Where I live, the Ministry of Education has mandated a new curriculum for health education, specifically dealing with human sexuality for elementary students up to eighth grade. This week I witnessed many parents upset about the content of this curriculum as they made delegations at an open meeting of the public school board. Some examples of issues raised were that the new curriculum gives young children too much information at too young an age, that it fails to connect sexual behavior to marriage and commitment, that it fails to mention sex trafficking, rape and pornography as risks for older children and that it glosses over the dangers of sexually transmitted infections.
After six people, including one psychiatrist and one registered nurse, shared their concerns, the trustees discussed what could be done. The parents were requesting information sessions be provided to all interested parents so that they would know what was being taught and so that they would be aware of their rights to withdraw their child from the classes if they found them objectionable on religious grounds. In the end, the trustees voted to invite the Minister of Education to the region to provide such an information session since the board itself cannot set or change policy.
Information sharing is something that happens at my school whenever sensitive topics will be taught to a class. This year for the first time, I taught a unit for Grade 5 students at my school entitled "Growing and Changing." Prior to the start of this unit (and similar health classes that deal with sexuality offered in Grade 3 and 6), teachers send home a letter to the parents outlining the topics that would be dealt with and providing contact information if they had any questions or concerns. It was an option for a child to be exempt from the unit if a parent felt their child was not ready for any or all of these topics.
Even though I teach at a private school where most of the parental values are held in common, it is important for me as a teacher to be transparent about what will be taught in this sensitive area. There is a level of trust for the teacher to explain the changes of puberty in a way that is age-appropriate and that affirms marriage and family life. All teaching also included the notion that God designed us male and female, and that our sexuality is a gift from God. A question box was provided for students to ask things anonymously on paper that they may have felt uncomfortable voicing in a larger group. Discretion was used as to how best to answer these questions, but in my case all of them were normal and appropriate. If there were questions that went beyond the scope of education and the role of the teacher, students could have been told to bring those questions to their parents or to their family doctor.
The primary educator of a child is his or her parents. As a teacher, I recognize this reality every day. That is why I consider myself so blessed to teach at a school where the values of the home and church are affirmed. When we come to sensitive matters, teachers need to communicate with parents so that trust is maintained.
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