who oppose the curriculum, labelling their objections as “homophobic” or motivated by sheer ignorance.
 
Is the protection of our children “homophobia”? Will this topic that is of crucial importance to immigrant parents now be left in the hands of the government and mainstream media?
 
The government and mainstream media are ignoring a petition that has 185,000 signatures.
 
The same media ignored the “cultural genocide” of Indigenous children because it was considered an Indigenous matter; similarly, opposition to this controversial curriculum is being presented as driven by new immigrants only. In fact, all communities have been opposing it and the protest held at Queen’s Park on June 7, 2015 is proof enough.
 
Even if we were to grant that the issue is primarily a “new immigrant” concern, are new immigrants not also parents? Don’t they have a right to safeguard the well-being of their children?
 
Dubious authors
 
It is a matter of shame that the overseer of this curriculum, Benjamin Levin, has recently been convicted on charges related to child pornography. Levin was Ontario’s deputy education minister from 2004 to 2007 and a Wynne supporter, playing an important role in her transition team.
 
Levin frequented a website with discussion forums on the sexual exploitation of children and police found numerous images of child pornography on his computer. On July 8, 2013, Toronto police charged him with child exploitation and on May 29, 2015 the court sentenced him to three years in prison.
 
The mainstream media did not consider it reasonable to ask the government about the relationship between Levin and this sex-ed curriculum. The government repeatedly claims the curriculum will protect children from sexual exploitation and diseases, but more likely it is a case of “Jackals guarding the hens” as a Punjabi saying goes.
 
The government should immediately withdraw this sex-ed curriculum or make the necessary changes requested by parents. Further, all information about the people who helped draft the document should be made public. This issue is crucial to the security and future of our children. It is the government’s duty to reassure parents that this revision is in the kids’ best interests.

Surjit Singh Flora has lived in Brampton, Ontario for the last 25 years. He is a guest-column writer, news reporter and photographer who has been published all over the world in more than 100 newspapers, magazines and online. He is also the editor and publisher of the weekly English news magazine Asia Metro Weekly.
 
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Published in Commentary

by Robin Brown (@RobinBrown) in Toronto, Ontario

In 1988, at the age of 21 in my native England, I marched through London to protest against the introduction of a law called Clause 28. The law, introduced by the Conservative Party, banned the “promotion of homosexuality” in British schools.

We saw it as discrimination. The use of the term “promotion” was disingenuous. It would prevent gay teachers from being honest about their sexuality and it would prevent teaching children the facts about sexual orientation.

A lot has changed since then. A couple of years ago, my son, aged 11 and at school in Ontario, casually mentioned his teacher was gay, with no judgment or surprise. That change is a result of what has been called a “culture war” that has occurred in Europe and North America in the 27 years since I joined that march. That “war” has involved ongoing debates about gender roles, sexual freedom and discrimination. 

At this point in history, it seems that I and the tens of thousands of others who marched that day have, at least to some extent, won. Clause 28 has been repealed in England. My children’s teachers can present them the facts about sexual orientation without fear of the law. They actively prevent bullying and discrimination based on sexual orientation. I am proud of being part of a generation who helped bring this about.

The Return of the “Culture War”?

So when I heard that parents in Ontario were opposing the new Health and Physical Education curriculum, my immediate reaction was, “Oh no, here we go again.” I felt the progress we fought for was being threatened.

I immediately reverted to the culture-war paradigm. Within that paradigm, there are always two sides. From the progressives’ perspective on one side, there is progress, enlightenment and freedom. On the other side, there is intolerance and ignorance. And the debate around the curriculum now is being framed within this context.

So, it came as a surprise to me when one of my Chinese colleagues said that she and many of her friends are opposed to the curriculum. She did not fit the mould of my culture-war opponents. She is not motivated by religion. She said she opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation and absolutely supports the right to same-sex marriage. Nor does she want to revert to the norms of her native China where she believes that sex education is inadequate.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As we spoke I realized that, although I was viewing this issue through the culture-war lens, she was not. Growing up outside of the “West,” she did not share the same frame of reference.  Nor do many of the immigrant parents in Ontario who oppose the curriculum.[/quote]

As we spoke I realized that, although I was viewing this issue through the culture-war lens, she was not. Growing up outside of the “West,” she did not share the same frame of reference. Nor do many of the immigrant parents in Ontario who oppose the curriculum.

