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Sensitive talk about real life

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I was quite surprised yesterday to learn that the department of education provides teachers, principals and parents with teaching materials about sexual orientation, abortion and masturbation.

The latter two don’t appear anywhere in the K-12 health education curriculum, sexual orientation only pretty briefly, and that lack of content in the curriculum at an age-appropriate level isn’t a good thing.

But the information is there for educators and parents, should students ask about the so-called HAM (homosexuality, abortion, masturbation) hot-button topics. You can read today’s story here.

Not that the information is easy to find. A provincial official pointed it out to me late Monday, its existence being as much news to that official as it was to me. It’s laid out in an appendix to the supporting documents to the enormous health education curriculum.

You’ll find the curriculum here, and the HAM appendix here.

The health education curriculum is rampant with topics labelled sensitive content — teachers take professional development before teaching it, parents can review the curriculum and opt to keep their kids out of that class, and either cover those areas themselves, engage a professional counsellor to do it, or someone else of their choosing.

Or, the provincial document doesn’t point out, parents can choose to not talk about some topics at all, and allow their kids to remain ignorant or to approach adulthood with beliefs based on what they’ve heard in the hallway and the locker room.

The HAM sections, though, are labelled as special sensitive topics.

I read through them yesterday, and the material is quite extensive, and certainly I recognize that there’s a potential that some parents would consider it a problem. I don’t see anything there that I would consider inaccurate, as a lay person, and I didn’t see anything there that I wouldn’t have wanted my kids to be exposed to in high school and that did not fit within our family values.

Though, I must acknowledge, I’m not totally naive. People such as the members of the Tea Party movement in the U.S., to avoid offending demographics closer to home, would find our family values abhorrent. And they wouldn’t be thrilled by some of the teaching material, I recognize.

The department of education also notes on its website that school divisions can decide whether to cover everything in the health curriculum: to exceed what’s in the framework, to match it, to teach less than what’s in the framework, or to not teach certain areas at all.

Our kids were fortunate to take health education and family life in Winnipeg School Division, which is about as liberal as you’ll find in its application of the curriculum. Yes, I know, that’s why some of you don’t have your kids in WSD. Thanks to those courses, my kids were even in some areas better-informed than I, such as knowing the real names for things I can’t mention in a family-oriented blog.

All this comes up because there’s a rally at the legislature at 5 p.m. today against homophobic bullying. People are encouraged to wear purple today as a sign of support for efforts to obliterate homophobia. Alas, best I could find was a tie this morning, but I think I’ve got a ratty old purple Manitoba Marathon sweatshirt that I could wear to volleyball tonight.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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