Critical thinking? I was sick that day.

I’ll never forget the first time I read the word “masturbation” in a book. It was in a copy of a “Fully Alive” textbook we used in my grade 8 Catholic school. After a carefully worded description of the act, my textbook informed me, “Masturbation is not part of God’s plan.” You can imagine what an awful surprise this was for a 13-year-old boy. Fully Alive indeed.

That’s what happens when you mix a pretty standard human behaviour with moral messaging. It’s worth noting that the Bible does not condemn masturbation (there’s no “thou shalt not stroke” commandment). However, the creators of that textbook, as well as the school board that sanctioned it, felt this was need-to-know info for all 8th graders. We needed to understand that even though masturbation happens, it is still wrong.

Recent amendments to Alberta’s Human Rights Act (Bill 44) have me reflecting on my childhood sexual mis-education. The Act now mandates prior warning to parents whenever  “subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation” will be addressed in school. This guarantees parents the opportunity to pull their kids out of class during any such lessons. The fact that the Alberta School Act already requires schools to notify parents before sex ed. lessons was apparently not enough protection. Now the Alberta Human Rights Commission will weigh in when parents feel their rights have been violated.

Supporters of these changes are thanking the government for affirming “choice” in the education of Alberta’s children. It is a parent’s responsibility, they argue, to teach children about these sensitive issues. But is it also their right not to teach their children about religion and sex at all? Is the Alberta government really saying that even the most basic lessons about religion, sexuality and sexual orientation are not fundamental pre-requisites for a legitimate public education?

The implications are shocking. For example, I wonder how many Albertan mothers (and fathers, for that matter) teach their daughters (and sons, for that matter) about the clitoris. Bill 44 asserts not only that you don’t need to know about the clitoris to get on in the world, but that being told about the clitoris without your parents’ permission is a violation of human rights. Other optional pieces of reality include the existence and experience of transgendered people, Canada’s legalization of same sex marriage, and the difference between a Muslim and a Mormon.  These topics are too controversial to be considered mandatory learning, especially given the apparent “liberal bias” of most educators.

Definitions are critical here. A class test on the 206 bones in the human body is biology. But a test about testicles is sexuality, and therefore controversial enough to be the subject of a human rights complaint. And while some form of education about racial diversity is the norm is Canadian schools today, a lesson on religious diversity necessitates a warning. No need to warn parents about today’s lesson on critical thinking, though – due to the lack of material to discuss, analyze and criticize, the lesson is canceled.

I suppose children who want to learn about these things can wait until they are adults. By then, they’ll be so utterly horrified and confused by religious and sexual diversity that they will instinctively plug their ears…and the ears of their children. At least I got to learn what masturbation was before my textbook demonized it.

Meanwhile soldiers from Alberta are fighting and dying in Afghanistan, allegedly so that Afghan women and girls can get an education. I hope they can come home soon – their own childrens’ education is facing an insurgency.


2 thoughts on “Critical thinking? I was sick that day.

  1. Nick Van der Graaf

    Nicely written. Yeah, that Bill 44 is an odd duck, as it is about not just the specifics of ‘controversial’ subjects, but the entire notion of how do we create a society. What degree of uniformity of thought and experience is good and healthy? What purpose does education serve – is it simply a place to learn “stuff” or is it actually just a 13-year exercise in socialization?
    And a creature like Bill 44, is it a matter of genuinely believing in intellectual choice, or simply a reaction to the ever-growing consensus in Western society about our various freedoms and rights? If Canadian society had remained much more socially conservative, and few women worked, gay sex was illegal, etc. would us liberals be the ones fighting for that choice? The freedom to learn about our freedoms? Would we be the sore losers insisting that we have the right to construct our own intellectual reality?
    All my musings aside, my personal belief is that creating a society with a set of common intellectual denominators is important, and if nothing else they help people to intelligently agree AND disagree. If we all grow up inhabiting radically different intellectual universes, then the chances of finding a common ‘truth’ are reduced that much more.

  2. Isabelle Dwyer

    Well said!!!

    I’m glad we had some education in class even though it was mixed in with religious stuff which I don’t believe anyways..but I’m glad we at least got SOMEthing…..=)


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