If you happened to wander by the City Hall field during the afternoon of September 21st, perhaps you saw the cluster of students gathered in the centre of the field and wondered what was going on. Unless you’ve taken a lengthy break from social media, where stories and posts pepper your Instagram and Facebook feeds, rallying Ontario students under the banner of #wethestudentsdonotconsent, you likely have some idea of the controversy surrounding the changes that Doug Ford’s Ontario government has made to the curriculum, particularly as it pertains to sexual education.
When reduced to its very fundamental elements, the situation at hand can be roughly described as thus: the new Conservative party of Ontario will be forgoing the modern 2015 curriculum in favour of an interim curriculum from 1998. All of the shortcomings of the 1998 interim curriculum can be summarized in one word: outdated. Guidelines published before the legalization of same-sex marriage and before the boom of smartphones that has swept the younger generation, bringing its own host of issues, is problematic at best and downright dangerous at worst. The new curriculum will no longer be teaching same-sex marriage, cyberbullying, or even the importance of consent: in essence, sexual education will regress back to 1998, as though the most pressing modern issues are exactly those of twenty years ago.
Unsurprisingly, the decision sparked immediate outrage. Students and parents alike decried this regression: an online petition for Ford’s government to retain the 2015 curriculum gained tens of thousands of signatures in a relatively short period of time. Numerous articles and posts sprung up across newspapers and the internet, both protesting and ridiculing the decision. All in all, it rapidly proved to be extremely unpopular.
Why, then, was Ford’s government so keen on making this change? It’s impossible to step into the mind of the Conservative party of Ontario and gauge their exact line of reasoning, but I’ll hazard a guess: it appeals to the groups that make up Ford’s voter base. The 2015 curriculum was not without its own share of controversy: in particular, a few religious groups, such as the Campaign Life Coalition, were fairly vocal in protest of the perceived radical additions of ideas such as gender versus sex, as well as same-sex relationships. This change also falls in line with Ford’s campaign promise to revise the education system of Ontario, in order to give parents a stronger voice in deciding what their children learn. Rather cynically, one might claim that it’s for the sake of appealing to voters and securing reelection for Ford.
And, of course, the group that is most affected- the students- are too young to have a say in the matter. The responsibility to teach children and youths about vital ideas such as consent or same-sex marriage will fall onto parents: a responsibility that some may be unable, or unwilling to take on. Thus, without the guarantee of a uniform sexual education covering these key ideas, many will be left without a source of information. Too young to vote in the last provincial election, the ones most affected, the students in elementary and secondary school, find themselves without a voice in the matter. That’s where the walkouts play a role.
But exactly how effective is this manner of protest? Perhaps not as much as it could be, or that it needs to be. After all, if you happened to go to the City Hall field, you may have been disappointed with the relatively small number of participants, or the sheer number of students who remarked that they were only there to skip a period. Though the movement was quite fiery on the internet, it was a little disheartening to see its actual execution. And, of course, it remains to be seen how affected Ford will be by the protests and the aforementioned petition.
I do not, of course, mean to discourage, or even offend, those who participated in the walkout. Without the ability to vote, the voice of youths, the party at greatest risk with this change, is oftentimes silenced: therefore, I commend you greatly for your efforts in finding an alternate method through which these concerns can be voiced. If nothing else, the movement has sparked media attention, with news outlets, both local and national, reporting on student walkouts. More importantly, however, these walkouts, as well as the flood of opposition expressed through social media, proves that we care. It sends a strong message to policy makers that, though still too young to vote, high school students are politically aware, and, vitally, able to organize themselves so as to make their opinions heard.