Monday, March 02, 2015

The anti-sex brigade lies again, hurrah, hurrah — the Ontario sex ed curriculum

Last week, the Ontario government published its revised health and physical education curriculum, which includes updated sexual education content.

Image courtesy
The update is actually titled The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1–8: Health and Physical Education. There is a separate curriculum for high school, grades 9 to 12. It covers much more than sex, in fact, all forms of health, including safety, physical activity and hygiene. 

The sexual component elicited opposition from the usual groups. The most prominent groups in this opposition use the Big Lie strategy to get more attention and rope uninformed people into joining their side.

For example, Charles McVety of the Institute for Canadian Values call the curriculum “nothing more than an indoctrination vehicle to teach children a new way of thinking about gender.”

Campaign Life—whose main goal is to stop abortion—is worried about teaching grade 1 students the proper names of body parts. This is what it says on its website as a problem with the curriculum, which is not all that different from the draft brought out in 2010:
Below are some shocking excerpts from the 2010 curriculum that the Education Ministry had posted online…Graphic lesson on sexual body parts including ‘penis’, ‘testicles’, ‘vagina’, ‘vulva’ and more.”
This is what the curriculum actually says: 
Specific expectationsC1. Understanding Health ConceptsBy the end of Grade 1, students will: …Human Development and Sexual HealthC1.3 identify body parts, including genitalia (e.g., penis, testicles, vagina, vulva), using correct terminology [PS]Teacher prompt: “We talk about all body parts with respect. Why is it important to know about your own body, and use correct names for the parts of your body?”Student: “All parts of my body are a part of me, and I need to know how to take care of and talk about my own body. If I’m urt or need help, and I know the right words, other people will know what I’m talking about.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see a problem with that. And “penis” and “vagina” are words we can hear regularly on prime-time TV today.

Campaign Life are also concerned that the curriculum 
Will normalize homosexual family structures and homosexual ‘marriage’ in the minds of 8-year-olds, without regard for the religious/moral beliefs of families.”
This is what the curriculum actually says about homosexual relationships for grade 3 students, who are 8 or 9 years old:

By the end of Grade 3, students will: …C1.3 identify the characteristics of health relationships (e.g. accepting differences, being inclusive, communicating openly, listening, showing mutual respect and caring, being honest) and describe ways of overcoming challenges (e.g. bullying, exclusion, peer pressure, abuse) in a relationship [IS] Teacher prompt: “Consider different types of relationships — with friends, siblings, parents, other adults — and think about the kinds of behavior that help to make those relationships healthier. What can you do if you are having problems with a relationship?”

Importantly, in Grade 1, the curriculum also aims to teach kids this concept:
demonstrate the ability to recognize caring behaviours (e.g., listening with respect, giving positive reinforcement, being helpful) and exploitive behaviours (e.g., inappropriate touching, verbal or physical abuse, bullying), and describe the feelings associated with each [IS]

Let’s look at the curriculum:

C3.3 describe how visible differences (e.g., skin, hair, and eye colour, facial features, body size and shape, physical aids or different physical abilities, clothing, possessions) and invisible differences (e.g., learning abilities, skills and talents, personal or cultural values and beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, family background, personal preferences, allergies and sensitivities) make each person unique, and identify ways of showing respect for differences in others [PS, IS]

Campaign Life says that part of the curriculum means Ontario schools 
will teach the disputed theory of ‘gender identity’ as if it were fact. This is the notion that whether you're a boy or a girl does not necessarily relate to your physical anatomy. It is merely a ‘social construct’. Gender is ‘fluid’ according to this theory, and any little boy can decide that he is actually a girl, if that's the way he feels in his mind, or vice-versa.  
Note: The potential for causing serious sexual confusion in the minds of children is very real with this teaching.”

Of course, Campaign Life does not point out that there is no evidence for the theory that teaching children the theory of fluid gender identity harms them in any way.

