Dalton McGuinty got smacked by parents, there is no other way to describe what happened to Ontario’s premier.
After promising that his reform of Ontario’s sex education curriculum was going through whether parents wanted it or not, the premier flinched and announced “we should give this a serious rethink.” The new curriculum was given a quiet unveiling in January, it received little media attention and was not widely publicized to parents through their local schools. Media coverage started to pick up last week with my radio colleague Jerry Agar asking Toronto residents to comment on Newstalk 1010, many callers were not happy with the proposed new study course. Then on Tuesday morning a coalition of groups all connected to Rev. Charles McVety spoke up at Queen’s Park.
McVety, the president of Canada Christian College, was joined by Brian Rushfeldt of Canada Family Action Coalition and Rev. Ekron Malcolm of the Institute for Canadian Values to announce a planned protest that would see them encourage their membership of 100,000 Canadians to pull their kids out of school and show up on the lawn of Queen’s Park the Monday after Mother’s Day.
That threatened protest was not enough to get the McGuinty to back down and he defended the program that very day. On Wednesday he went so far as to say that Catholic schools would be forced to teach the program as presented by the ministry even though many facets of the program would violate the teachings of the Catholic Church and forcing the material on the schools may violate the education act. The Ottawa Catholic School Board, the one that the late Dalton McGuinty Sr. represented for 13 years, balked at the idea, bishops told the premier as well, they would not approve the material.
Having heard stories from Ottawa old timers about how strongly Dalton Sr. defended the Catholic part of Catholic education, you can bet that one of the most important phone calls the premier received from an angry parent was from his own mother Elizabeth. Yet, it was not just Catholic parents or I am sure trustees at Catholic boards that were upset with material that would see sexuality introduced at an earlier age and issues such as vaginal lubrication, masturbation and anal sex discussed in explicit fashions with elementary school children. McGuinty says parents remain confortable with the overall idea of sex education in the classroom, “but they are obviously not comfortable with the proposal that we put forward, so we're going to improve upon that.''
The premier has acknowledged that his government did not consult widely enough in developing the curriculum, “``I just think that the net that we cast in terms of consulting was too narrow, and we have to get into more communities to get something that is truly reflective of our diversity in Ontario.'' The best place to start is with admitting that parents are the first and primary educators of their children and that they deserve a strong say in any curriculum developed. After that it is the responsibility of parents to get involved and make sure their voices are heard.
Having covered politics at the municipal, provincial and federal levels I can tell you one sad fact remains the same at all three levels, despite invitations to join in public consultations it is mainly professional lobby groups of one form or another that take part. Premier McGuinty has stepped back and told parents they can have their say, if parents are as upset as they were in calls to the premier’s office this week then we can expect those meetings to be packed.
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