I have already shared some of my thoughts about the Ontario Health curriculum on social media. I am deeply concerned that topics such as consent, gender identity, and LGBTQ families are not directly addressed in the ‘re-issued’ 2010 curriculum that will be used in elementary schools this year.
I started teaching high school 15 years ago. I have known a large number of students with mental health struggles. I can say, with confidence, that consent, gender identity, and LGBTQ issues are often intimately linked with these struggles. We cannot underestimate the importance of giving students a forum to learn about these issues at school. Even the smallest actions we take in the classroom can have a huge impact on the lives of our students.
At grade 12 commencement in June, I was helping direct graduates back to their seats after they left the stage. I was positioned beneath the bleachers for some of the time, which gave me a few moments to whisper congratulations to the grads, most of whom I will never see again. Most of us exchanged happy goodbyes, and best wishes for whatever adventures they were pursuing after high school.
One graduate (whose identity I am protecting with neutral pronouns) greeted me warmly. We hugged, and that hug was filled with an incredible amount of emotion. During the embrace, the grad said, “Thank you so much for wearing your rainbow pin.”
Now, this grad is someone who walked our halls with confidence. They were surrounded by friends. They did well in my class. We had shared lots of good conversation over the course of the year. The fact that this student chose to say these words to me in this instant hit me like a ton of bricks. If my little pin meant so much to them, what did that say about how they felt about school in general? We had a very short conversation about this, because I couldn’t stand to let them go without knowing. It turns out that this student had not felt safe and valued every minute of the school day. Sometimes, even in grad 12, they felt exactly the opposite. My heart broke. We hugged, then parted.
This is why we need to have these discussions openly in our classrooms. This is why it is never too early for a student to feel loved and accepted at school. The student I was speaking to at grad? They made it. Others don’t. Kids who don’t feel valued in our classrooms can’t possibly excel. We can’t let them fade away.
Removing language about people’s identity from the curriculum is a terrible mistake. I trust teachers to help kids feel that sense of belonging, but having LGBTQ language in the curriculum ensures their right to see themselves as whole people at school.
You can bet I’ll be wearing my lanyard more regularly this year. It’s the least I can do.