Another thing that this organizations do not point out in their protests against the curriculum is their own agenda. They’re very conservative, stridently anti-gay and against any sexual content in any education. In fact, reading their material, I get the strong sense they’d be happier if no one ever talked about sex, ever.

Another big lie: no parents were consulted on the development of the new curriculum. In fact, consultations with parents, students, teachers, faculties of education, universities, colleges and other groups started in 2007. Granted, most of that was prior to the 2010 draft, but there isn’t much difference. And there have been consultations since.

Parents have had a lot of opportunity to weigh in on the issue. And in the meantime, the world has moved on and become even more sexually explicit.

Here’s another big lie: Brian Lilley of the conservative website TheRebel says that “in grade 6, they want to start teaching masturbation.” Those were Lilley’s words: “they want to start teaching masturbation.” Not “about masturbation.”


Lilley deliberately constructed his sentence that way. He is trying to create an image in his audience’s minds of a teacher teaching grade 6 students, 11- and 12-year-olds, how to masturbate.

Don’t worry. They already know how. And so do you, Lilley.

The concept of masturbation occurs once in the curriculum. This is what the Grade 6 curriculum says about it:
“Things like wet dreams or vaginal lubrication are normal and happen as a result of physical changes with puberty. Exploring one’s body by touching or masturbating is something that many people do and find pleasurable. It is common and is not harmful and is one way of learning about your body.”

Have a problem with that, Lilley?

Big lies. Expect the anti-sex brigade to keep repeating them, because we all know the Big Lie strategy works.

Even in this sexually explicit age, we’re still squeamish about sex.

“I know sex is either boring or dirty.”
— I’m An Adult Now, The Pursuit of Happiness, 1986

Sex’s dirtiness and the shame imposed on my generation around sex — and earlier generations, too — fuels the titillation, fascination and explicitness over sex. Despite the sexual revolution of decades past, we’re still squeamish about it. Especially religious communities, who cannot get away from telling people about the kind of sex they should have.

By the way, as a parent, I really resent groups like the Institute of Canadian Values presuming to dictate to my kids whom they can marry. As far as values go, I think these are Canadian values: accepting differences, being inclusive, communicating openly, listening, showing mutual respect and caring, being honest. Where did I see those? Oh, yes — in the Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum for Grade 1.

What age is appropriate?

With every other topic, we teach people information before they start the activity, so they know what to expect and can take the right steps to protect themselves against inadvertent harm. We teach kids safe behavior near water before we teach them to swim. We teach teens the rules of the road in a classroom before we let them get behind the wheel of a car. So why should we not teach facts about sex before they’re of an age to be sexually active?

I remember when my kids came home from their first sex-education classes, in grade 3 or 4 — I can’t remember, offhand, which it was. Their reaction? “Gross!”

No danger that they were going to indulge in premature sexual activity in school.

The biggest lie is that, without sexual education in school, parents can “protect” their children against harm by keeping ideas and expressions about sex away from them. The reality is that our society is awash in sexual messages. The biggest movie is Fifty Shades of Gray, based on the book that broke all kinds of sales records of its own. Every time I go to the grocery store, the magazines at the check-outs invariably bear at least one headline about having “mind-blowing sex.”

And kids in school have all sorts of wrong ideas about sex, ideas that can be harmful. Many high school-age people believe that by having only oral and anal sex, they’ll remain virgins. Some believe that oral sex cannot expose you to sexually transmitted diseases. We owe our kids clear, correct information about health, which, despite anyone’s squeamishness, includes sex.

I don’t think children are harmed by facts.

They’re harmed when facts are hidden from them. For centuries, abusers have gotten away with sexually exploiting children partly because the shame that their victims felt prevented them from talking about it, from reporting it.

If we can talk openly and honestly about sex, without shame, the same way we talk about any other health topic — the way we talk about healthy food, for example — then maybe the next generation will have fewer sexual problems and healthier lives.

