Submission to the Provincial Consultation on Health and Physical Education
December 14th, 2018
To the Government of Ontario,
Ministry of Education,
and Minister of Education.
Re: the Health and Physical Education Curriculum
Violence Prevention Grey Bruce is the Violence Against Women Community Coordinating Committee of Grey and Bruce counties. Our membership is composed of more than thirty organizations, agencies, and individuals working in justice, violence against women, counseling, child protection, sexual assault, public health, mental health, policing, and education fields. The committee gathers to collaboratively compare and improve local violence prevention and response. Currently, our sub-committees are focussed on domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, inter-agency protocols, and seniors safety. Violence Prevention Grey Bruce has operated under various names locally since the mid-1990s, raising public awareness, conducting research, and fostering collaboration between professional partners. Our initiatives and research can be found at www.vpgb.ca.
The following submission comes from the Sexual and Domestic Violence sub-committees in response to the government request for community consultation on the Health and Phys. Ed. Curriculum.
Our professional opinions and personal experiences as Ontario students, parents, and community members leads us to request that Health and Physical Education:
- Recognize that one of the ultimate goals of education is to encourage health while preventing disease, unwanted pregnancy, and relationship violence. We believe that open and comprehensive education is an essential tool to those ends.
- Introduce the concept of consent as early and clearly as possible. To clearly understand consent students must learn to pay attention and respectfully respond to the boundaries of others and themselves. These ideas can be taught at any age, initially as young children learn to see and respect the personal space of others and assert their individual boundaries and later as adolescents learn to navigate their first romantic and sexual relationships.
- Recognize diverse family structures in the elementary curriculum. Children naturally discuss their families and without an open and inclusive school environment in which to make sense of diverse family structures, the children of divorced or LGBTQ+ parents become vulnerable to the bullying and ostracizing behaviours of others. Teaching children from a young age that LGBTQ+ people are normal and that they can be parents also creates an environment where LGBTQ+ students experience less stigma and shame which is essential to create the positive learning environment that every student deserves.
- Includes information for and about gender, sexual, and ability diverse students. Health and physical education has historically been gear towards heterosexual, cis-gendered, and physically able people. A comprehensive and inclusive health and physical education curriculum will need to include information for and about diverse students from an early age. Diversity can be shown in examples, scenarios, and materials.
- Recognizes, discusses, and partners with community supports and agencies for people in need of mental health, sexual health, and intimate partner violence support services. Proactively teaching students about community supports orients them to the community supports available to them outside of school and in their adulthood.
- Help students learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, tactics of power and control, equality, and respectful communication in middle school before dating becomes widespread. Manipulation is an often used tactic of control. Many teens experience it in early relationships and they should be prepared to recognize, avoid, and protect against abusive behaviour.
- Discuss healthy and unhealthy relationships, abuse, coercion, and consent in the context of relationships mediated by technology. So much of students’ lives are lived online that they need to be able to think about and recognize respectful and abusive behaviour. We’ve heard from many partners that sexting is already common in middle school and education supporting safe and consensual digital relationships should come before the behaviour becomes widespread.
- Recognize and discuss the impacts of pornography. Pornography is easily available and students are accessing it at younger and younger ages. We know that pornography has addictive qualities and that it depicts unrealistic and largely disrespectful sexual encounters. If our goal is to properly prepare children to support each other and to protect themselves, they need to be made aware of these issues before they immerse themselves in pornography. This education should come in middle school.
- Teach children anatomically correct body part names at the earliest possible age. Local sexual assault service providers are finding that childhood sexual abuse is a serious issue and children need to be taught proper body part names as well as what appropriate and inappropriate touching is in order to protect them. Knowledge is power and we need to empower children. Learning about good touch and bad touch also connects to lessons about boundaries and consent.
- Recognize that failing to introduce students to healthy perspectives in school drives them to learn about sex and relationships from pornography and other destructive sources. We do children a disservice when we assume that they are not already dealing with or aware of serious issues. Making the important information available to everyone through public education protects the most vulnerable and saves money in the long term by reducing the medical, mental health, and justice system costs resulting from violence and trauma.
- Include a gender based analysis. Our society has different expectation of, and place different pressures on, people of different sexes and genders. Young people need to be given an opportunity to examine those pressures so that they can protect themselves against them.
- Offer opportunities for healthy masculinity programming. There are a variety of evidence based healthy relationship and positive masculinity programs running across Canada and they should be rolled out systematically to all communities in Ontario. Many healthy relationship programming also includes opportunities to practice practical skills.
- Recognize the expertise of professionals. Agency and community experts in the violence against women, sexual assault response, healthy masculinities, and violence prevention fields need to be actively engaged in curriculum development. Parents are responsible for their children but we cannot assume that parents are experts in these crucial fields.
- Include opportunities for parents to learn alongside their children. We know that everyone does not have the same level of understanding in matters relating to physical, sexual, or relationship health. Including opportunities for parents to engage with these topics will help to create a more positive environment for Ontario students as a whole.
- Be sex positive. Education that presents peoples’ bodies and sexualities as shameful and taboo reduce the likelihood of those people reaching out for support if they need it. Talking about relationships, sexuality, and sexual health teaches students that these are topics that they can discuss and better prepares them for adulthood.
We recognize that the role of education is to prepare students for the real world they will encounter as adults. Physical and Health Education in the public sphere plays an essential role in that preparation and accordingly, needs to honestly, openly, and thoroughly prepare students for the opportunities and dangers that await them. We cannot prevent people from being exposed to pornography, from exploring their sexuality, or beginning romantic relationships but we can prepare them to do those things safely and respectfully.
Please be in touch for further comment or explanation of themes. We would welcome further discussion and consultation.
and on behalf of the Sexual and Domestic Violence Sub-Committees of
Violence Prevention Grey Bruce
Violence Prevention Grey Bruce