According to the Oireachtas Education committee, “a school’s religious ethos should not be allowed to influence teaching of sexuality and relationships” and it has decided that the present RSE (Relationships & Sexuality Education) programme delivered in our primary and secondary schools is “narrow and outdated” and needs a complete overhaul.
To this end, it has tasked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) with gathering public opinions from a wide range of sources, before publishing their findings in a report which will be forwarded to the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh.
The general public, who have the right to comment and hopefully influence this report, includes parents. We are all invited to visit the NCCA website and fill in an online survey and/or write a submission in which we can voice our ideas, wishes, and concerns.
Parents have until the 25th of this month (October) to do this. After this date, parents will have absolutely no say in what will be taught to their kids and possibly no choice in whether or not their child takes part in the new RSE programme. So far, most submissions from the general public have been from organisations, and not from parents.
This is partly because most parents are unaware of the situation, whereas many of these stake holders’ groups have an already well thought out agenda and are willing and ready to deliver their own programmes to our children. It is interesting to note that 65 written submissions were received by the NCCA but only 57 are available for publication.
It is important that parents read these submissions, some of which are coming from groups which parents might not agree with, or at least, might not feel comfortable with, especially considering these same parents probably chose a certain school in the first place which would reflect their own family values.
It is therefore very important that parents take the time to visit the NCCA website and give their opinion. England is a few steps ahead of us in this, and parents there have been outraged at what is being taught to their children and have taken to the streets in protest. Many families have withdrawn their children from school as a result and are now choosing to home school.
We don’t want to have to resort to these measures here in Ireland, but if those writing up the new programme and deciding its content are more concerned with pushing their own organisation’s agenda, rather than protecting the innocence of children, then who knows?
As a teacher and former school principal and a parent myself, I know that I am not happy with some of the more explicit sexual content being proposed. I am not happy that “the benefits and correct use of pornography” would be taught. I am not happy that “explicit sexual preferences and practices of LGBTQIA people would be explored and discussed in detail”.
I am certainly not happy about the recommendation that “parents not be given the right to withdraw their children from these classes”. These are all some of the recommendations which the written submissions actually contain.
The fact is, however, that parents represent the majority voice, not groups like ShoutOut, LGBT Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Gender Orientation SexHealth, BeLonG, Atheist Ireland, Abortion Rights Alliance, etc, etc. While these groups serve a purpose in our society, we, as parents, should still be the main influencers of our children, especially in the sensitive area of sexuality and relationships.
We want to teach our children to respect and value all people regardless of their sexual persuasion/identity, but we don’t want to invite unnecessary trauma, confusion,or distress into our classrooms.
At the very least, parents should have the opportunity to help write the curriculum and view the curriculum content before agreeing to allow their children to attend the programme and attendance of the programme should always be optional.
Parents, please take the time to say this in the on-line survey or submission. It’s much easier to prevent a disaster than deal with the after-effects and mop up.
This reader's opinion was first published in the print edition of the Irish Examiner on 19 October 2010