Denying facts won’t help that.

What do you think?

Monday, February 23, 2015

How to avoid awful committee writing: Go back to the beginning

“A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” That’s been attributed to more than one person, and it’s an excellent way to describe written documents that get approved by authorities who are more concerned about things other than the content of the documents themselves. In other words, documents produced by corporations and governments.

Recently, I’ve found some especially great examples of terrible writing. I’ve changed a few words to protect the guilty, without affecting the weight of its awfulness.

Many participants in consultations expressed the view that fostering a change in attitudes and behaviours is necessary to counter the culture of instant gratification and its impact on health.

That sentence is overloaded, cramming several ideas into one string of words: changing attitudes, which are distinct from behaviours; instant gratification as a culture; and health. As if that’s not enough, the Select Committee of Awful Writing Creation and Promotion (SCAWCP) jammed in the superfluous phrases “participants in consultations,” “expressed the view” and “fostering a change.”

Committees that review and approve writing seem to prefer passive sentences—the kind of sentence that doesn’t tell you who or what performed the action. I think that’s because the people on these committees either don’t want to take responsibility for the actions described, or don’t want to give anyone else credit.

Take this example:
Some positive results were reported from initiatives that help individuals reflect on personal values, set goals and take concrete steps to align their behaviours with their values and personal goals.

Committee writing often shows chains of words and phrases, placed so that readers cannot tell which is most important. Again, this probably results from the competitive nature of committees—no one is willing to let another’s idea take prominence over their own.

Participants in the consultations noted that many people are uncomfortable talking about colon health and that there is a stigma associated with getting help to improve health understanding, which has been a barrier to building their health knowledge.

What is that sentence about—the consultations, colon health, a social stigma, understanding of health or barriers to knowledge?

Here’s a string of adjectives. Maybe they’re all equally important to the plan, but SCAWCP apparently thinks a subject is not important:
With a focused plan that is inclusive, relevant and accessible, the aim is to help patients understand the Internet and take steps that will enable them to use online resources to their best advantage.

I feel sorry for the documents I took these sentences from. I imagine they began as good sentences, and then successive approvers stretched, contorted, twisted and mangled them beyond recognition. I don’t know what they even mean, anymore.

That’s the problem—neither did the committee. The people who had approval authority over these documents did not have the same objectives. The committees expected a single document to achieve different, sometimes competing goals.

What’s the solution? As always, go back to the beginning and get a GRIP:
  • Goal—why are you writing this sentence, this paragraph, this document? What do you want your readers to do after they read your document? Before you start writing, state the goal clearly. Keep it in mind while you are editing, reviewing or approving any document.Examples of goals: 
    • propose a strategy 
    • sell more products 
    • explain how to save money.
  • Reader—whom is this document for? What do they know, what do they need to understand, what motivates them?
  • Idea—the thesis statement, the most important idea in your document. Try this: “You have to only one sentence to tell me what your document says.”
  • Plan—the other ideas that support or prove the main idea. Put them in the order that will take the reader from your thesis statement to fulfilling your goal.

If your goal is to improve understanding of colon health, for example, you need to know who your readers are, what they know about colon health now, what they need to learn, and what would interest them in reading about their colons. Then you need to organize the information so that these particular readers can follow it.

However, getting an executive’s approval on your idea for a strategy to improve the public’s knowledge of colon health takes a very different document. Its goal would to get a signature or an approval to spend some resources, the reader would be one person or a small group of people, and the thesis would be something like: “We need to spend X dollars on this strategy so that this organization will benefit in the following particular way.”