Time to Reframe the Controversy

Many Canadians are surprised by the strength of opposition to the curriculum from the foreign-born population in Ontario. And the Canadian-born tend to try to understand it in the context of the culture war.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The media have framed it in classic culture-war terms: “socially conservative” or “religious” immigrants standing in opposition to Western, secular liberalism.[/quote]

Many assume that is it driven by prejudice. No doubt, sometimes it is. The media have framed it in classic culture-war terms: “socially conservative” or “religious” immigrants standing in opposition to Western, secular liberalism.

But many of the foreign-born parents who oppose it do not see themselves on either side of a culture war. That frame of reference simply does not exist for many of the Ontarians born outside of Canada. To debate it on those terms does not help those wanting to either understand their opposition or to engage them in debate.

To date, the allegedly socially conservative foreign-born populations have largely avoided picking a side in Canada’s culture war. They have not organized against same-sex marriage or any other progressive changes in Canada and polls do not show them keen to do so. Conservative attempts to motivate them using decriminalization of marijuana as a wedge issue have largely fallen flat.

The Health and Physical Education curriculum issue is unique. And to understand its uniqueness, you have to attempt to truly understand differing ethnic cultural values.

Yes, some of it is due to religion, but that tells only a small part of the story. Much of the opposition is driven by differing perspectives, rooted in ethnic culture, on parenting and the role of the family and the child within it. Studies of ethnic culture have shown vastly different attitudes on that aspect of human life. That topic alone could expand this column into a book, but the key point is that it does not necessarily relate to attitudes to sexual orientation in the way that looking at the issue from a Western culture-war perspective would lead you to assume.

Dismissing Difference Is Not the Answer

I support the new curriculum one hundred percent and will argue strongly in its favour. I hope it prevails, as I do see it as a necessary continuation of the progress we have made since I joined that protest almost 30 years ago.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I urge the government of Ontario to truly try to understand the perspective of parents who oppose it and not to drown out the voices of those who object. Many of them are engaging in a true civic debate for the first time since their arrival in Canada. [/quote]

But I urge the government of Ontario to truly try to understand the perspective of parents who oppose it and not to drown out the voices of those who object. Many of them are stepping up to make their voices heard and engage in a true civic debate for the first time since their arrival in Canada. Dismissing them as ignorant or intolerant is neither useful nor just.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It requires that we jettison some of the frames of reference that we find so comfortable when making sense of the world.[/quote]

Multiculturalism is not always easy. It doesn’t simply mean a few extra “exotic” items on restaurant menus. It requires genuine understanding and respect for ethnic cultural differences. And it requires that we jettison some of the frames of reference that we find so comfortable when making sense of the world.

In this case, for me, that means standing down in the culture war to try to understand a truly different perspective. 

Isn’t that also progress?

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Published in Commentary

by Patrick Hunter (@pghntr) in Toronto

Since the Ontario government announced new curriculum guidelines expanding the teaching of sexual health in Ontario schools, which will take effect starting in September, some parents have been crying foul. They have latched on to the idea that they should be the ones to teach their kids about sex, not the schools.

It is important to understand that what the ministry has introduced are guidelines. The only mandated parts of these guidelines are the boundaries – taking into consideration that we are now in the age of the Internet and smartphones; the recognition of same-sex couples; that girls are entering puberty at an earlier age and, frankly, the sexual content easily available in the media. It also sets out some expectations of what pupils are expected to know at the end of a school year. It does not go into the specifics. Teachers and other educational professionals will develop those finer points as they prepare for the classrooms.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Do parents really teach their kids about sexual health? When?[/quote]

The premise of this updated curriculum is explained as: “Sexual health, understood in its broadest sense, can include a wide range of topics and concepts, from sexual development, reproductive health, choice and sexual readiness, consent, abstinence, and protection, to interpersonal relationships, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, affection and pleasure, body image, and gender roles and expectations.”

Not all of this information will be provided at once. Most of the information will be graduated through the growth of the child – an introduction to the body in the early years leading to an understanding of how relationships work (or should work) in later years.

And here is the question: Bearing these factors in mind, do parents really teach their kids about sexual health? When?

