Dear Mr. Ford,
I got to vote last week! I can finally check that off my bucket list. It was actually pretty easy, just marking down an “X” on the paper – no trick questions. I didn’t know how fast the results would pour in though, and if I’m being honest, the outcome wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. I say this because of your proposed repeal of the new sex-ed curriculum.
I’m not just any person writing about what sex education means to me. I’m a youth from the Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood of Toronto, a community where the new sex-ed curriculum caused a lot of uproar and I’ve seen first-hand the impact of the sex-ed protests. I know that more than 200 elementary school children were taken out of school as a way for their parents to make a statement of their disagreement. I know this because I used to work as an after-school program leader in the community. I know this because some of them were kids from my program. When their friends would ask me, “Sara, why isn’t so-and-so here today? They weren’t here yesterday or the day before too,” what could I say back? I wasn’t allowed to say what I wanted to say to them back then, but I’ll say it now.
I respect that parents should be able to teach their children whatever they want, and I respect the people in my community who have made their decisions on the curriculum. As a Bengali-Canadian child born and raised in Canada, the cultural shame that comes with talking about the body (a taboo topic) conflicts with my own curiosity and access to knowledge as a Canadian student. I have never in my life gotten the “birds and the bees” talk from my parents. In fact, they’ve never really talked about anything sex-related at all, except about periods, and that’s just with my mom. But how do I know so much about sex if it wasn’t through school? Because kids talk. A LOT. Plus, there's the power of a simple Google search. Even if a parent never discussed the topic of sex with their child, it would be impossible for that child living in today's world to not know anything about it. Even if that child managed to avoid sex education, the result would be dangerous. My Grade 12 teacher had a question box for her Grade 9s to write down any question regarding sex-ed because she didn’t want them to rely on the internet for answers. She told us that one student's question was, “What is sex?” She then proceeded by saying, “God forbid he/she ever gets raped or they wouldn’t even know what happened to them.”
Let’s pretend for just a minute that rape and sexual assault don’t happen. It’s a real danger that no one should have to go through. Well the same thing goes for sexting, cyberbullying and suicide. If students are not taught about these things, how will they know who they can turn to, what their resources are, and how to protect themselves?
The sex-ed curriculum isn’t just about sex, it's about physical and mental health. “SExT: Sex Education by Theatre” is a project created by PhD student Shira Taylor as a way to incorporate sex education, along with other stigmatized topics, with the use of theatre. The topics include consent, abusive/healthy relationships, stereotypes, mental health and LGBTQ+ issues which are addressed using comedy, music, dance, and spoken word to eliminate the discomfort surrounding these concepts. As a peer educator from the Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park community, I thought it was important to not only learn and educate myself, but to speak out on these types of subjects as a way of starting a conversation in a less threatening way (rather than in a classroom setting).
What we want to promote is a comprehensive educational approach, to teach with love and acceptance, not by fear. We can’t stop the flow of information, but what we can do is spread the right information safely.
Yes, learning the biology of the human body is important. But what about the emotions and feelings that come with our growing and changing bodies while we figure out who we are? We learn in school that the human brain does not fully develop until age 21, so does it really make sense to promote the concept of “ABSTINENCE IS KEY, DON'T HAVE SEX” to a bunch of people who make rash decisions due to their late prefrontal cortex development? Because when you’re told not to do something, chances are you’re going to do it anyways.
We want to work with you these next 4 years of your term to educate and protect youth. These are our peers, our friends, our siblings; and we want the best for them, as do you, I’m sure. Before you make any decisions about what to do about the new sex-ed curriculum, I urge you to watch our show for yourself. I want you to see the audience go crazy with laughter. I want you to hear their silence when we talk about abusive relationships. I want you to see their excitement when we use popular dance moves to rap about consent. I want you to see what we’re all about, first.
That being said, I would like to formally invite you to a viewing of our show, “SExT: Sex Education by Theatre” because it’s time for teens to give the talk. I really do hope you take us up on this offer.
Sara Ahmed with the Cast of SExT
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