Writing well is not easy, but it’s not complex, either. It’s a matter of keeping the basic rules in mind. The next time you submit your writing for approval, remind the review committee about your goal, reader and thesis.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Do on-screen keyboards change the way we write?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons
(Caleb Roenigk) 
Image via Wikimedia under by Creative Commons
by  Matt Buchanan.
 Originally posted to Flickr

On the bus last week, I was standing behind someone typing on a tablet. She was using the on-screen touchpad keyboard. Not that I was spying or anything (honest!), I watched how she typed an accented é: she touched the e “key” for an slightly extended time—less than a second—until a menu of accented characters appeared on the screen above the keypad, then slid her finger to her choice.

Seeing it in action started me thinking: is on-screen typing, as done on touch-screen computers, changing the way we write?

We all learn to write, or print, with a stylus directly marking a surface: pencil on paper, crayon on colouring book, brush on parchment. 

Since the invention of the typewriter in the 1860s, the technology of writing has been a kind of remote control, separating the action of our fingers from the results. Press a key on a typewriter, and the attached type bar strikes the ribbon and impresses it onto the paper. 

Since then, typing technological development has progressively increased the distance between actions and results. To create this post, I am tapping my fingers on a wireless keyboard. I can’t imagine how many digital transformations occur to make the characters I am typing appear on the screen in front of my eyes. It’s only after I hit the Print button that the printer, two metres from the keyboard, puts marks on paper.

But I won’t print this particular essay. I’ll edit and proofread it on-screen, and then post it on this blog, hosted on a server hundreds or thousands of kilometres from this screen and keyboard. Or maybe it’s next door—I have no way of knowing. 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons
(Stan Wiechers)
Closing the gap between action and consequence
Typing on a touch screen brings actions closer to results. There is still a separation, of course, as the keypad is at the bottom of the screen and the words may be at the top, but still, it’s closer than the typewriter allowed.

Standing on the bus in rush hour, I was fascinated by the woman typing on the touch-screen. I wondered: is her writing experience different?

Personally, I don’t like typing on a touch screen. There is no physical or kinetic feedback from a touch screen, unlike with a keyboard, where I can feel the key depress and spring back. 

Also, using the touch pad on my iPad shrinks the display of the writing I’m doing. I like to be able to see the words I’ve written. So I have a Bluetooth keyboard to write with my iPad, re-establishing that remote action of the old-fashioned typewriter.

An area to research
Does bringing the result, the mark on the writing surface, closer to the motion of our fingers make typing on a touch screen closer to writing with a pencil on paper?

And if it does, will that have an effect on the way that we write? Will it affect the words we choose, the way we construct phrases and sentences?

Will we be able to tell a book written on a touch-screen from a book created with a typewriter?

I can imagine someone getting a doctoral degree on this by analyzing documents written with a stylus on paper with those created on a computer using a standard word processor, and others written using a touch screen. And I’d be fascinated to see the results.

What do you think? If you use a touch screen for anything, do you find the writing experience different? Do you like typing on a touch screen?

Do you think that the touch screen changes the way you write?

Monday, January 26, 2015

What is freedom of speech? Opinion or bullying and mocking?

Guest post by award-winning, bestselling author Samreen Ahsan 

Our world is trending on controversial hashtags these days: be it #JeSuisCharlie, #PeshawarAttack or #IWillRideWithYou. We all have our own opinions and thoughts—but what exactly does “freedom of speech” mean?

Is it having the right to express an opinion on something that you observe or read, or is it the power to criticize someone on the basis of their religion, nationality or colour?
To me, it is simply the power to generate your idea and raise your voice for justice.
I’d like to emphasize that I’m not here to criticize any theory or ideology. Everyone in this world has the right to believe in their own ways and no one has the right to mock them. God gave us the freedom of making our own decisions and taking charge of situations. He never asked us to rely on Him for every act. True, there are certain things that are in His hands (like our life and death) but on the journey from life to death, He has given us the power.
And what are all we doing here with that power? Just passing discriminatory remarks about each other and bullying in an immature way. Sure, it boils your blood if someone bullies your faith or ridicules your religion, but does that mean you should take out the sword and cut his throat?
I believe that everyone has the right to form his expression, yet I also believe that if you know something will offend a certain group, why take that path? There are other ways to make your magazine it necessary to choose the sensitive path? Make it more controversial just to get fame or some buzz?
Religion has always been a sensitive topic. Be it Jesus, Moses or Muhammad, I don’t think anyone should criticize someone’s belief system or the way they respect someone. Freedom of speech does NOT mean criticizing and mocking! It means you have the right to give your opinion on any matter without ridiculing someone’s ideology. And how do you do that? Work on the idea of think-before-you-speak.