Without Sex Education, Myths Develop

One of the popular myths of times past – particularly in North America – was about how babies were born. A stork brought them. Never mind that the mother carried that child for nine months, her belly growing larger each month.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]From the strict separation of males and females in some Muslim sects to the Christian teachings of no pre-marital sex, to some African initiation rites, the rules are varied and often restrictive.[/quote]

In a way, this could be one of the first lies we, as parents, tell our children. The Hippie revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s erased some of those mythical explanations around sex. An era of “free love” ensued, which took some of the masks off sexual behaviour. Adding to this was the availability of the birth control pill. There was no putting the genie back into the bottle. The question then became: How do parents stop their children from engaging in sexual activity, especially at a very young age?

Every culture has certain boundaries or prohibitions around sexual activity. Some are greatly influenced by religion, some by traditions. From the strict separation of males and females in some Muslim sects to the Christian teachings of no pre-marital sex, to some African initiation rites, the rules are varied and often restrictive.

Sending the Wrong Message

Why should children, from the moment they begin to ask questions about their body, not be told the names of and the truth about some of the functions of their body parts? As a child growing up in Jamaica, the recognized names of penis and vagina for our genitalia were never used. They would have been considered inappropriate in mixed or adult company. My mother taught me to refer to my penis as my “teapot.” My sister’s vagina as a “mango.”

Later, when I learned their real names from schoolmates, I also learned that these were prohibited, distasteful or derogatory. It was also from my schoolmates that I began to learn from them how these “objects” related to each other.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The fact is parents generally are uncomfortable talking about sex to their children. Discussing sex, even as adults, can be seen as risqué and embarrassing.[/quote]

For some, not much has changed over the years. Charis Newton-Thompson, a retired principal in Toronto high schools, who is originally from Guyana, pointed out that children, especially in high school, still lack a solid foundation in understanding their bodies and sexual health in particular. They still receive and rely on a lot of information – albeit misleading or false - from friends. Girls’ understanding of how they can become pregnant can be woefully misguided.

The fact is parents generally are uncomfortable talking about sex to their children. Discussing sex, even as adults, can be seen as risqué and embarrassing. And that is part of the irony within the North American context where, as noted above, sex is fairly pervasive.

Time for Appropriate Sex Talk

Teachers are trained to deliver lessons about life, beyond teaching mathematics or history or whatever subjects they specialize in. Those who are assigned to teach sexual health, we have to believe, would be trained and practiced in the art of imparting the information in a positive and constructive manner. They will have determined beforehand the appropriate boundaries – how much information, and content limitations, will be imparted and at what age.

They, I would hope, will include a strong message of responsibility – not a passport or permission to engage in sexual activity.

In many ways, some of the reactions to the announcement are not unlike the recent upsurge of the debate around vaccinations – proper health education and protection versus parental control. To some extent, the only lessons in parenting that most of us get are from our parents; we emulate how they handled most situations. What if we were  taught parenting by trained specialists in ‘parenting’? Would we be better parents?


Patrick Hunter is a communications consultant and a columnist for Share Newspaper. He is a former communications director at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and has worked in government and the news media.

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Published in Commentary

by Maryann D’Souza & Mourad Haroutunian (@MHaroutunianTO) in Toronto

In part two of NCM’s coverage of the reactions amongst the ethnic/immigrant communities to Ontario’s sex education curriculum changes, our reporters focus on South Asian and Arab Canadians. To read part one, click here.

Most South Asians are uncomfortable talking about sex. That’s it plain and simple. And living in another part of the world hasn’t changed that, especially for Generation X. There might be a few that are somewhat open-minded, but even those hesitate when the time comes to have ‘that talk’ with their children. No surprise, therefore, that many in the community have added their voices to the growing group that is protesting the new sex-ed curriculum being implemented in Ontario schools this September.

Too Much Too Soon

It’s too much too soon say some of the protestors. Seven is a “sensitive age” and “too early” to be discussing concepts like homosexuality with their kids. In a recent article in the Weekly Voice, Jotvinder Sodi (founder of the Home Owners Welfare Association in Peel Region) spoke out on behalf of a group of “concerned” Brampton parents who organized a meeting to gather support against the curriculum.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]What many may not readily admit though is that, generally amongst South Asians, this discussion is not welcome at any age.[/quote]

 

“We fear that the proposed subjects could be about homosexuality and anal sex and discussions about puberty and masturbation. We believe that these are age sensitive material, age five to seven is too young to be exposed with this type of knowledge,” wrote Sodi.

