A recent editorial in the Toronto Star came out, strongly, against the apparently en vogue practice of conservative parents sending a letter to school asking to be notified if certain hot button subjects are likely to come up in their children’s class. The Star’s view:
Ontario has tried hard to accommodate parents with conservative religious views who want their children excused from sex education classes. Typically, that means some students head to the library when the health nurse comes to talk about condoms.
But now a small group of parents who are angry that they lost the battle to keep support clubs for gay students out of the schools are taking things to a new level by demanding the right to pull their kids out of a wide range of classroom discussions that do not conform to their particular beliefs.
Their demands are impractical, indeed unacceptable in a public school system. Everyone from the education minister down to individual principals must push back against this pernicious trend.
Something called “traditional values” form letters are trickling into boards across the Greater Toronto area from conservative Christian and Muslim parents. The generally ask that schools notify them before teachers deal with certain subjects, including evolution, the environment, wizardry or any discussion that portrays gay relationships as “natural, healthy or acceptable.”
This demand for prior notice is unreasonable. The schools need to be able to deal with these matters as they come up.
What’s a teacher to do when a student starts reading his English essay about Harry Potter flying his broom to the recycling depot? Whistle down the reader while the class is cleared of objectors?
Moreover tolerance and respecting differences is not something kids learn at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and then move on. It is imbedded, quite rightly, into the curriculum. No teacher should have to cover up a family drawing by a young girl with two moms, so as not to offend other students. How would the young girl feel to be told that some of her peers aren’t allowed to see her family portrait?
“A little person can draw a picture of her two moms or two dads, for example, and feel safe and accepted,” says Education Minister Laurel Broten. “That’s what happens in classes across Ontario and that’s what should happen.”
She’s right. But for it to remain that way, the education system must push back against this growing pressure from those who want to impose their agenda and censor what children are taught. The public schools serve a broader community.
We get that some may not accept the theory of evolution. That they may object to a novelist’s characters. Or that they may not be supportive of gays. But the public school system teaches science and literature and tolerance, and it must remain free to do so.