On the other hand, I also believe that one should not react to someone’s criticism. I’m a practicing Muslim—why didn’t I react to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons? Does that mean I don’t love my Prophet or I’m not sincere about Islam? NO! I believe no matter how much any other person criticize or mock, they cannot ruin Muhammad’s honor and dignity. He was chosen to be the last prophet and the religion and revelation of God is completed in him. So if someone picks Muhammad as a topic of criticism, it’s his mindset and his mindset own problem.
If I respect Jesus and follow Muhammad, I don’t expect the entire world to think the way I think and respect the way I respect. God is the one who gave us free will, so He is the one to give us freedom of expression. Everyone has the right to make an opinion. And this mocking won’t harm my faith and my honor toward Muhammad. It’s how God picked him. No one can cause dishonor because God honored him. We are not the ones to avenge Muhammad because his dignity is NOT going anywhere. He was and is a most noble man ever created.
The Quran says:
“We prescribed for them a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, an equal wound for a wound”

but it also says:
“if anyone forgoes this out of charity, it will serve as atonement for his bad deeds. Those who do not judge according to what God has revealed are doing grave wrong.”

When we are taking revenge—are we sure if it is eye-for-an-eye, or are we taking the entire head with it? When you try to form an opinion about Islam or Muslim practices, do you have an idea that incidents can occur as a backlash? Mocking Muhammad, hurting people’s belief for NO reason, in the name of “freedom of speech” or for the sake of fun, is not a mature act.

I’m a proud Muslim, I’m NOT oppressed. My religion gives me the right to practise how I want and how much I want because it has taught me that I will be going in my own grave and will be responsible for my own deeds. No one has the right to drag me to the mosque and pray five times. I’m responsible for myself.

Anyone can stand up and take out a sword; anyone can raise the voice and bully the other. We are not thinking about the collateral damage resulting from these revenges. Our governments are spending millions of dollars on nuclear weapons, ready to kill each other, while people around the globe are dying of exposure or the lack of food and clean water. It’s a shame to all of us!
We all have to live in this world till the Day of Judgement so why not make it a more tolerable and peaceful place to live in? When our house is burned, we don’t curse the fire or reason behind it. We try to either extinguish the fire or save what we can.

Being a Muslim, I condemn all these acts these Jihadists or unknown people are doing in the name of Islam. This is NOT Islam. Islam means peace and Jihad means fighting the demon in you first. Muhammad was dishonored during his time in Mecca and Medina, but he never raised his voice to kill anyone who disgraced him. There was NO blasphemy at that time.

Muhammad always stayed on this Quranic verse: “To you be your religion, and to me my religion”. And I think we should all follow this verse, whether Muslim, Christian, Jew or any other faith.

Remember, there’s a very fine line between an opinion and bullying. What is your freedom of speech?
Samreen Ahsan is the award-winning author of the "Silent Prayer" series, A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Answered, paranormal stories based on Islamic concepts.


History, art and literature are her passions. "I love digging out information about prophecies, divine miracles and paranormal events that are mentioned in history and holy books, that don’t sound possible in today’s modern world.

"Since childhood, I have been into reading and writing–and yes, it can’t happen without imagination, which luckily has no boundaries. Dance and music are also pastimes I enjoy, as well as reading romance fiction. I love to travel and explore historical cities."

Samreen Ahsan lives in Toronto, Canada.