Discussion is Permission

What many may not readily admit though is that, generally amongst South Asians, this discussion is not welcome at any age. Shazia Malik captured this sentiment in her article in the South Asian Daily. She referred to a caller on the South Asian PULSE Radio who said that, “He, as a father cannot dare talk to his young son about these matters openly, how will those be discussed in the class?”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Teaching small kids about sex means putting something in innocent minds which could backfire... it could have exactly the opposite effect than that it purportedly hopes to prevent." - Surjit Singh Flora[/quote]

Surjit Singh Flora, whose protests are written in a number of community publications, made his feelings clear in a Can-India News article. “Teaching small kids about sex means putting something in innocent minds which could backfire. They might take it the other way around… and it could have exactly the opposite effect than that it purportedly hopes to prevent — more rape crimes and sex abuse on the streets, at home, clubs, schools, bars, etc.,” he wrote.

“We don’t want our kids to get the idea that we are giving them permission to go ahead,” one mother said, on condition of anonymity.

Angst Amongst Liberals and Conservatives

Within the Arab community, much like amongst South Asians, there is overwhelming disdain for the new curriculum, which hasn’t been updated since 1998. In fact, both Liberal and Conservative minded Coptic-Canadians teamed up this week to voice their opposition at a protest outside of Queen’s Park, initiated by various community organizations.

“Mississauga’s Coptic churches had a strong presence in the event,” reported Good News, a Canadian–Coptic newspaper, on its online platform. A number of buses transported protesters from Mississauga under the auspices of Father Maximos Rizkalla, the pastor of the Church of St. Mary And St. Athanasius, the paper added.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It is utterly unacceptable to see the government overstep their boundaries to take on the parental role while failing to deliver to their mandate.” - Ghada Melek[/quote]

Protesters held banners reading: “It’s a parent right to teach their children about sex,” “Math, not masturbation; science, not sex,” and “What’s next? Safe animal sex?”

“It is utterly unacceptable to see the government overstep their boundaries to take on the parental role while failing to deliver to their mandate,” Ghada Melek, one of many activists who called for the protest, wrote on her Facebook page on Feb. 24.

“Today's rally sent a loud and clear message to the Wynne government that we oppose her proposed sex education to our children,” added Melek, a Copt, who debuted her political career last year when ran (and didn’t win) for Mississauga Ward 6 councillor.

Political Leaders Speak Out

Sheref Sabawy, an influential Coptic activist from the Federal Liberal party, did not abstain from joining the consensus of his community and supporting his rivals, the Conservative party.

“I am adding my voice and efforts to all Ontario parents who are concerned with the new sex ed curriculum,” Sabawy wrote on his Facebook page. “There will be no new curriculum before full consultation with parents.”

Sabawy says he believes parents should be consulted through town hall meetings, questionnaires, or, if needed, written consent of parents. “Liberal values are clear to me and do not mean immorality,” he says.

Politicians in the South Asian community also spoke out against the curriculum. The Weekly Voice and South Asia Mail reported former MPP Harinder Takhar (who served under Premier Dalton McGuinty) as saying that he had advised McGuinty against implementing the curriculum in 2010. He maintains this view stating that, “a serious debate is required in the community on this issue.” The same report also states Conservative MP Parm Gill’s apprehensions. Gill said that being the father of three children, the new syllabus is a cause of concern for him. He was of the opinion that the Liberal party had, “destroyed the institution of marriage and now it is (sic) on its way to put our children on the wrong track.”

Not All Opposed

There are some who support the provincial governments move, though their voices may be barely audible amongst the loud clatter of all the protestors. Two of the five parents interviewed by Can-India News thought it was, “about time.”

“Parents opposing the new sex-ed curriculum are living in denial. Schools should be discussing these issues and giving students the information they need,” said one parent, identified only as Parineet. “They should know about these things because everyone talks about it in schools and it is easy for them to get the wrong idea or information from friends or the Internet. The school would do it scientifically and professionally.”

Irrespective of how parents feel, Premier Kathleen Wynne is determined that the new sex-ed curriculum will be implemented this time. How much of a difference it will make is another matter though, as parents will have the option of pulling their children out of sex-ed classes.

