In Ontario, sex education remains one of those writhing cans of worms that nobody wanted opened and nobody can close.
The centre of the squirming mess is a debate over whether sex ed – and by extension, sexual morality – is a private or public concern.
Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives won the last Ontario election, and so for the next four years, the province’s official position on the issue is that sex and sexual morality is a private concern.
Sex ed, Ford says, is best left to parents to teach with minimal intervention from the state – unless the state has to punish a teacher who teaches outside the lines of the curriculum.
Ford’s government has unveiled a website that will facilitate the punishment of teachers who don’t do exactly as they’re told.
Called ForTheParents.ca, the site gives parents a place to complain about their children’s teachers while Ford’s government tours the province to consult with parents about how to reform the province’s recently reformed sex ed curriculum.
Patient parents will be rewarded when, the government promises, “fundamental lessons will be restored to classrooms.”
ForTheParents.ca brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “government oversight.” Indeed, it’s like something the Stasi would have invented. But unlike East Germany, which asked neighbours to inform on each other, Ontario’s government will enlist children to help build dossiers against disloyal teachers.
Imagine the scene: Over dinner, Mommy and Daddy, who voted Ford into office, ask the children to tell them everything Mrs. X taught about sex. Every little shocking detail. Did she talk about anal sex? What did she say about anal sex?
Across town, parents who hate Ford will search out every conservative-leaning teacher they can find, just so they have somebody to report, too.
Every teacher will have to watch what they say. Especially during the few hours a semester dedicated to teaching sexual health. You never know which kid will be recording what’s said.
Is this the kind of workplace we want to create for teachers, where any off-the-cuff remark might be taken as either perverse or oppressive for high-strung parents?
More to the point, do we want our children to be tattletales in the culture wars?
But, to be fair, teachers appear eager to continue the election campaign against Ford. Ford’s snitch line came in rapid response to the teachers’ union announcement that it will support any teacher who ignores the government’s directives on what to teach about sex ed.
While most parents trust teachers to teach what students need to know – and most teachers do – teachers don’t determine curriculum. Neither do teachers’ unions.
Ontarians should brace for a long, politicized school year. Teachers’ unions will talk a lot about the harm the government’s approach to sex ed will do to students. The government will talk a lot about how harmful progressive sex education is to students.
Some teachers will martyr themselves for the progressive cause. Ford and his supporters will look for teachers to lynch, grinding up martyrs along with innocent teachers netted by the Stasi with the same glee.
Students and teachers who just want to do a good job will suffer the fallout.
Education, sadly, must take second seat to politics.
But isn’t that always the way?
Troy Media columnist Robert Price is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga.