Sex Education and Words

(Note:  In April of 2010, the Ontario government released a major revision of the curriculum for sex education in its schools.  Just a few days later the Premier announced that the government was scrapping this new curriculum because of a public backlash against parts of the curriculum.  This blog responds to an editorial appearing in the Waterloo Region Record on April 23, 2010, p. A12). 

I could not help but notice one sentence in an otherwise balanced treatment of the recent controversy regarding sex education in Ontario schools.  The editors commend the proposed curriculum which has now been put on hold, as follows:  “It realized that many Ontarians are homosexual, that many families now have two male or two female parents raising children and that students in Grade 3 can and should be made aware of these realities.”

Words matter.  “Many” Ontarians are homosexual?  “Many” families now consist of same sex parents?  Really?  How many is “many”?  The term “many” is of course a relative term and can only be properly understood in context.  In this case we are talking about a curriculum for the province of Ontario.  So what does “many” mean in this context?  “Most” could only be used if at least 51% of the adult population has the characteristic in question.  And “many” – well I suppose it would be appropriate to use this term if say 30% of the adult population has the characteristic in question.  Now one thing I am quite sure about is that the homosexual population of Ontario is not that high. Nor is the number of same-sex marriages.  Indeed, I suspect that it would have been more appropriate to say that a “few” Ontarians are homosexual, and that a few families consist of same-sex partners.  But, the use of the word “few” in this context is probably as misleading as the word “many.”  So maybe a better word to use would be the word “some.” 

So, “some” Ontarians are homosexual, and “some” families now have two male or two female parents raising children.  This would be more accurate.  And yes, I quite agree that children at some point should be given accurate information about these facts.  A question might still be raised as to when this should occur.  And further, who should give this information to the child?  To argue that this is the business of the state is surely debatable. 

Lest I be accused of being homophobic by “some” readers, because I am raising these concerns, let me assure the reader that I am not homophobic.  Of course this term too is misused “much” of the time. Just because I, and “most” other Ontarians have moral concerns about homosexuality and same-sex marriages, does not make us homophobic.  I also have concerns about the excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs by “some” individuals.  My concerns are rooted in the well-documented consequences of such abuse – harm done to the individuals themselves, and to children, and to spouses, and to society at large.  But these concerns don’t make me “alcophobic.”  I just have some moral concerns about this practice.  I care about others and about society.  And I want to be treated with respect, just as I am committed to treating with respect persons who use excessive alcohol, or who are homosexual or in a same sex-marriage.  

So lets be careful with how we use words. A defence of accuracy in sex education should itself be accurate.

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