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Published in Education

by Mark A. Cadiz @markacadiz & Shan Qiao in Toronto

Many parents throughout Ontario were up in arms about the new sex education curriculum announced Feb. 23, feeling they were excluded as part of the process.

The new curriculum, which is expected roll out in September, has received harsh criticism from some parents in various communities across Ontario.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We feel that our role as parents [is] being undermined and this is one of the problems… they are going ahead as if we didn’t exist.” - Firas Marish, Parents Against Ontario Sex-Ed[/quote]

Firas Marish from Oakville, Ont. is one of the community leaders behind Parents Against Ontario Sex-Ed (PAOSE), a Facebook community group, which launched yesterday. He isn’t holding back with his discontent, and he isn’t alone. The page, in the last 24 hours has already gathered 1200 likes.

“We feel that our role as parents [is] being undermined and this is one of the problems… they are going ahead as if we didn’t exist,” Marish said. “The goal is to protect our kids and we appreciate that move and we support it, but what we are seeing doesn’t serve that goal.”

Marish says with these new changes the government is trying to impose a certain ideology or lifestyle upon his children without his consultation. He, like many other parents, says he believes it is his right to educate his children about sex when he deems it is appropriate. To him, the school’s role is a secondary one on the issue.

He adds that to his knowledge, even school trustees were not informed properly.

What Will Be Taught

Many in the Chinese community agree on sex education being taught, but not as early as Grade 3. Many parents are even more angry when they know content like same-sex relationships will be discussed under the new curriculum. 

Jessica Gao, a mother who has a four-year-old boy and a newborn daughter, appealed to all her parents’ friends on the popular Chinese social app WeChat to sign an online petition and oppose the new Ontario sex ed curriculum. 

“Growing up in a typical reserved Chinese family, I know how important it is to have sex education and safe sex prevention before we enter our adulthood,” said Gao, who currently stays home taking care of her one-month-old daughter. “Lacking of proper sex education in China results so many teenage abortions. However, do I want my children to learn sexual orientation before he even turns 10 years old? I don’t think so. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I wish Catholic schools will not use this curriculum. I think Grade 8 is still too young to understand what they feel… discussing sex orientation will confuse them more or less.” - North York mother[/quote]

Gao, like many other parents, is concerned about when Ontario sex ed curriculum when particular content will be introduced to her children, not to mention, some content will be accompanied with offensive graphics related to masturbation and sexual intimacy. 

Catherine Fang, a North York mother who sent her six-year-old boy to a Catholic school, opposes the new sex ed curriculum for introducing sex orientation in Grade 8. “I wish Catholic schools will not use this curriculum. I think Grade 8 is still too young to understand what they feel… discussing sex orientation will confuse them more or less,” she says. 

Other parents like Markham area resident Jason Huang wonders whether private schools in Ontario will adopt the curriculum or not. “I think it is too aggressive to introduce subjects such as homosexuality. I have no problem to support the rights for homosexual people, but where is the right to not know this at a fairly young age for heterosexual children like mine?” he asks. 

Chinese media, on the other hand, have been covering this sensitive matter without any sensitivity. Words such as “anal sex” and “oral sex” appear frequently on headlines for the story, including in Singtao Daily News and Mingpao Daily News and on Fairchild TV. The coverage focuses mostly on those who oppose. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It depends how it will be handled by teachers, because if it’s not handled properly it could be destructive for children.” - Linda Javier, Filipino Centre of Toronto[/quote]

Mingpao Daily News interviewed several parents from Hong Kong and Mainland China who went to Queen’s Park to oppose on Monday. All of them express their wariness to the new sex ed curriculum as “too much” and “too early”. 

“We believe in one man and one woman marriage. We want the Ontario sex ed curriculum to cover more on this part as well,” Dr. Peter Chen, Spokesperson of Toronto Chinese Catholic Task Force told Fairchild TV at Monday’s rally against the curriculum. 

How It Will Be Taught

Retired junior high teacher and now president of the Filipino Centre of Toronto, Linda Javier, is more concerned about the delivery of the new sex education curriculum, not the material itself.

“It depends how it will be handled by teachers, because if it’s not handled properly it could be destructive for children,” Javier said. “The success will largely depend on the training that the teachers will get, in order to deliver this curriculum in such a way that it’s taught to the children properly.”

