The Opposition grows in Ontario to Health Curriculum Changes – Minus a Catholic Voice

 

The summer is usually a quiet time for education news in Ontario.

Not this year. The declaration by the new Conservative Government of Doug Ford rescinding the current (2015) Health and Physical Education curriculum is causing a virtual firestorm in the province.

The story just gets more interesting by the moment. Andrew Campbell is doing an amazing job at keeping track of the school boards in Ontario that are coming out with statements in support of teaching the 2015 Health Curriculum.

Here is a portion of the TDSB (Toronto Public) statement:

We want to let the TDSB community know that regardless of the Health and Physical Education curriculum, we have a responsibility guided by the Human Rights Code, the Education Act and supported by TDSB policies, to ensure that each and every student, such as LGBTQ students, feels included and reflected in our schools and classrooms.

Similar statements are being put out by many of Ontario’s Public school boards.

It is important to note that none of the boards making public statements are Catholic school boards. Before I go on, I want to state that I was a Catholic educator for 31 years in Ontario, the last six years as an elementary principal.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario seem to be silent on this very important issue. They may have made statements, but nothing is available on their websites or twitter feed. These two organizations are important components of the Catholic voice in this province. Just like the bystander who doesn’t stop the bully, these organizations are becoming part of the problem when it comes to delivering an important curriculum to our children.

Liz Stuart, the President OECTA, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association has made a positive step to become the lead Catholic voice in the province.

And I say again Teachers need relevant, up-to-date information and resources to help students manage relationships and personal well-being.

She was interviewed by CBC Toronto a few days ago. In the interview, she makes it very clear that the current Fully Alive Program taught in Catholic schools complied with the 2015 HPE Curriculum. Why then are Catholic school boards reluctant to publicly support the retention of the 2015 curriculum?

Good for OECTA and Catholic teachers in the province. However, the Catholic hierarchy seems to be taking the position that a return to the earlier 1998 curriculum is a relief. No mention of cyberbullying, same-sex couples, issues relating to LGBTQ people, consent or sexting. No uncomfortable conversations.

Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board chair John Caputo was quoted in the Sault Star as being satisfied by the current regression by the province.

“Being Catholic, we don’t agree with the lifestyle,” Caputo said. “(But) we’re not here to judge people or to crucify them for their lifestyle. We’re here to educate, and that’s what we’re trying to do with our children is try to educate them so that they’re well prepared for the real world.”
There was, however, a “sigh of relief” within his board, Caputo said, when the new government announced the older curriculum would be brought in.
“It was a lot easier to deliver it, based on our faith,” he added. “The newer one did have some challenges and we were struggling on how we were going to present it.”

While it is inspiring to see the position the Public boards are taking, it is very discouraging to see Catholic boards favouring a position of abstinence rather than speaking out for the protection of their students.

It seems to me there are two reasons for the silence. First, this is uncomfortable ground for the Catholic leadership. As school board chair John Caputo stated the 1998 curriculum was easier to deliver, it was based on Catholic faith.

I would argue that our faith is much more inclusive than that. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to support those who are underrepresented in society – that should come first. Respect for the Dignity of the Human Person should come first. Instead, we are falling back on old ideas.

Second, the Catholic boards do not want to say anything to anger the current government at a time where the idea of amalgamating Public and Catholic school boards is gaining currency.

Hardly surprising, but troubling.

When so many voices are missing from a crucial public debate you have to ask if the Catholic voice in public education is losing credibility. As a former Catholic school principal, the absence of Catholics in a debate that really centers on what is best for our students is a loss for everyone.

Students, parents and teachers deserve better than this. There should be a stronger, braver Catholic vision in Ontario right now.

Teachers Stepping Up in Ontario

I did a quick informal survey of edutwitter this morning. I found the usual interesting tweets about education initiatives, conferences and new ideas. I was encouraged to see that teachers, especially in Ontario continue to push back on a number of local and national issues.

This is really important. Educators need to understand that especially if they are active on social media they have a role to play in making statements against policies and practices that are unjust and that need to be opposed.

Yes, all the other Twitter traffic in education is fine, but at a time when there is so much going on in the province and the world, can an educator actually have a public profile and not make statements about what is going on? If an educator doesn’t take a stand are they avoiding an important responsibility?

The issues are so important. VoicEd Radio, Derek Rhodenizer and Debbie Donsky are actively promoting Seven Fallen Feathers through podcasts, tweets and Facebook posts. Because of them, I am reading the book and am horrified by the long history of abuse and injustice against First Nations people that has yet to be resolved in this country. I knew about this sad story, but when you bring it down to single students, it really hits home – a huge shame against individuals and a people.

At the same time, educators are also reacting to the ludicrous actions of the new Conservative Government in Ontario who are unilaterally censoring public Health Curriculum for students, a document that received a full consultation including parents from every school in the province.

Now some people are publically declaring that they will continue to teach about social media, same-sex marriage, consent and other issues vital to the education of our students. As one parent stated – these are issues too important to be left up to parents – we all need to be aware of how these issues are being addressed in the public forum of our schools.

Associated with Seven Fallen Feathers is another issue, the ending of curriculum writing directed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Ontario Government is actively trying to head back to the old days, not only when it comes to Health Curriculum but also how we look at issues surrounding indigenous people in Canada. The blatant ignorance that prevailed up to the recent past is something the current regime wants to return to. All teachers worth their salt need to publically condemn this action.

Teachers teach. It is their vocation. To remain silent at this difficult time is not responsible. It should not be up to a valiant few to protest the actions of the new populist government or to publically examine our shameful history regarding indigenous people. It is the responsibility of all educators.

So, educators, continue to tweet about what you are reading and learning about this summer, but make sure you make yourself heard on social media about the bigger picture. Silence is acquiescence and we don’t do that.