She says the intention of the program is helpful considering the advancement in digital technology, however, she doesn’t believe that from now until September will be sufficient time for teachers to be trained accordingly.

“Whatever is included in the new curriculum is intended to be helpful, it wasn’t intended to harm children,” she said. “But there are ramifications, there needs to be constant follow-ups and analysis to see if it is working.”

And this is the problem for Marish, there is no proof that this will actually make a positive difference, “it’s just trial-and-error,” he said.

In Marish’s culture, pre-marital sex is not promoted and he plans to pass those cultural values to his six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.

“For my culture we don’t have sexual relationships outside the constitution of marriage, but now all of a sudden it’s being heavily promoted by schools, and not just sex, but different forms of sex… oral sex and anal sex,” Marish said.

This promotion of sex at such a young age does more harm than good and contradicts what he would teach his kids at home Marish continued.

Common Ground

What Marish would like to see is an immediate suspension of the new sex education program and a true inclusive consultation with parents from a variety of backgrounds.

“We want to sit down with educators and people from different backgrounds, different lifestyles and different beliefs and play it fair… I’m sure that we can sit down and come up with something that is satisfactory and protects everybody, we’ve done it before in this country and we can do it again,” he said.

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Published in Education

by Mourad Haroutunian (@MHaroutunianTO) in Toronto

From the anti-terrorism bill, Charlie Hebdo and William Schabas’ resignation to Ontario’s new sex education curriculum, ethnic media covering the Arab world has had its hands full. Here’s a look at the top five headlines that have made the most waves in January and February from Arab media.

Anti-terror Bill: Be Careful

In a Feb. 11 editorial, Salah Allam (pictured to right), editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Arab News, calls for more caution and more parliamentary supervision to be included in the new anti-terror bill that Parliament is about to enact. 

Allam says that although many political analysts agree to the new bill, which aims to serve the country’s national interests and hunt international terrorists at large, his request is important. “We have to be very careful while accepting the bill in its current shape,” he writes.

Allam admits that the new legislation boosts the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP’s powers, but warns that, in the meantime, it affects civil rights protection.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“A bird’s-eye view on the new bill shows that it will be considered an illegal act when a person incites terrorism or slams Canada’s policies, even if it is merely haphazard talk.” - Arab News[/quote]

He cites the absence of effective mechanisms for the Canadian parliament to oversee the way security agencies perform their duties in this regard.

“A bird’s-eye view on the new bill shows that it will be considered an illegal act when a person incites terrorism or slams Canada’s policies, even if it is merely haphazard talk,” he writes.

The bill will forbid “propagating for terrorism” via any audio-visual medium, website or social networking platform. It will also simplify legal procedures required to detain suspected terrorists and restrict their movement.

“Thus, it is not yet clear,” Allam continues, “how such impact on existing freedom might secure more protection for Canadian citizens.”

Charlie Hebdo: All Guilty

Only Canada survived criticism over the Charlie Hebdo incident in a Jan. 22 editorial by Jamal Alqaryouti (pictured to the left), editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Al Wattan. All are deplorable, from his perspective: the criminals, the victims, the host country and the mobs across the Muslim world, as well as the Israeli prime minister, who attended the Jan. 11 Paris march in solidarity with France.

Alqaryouti writes that the event might have repercussions in Europe, but not in Canada: “Canadian society is fortified against racism and stereotypes as evident through the common reaction to the dual crimes of Ottawa and Quebec a few months ago— and their reaction to heinous attacks on some mosques and Islamic centres.”

He says that in Europe, “the crime, even before proving Muslims are behind it, will give European right-wing [populists] a justification to act against Muslims, in particular, and immigrants in general, and will further justify the ‘Islamizing the West’ myth.”

Furthermore, he adds: “Even with Charlie Hebdo being a leftist magazine that used to ridicule religious or political figures without discrimination, I categorically reject making fun of any beliefs. I deplore reactions to the magazine’s behaviour, noting that the Prophet Mohammed helped treat patients of some people who had offended him by throwing their garbage on his house and himself.”

Schabas, Israel

Nazih Khatatba (pictured to the right), editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Meshwar, declares via a Feb. 6 editorial, “William Schabas’ resignation will not hide Israeli crimes.”

Schabas, a Canadian academic, was heading a three-member commission appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian laws carried out by Israel during the Israel–Gaza conflict last summer.

Schabas resigned in February in response to Israeli accusations of bias because he had billed the Palestine Liberation Organization for $1,300 in 2012 for legal advice he gave the organization at its request. Israel said the precedent constituted evidence of a conflict of interest with his position.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Schabas is not the first person who has been exposed to Israeli rudeness, pressure and threats.” - Meshwar newspaper[/quote]

“Has Israel achieved a political victory by pushing Schabas to step down by posing pressures on him or even by threatening his life?” asks Khatatba.

“Schabas is not the first person who has been exposed to Israeli rudeness, pressure and threats,” says Khatatba, pointing to a former Israeli critic, Richard Goldstone.

“From the Israeli point of view, everyone who criticizes it is anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, greedy or even manipulated by external directives.

“Schabas refused to be like many people who disregard practices being carried out by Israeli leaders and the Israeli army. He said he wanted to see Netanyahu and Liebermann in the dock, and asked, ‘Why are we going after the President of Sudan for Darfur and not the President of Israel for Gaza?’

“Schabas has to pride himself on his humanitarianism and bias to the victim and the truth, and to standing by the Palestinian people against war crimes executed by the leaders of the occupation state, which lauds itself as the only democracy in the Middle East.

“It’s the Israeli terror that imposes its will on the international community with force,” Khatatba writes.

Sex-ed Curricula: Oral, Anal

Abram Makar (pictured to the left), editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Good News, earmarks its Feb. 14 editorial to lamenting Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum.

“The fear of sex approaching our kids has become a reality for us, the residents of the Canadian province of Ontario. This reality was imposed by the Liberal government of the province via minister of education, Liz Sandals, who resubmitted the sex education curricula project for primary school students in Ontario to be effective as of the coming fall. It’s the same project that Kathleen Wynne submitted in 2010 when she was minister of education and was aborted, thanks to opposition spearheaded by Canadian Christian advocate Charles McVety.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Minister Sandals says these ages are suitable to study those topics, but the minister has failed to tell us where she obtained this information.” - Good News[/quote]

The article reports that under this new curriculum, Grade 3 students will be taught about homosexuality and same-sex marriages, Grade 6 students will study maturity and masturbation, while Grade 7 students are going to learn about anal and oral sex in the context of how to prevent the transfer of sexual diseases.

“Minister Sandals says these ages are suitable to study those topics, but the minister has failed to tell us where she obtained this information,” Makar writes. “Did she conduct research and learn that children at these ages are capable of understanding these matters?

“The project advocates claim they want to teach kids such sex-related topics lest they learn this information from unreliable sources.

“My question is: who guarantees that [teachers] who instruct such topics are reliable sources?”

The writer, at the end of his editorial, calls on all who reject teaching such topics to their children and grandchildren at these early ages to join in opposition of the new sex-ed curricula before the start of the coming school year and take part in a protest, organized by Parents as First Educators, to be held before Ontario Parliament on Feb. 24.

‘Copy-paste’ Media

The monthly newspaper Sakher Sabeel conducted an interview with Yilmaz Jawid, a Canadian–Iraqi social activist.

Jawid (pictured to the right), who immigrated to Canada in 1994, served as the president of the Iraqi Canadian Association for two terms. He also founded the Jawid Seniors Services Foundation, which offers free services for newcomers and free taxation services for low-income senior citizens.

To Jawid, culturally based media activity in Canada is swinging between for-profit activity, with some newspapers relying on advertising and publishing materials “copy-pasted” from other newspapers and online outlets, and not-for-profit political activity, with some newspapers depending on publishing controversial news stories.

“Successful cultural activity should focus on social life to solve problems that face immigrants. These should not be the job of newspapers only, but also of all organizations and associations,” he explains.

As such, Jawid says he has posted more than 270 articles on the Al Hewar Al Motamaden website, a leftist online platform.


Mourad Haroutunian is a Toronto-based journalist. Born and raised in Cairo, Haroutunian has worked in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, for Bloomberg News, CNBC Arabiya and Nile TV International. He holds an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the American University in Cairo. Visit his Facebook page.

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Published in Arab World

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