Janet French on the Catholic Education System

Image Credit: PxHere.

Janet French is a Reporter for the Edmonton Journal. Here we talk about Catholic education and the sex ed curriculum.

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did they currently come to the controversy in sex ed? What is some of the history of it?

Janet French: It was in Spring or early Summer of 2016 that the Government of Alberta announced a complete overhaul of the K-12 curriculum. It was the first of its kind in Alberta. Curriculum in the past has been piecemeal, “Now, we’re going to redo social studies.” It would be done in isolation from other topics. They would rewrite all of social studies K through 12.

Another interesting element is that it in different languages at different times. There is also a Francophone element. They would do social studies, implement it, and then do the Francophone version. I think many Francophone people felt there was not a lot of Francophone input into the system.

Now, they are putting Francophone in the rewrite as well as including a lot of Indigenous people in. There are people from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories too because many people use the curriculums from Alberta in their curricula.

There are either 6 or 8 broad subject areas about this, like math, social studies, English, French, sciences, and the health and wellness, which is where the sex ed comes in. In Alberta, most of the sex ed comes between grade 4 and grade 9.

In high school, there is a course called CALM 20. it stands for Carrer and Life Management. It has been around forever. I am old. You can take it any year in high school. it covers just like it sounds, career and life management. It teaches you to apply for a job and to get a resume done. Then it teaches sex ed.

Jacobsen: At present, there has been some mild back-and-forth within the news about a proposed alternative sex education curriculum. What have been some of the proposed additions or changes by the Catholic superintendents?

French: What is weird about this is that we don’t know what’s going to be in the curriculum yet, I am going to talk a little technical about curriculum writing. There seems to be some general public misunderstanding about what it takes for a curriculum.

They had these huge teams, like 300 and something, even 400 sometimes, mostly volunteers such as teachers and professors spending their own hours on this as well as people employed by Alberta Education.

They work on those 6 or 8 areas depending on who you talk to. They depend on who you talk to. They have written something called an introduction, which is – “What do we want to cover in each grade or each subject?” – the Scope and Sequence. They are very, very broad and high level.

They are almost like themes that they want to touch on. I haven’t looked at the health one. The one in Alberta that has been the one of the most debated has been the social studies one and people argue if there is enough history in it. Same with the math one about serving kids well.

We didn’t hear much about the sex education or the wellness one. back in April or May of 2016, when Alberta Education Minister David Eggen introduced this idea of a curriculum rewrite, he said, ‘One of the elements will be teaching consent.’ Updated sex ed would be part of it, already, if you were a private religious school board or Catholic school board, you would be asking if this would be like Ontario’s. it was revealed in 2015.

It has been very controversial. many parents pull their kids out of public schools as a result of it because they didn’t want their kids learning some of the outcomes, There were rumblings or rumors about this being a problem.

So, I heard in June. There was a small organization called Accessing Information Not Myths. They put out a press release in June saying, “We’re hearing that the Catholic school boards want to run their own curriculum.”

But they didn’t have a lot of evidence. There were rumors. They were reading into things that were in annual reports and newsletters from various Catholic education groups. There wasn’t a lot of solid evidence.

I emailed the president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association and said, “Is there any truth to this? I talked to the Ministry of Education. it looks like you’re submitting something that is parallel and would replace what would be in the new health curriculum.”

She said, “No, we’re just writing resources. Basically, documents that help the teachers teach the curricular outcomes. Those exist right now for the current sex ed curriculum. But then, I filed a Freedom of Information request because I wasn’t sure who was telling the truth.

What I got back was a series of documents that you can see on the website, what I got back you can see on our website, there was a bit of a back and forth between the Council of Catholic Superintendents of Alberta, which is, like it sounds, the superintendents who work at the different Catholic school districts across the province.

Also, people who work for the Ministry of Education. What they did was apply for a grant, I don’t have the documents at home with me. It says to write a parallel sex education curriculum that is from a Catholic perspective.

The Deputy Minister wrote back in March and said, ‘Sorry, no sorry, we don’t pay for religious education. That is in your wheelhouse. There are other resources you can draw on nationally to write religious curriculum. That is not our job.’

When I interviewed Karl Germann from the CCSSA, he said, ‘We’re going ahead with it anyway.’ I said, ‘How are you going to pay for that if you need $66,000?’ He said they will be using time from people who are already employed in various Catholic school districts.

Doing it in a way in Grand Prairie, where he works, taking somebody who doesn’t work in a classroom, so they don’t have to pay for a substitute teacher, so it is more cost-effective for them. What they wanted to do was to second some teachers outside of the classroom to have them be able to work on the curriculum.

The next thing they wrote, which seems to be causing a lot of tension or debate, is that they sent in this document, and they say Alberta Education requested this information, but this did not turn up in my FOI.

I didn’t have an email that said, “Send us all your concerns.” I don’t know that for sure. That’s what they were saying. That they were asked to explain what their concerns were about the upcoming sex ed curriculum. That’s where they went through the listing, ‘Okay, here is our subject headings that concern us.’

‘Consent: We don’t think consent should be the minimum bar for having a sexual relationship with somebody. It should be consent but within the context of a marriage.’

‘We can teach about different kinds of contraception, but we can’t promote contraception.’ Then there are certain things they say they can’t teach at all, ‘We can’t promote a homosexual lifestyle.’ Yes, they used the word “homosexual.”

‘People experience same-sex inclinations, but they would have to be taught that the Church’s teaching is that they should live a life of chastity or I guess abstinence. Some other things that they touched on were that they didn’t want to teach about anal or oral sex because in their belief the Catholic teaching is you should have sex to make babies and that doesn’t make babies.

There was a section that talked about ‘sexualization of girls (and boys).’ It is interesting that boys are an afterthought in that discussion.

Jacobsen: I am piecing together some of the narratives from some of the things noted in the response, so if I can relay some of the things that you said with regards to the changes. They would view the regular sex education proposal as promoting certain things rather than simply teaching them.

French: That’s what they’re concerned about. Yes, they’re saying there are certain things they can teach. And they don’t go into much detail about how they would teach or how much detail they would teach it into, but it is saying, ‘We can teach about what different kinds fo contraception do, but we can’t promote it because the Church does not smile upon it.’

One thing they say they will flat out not teach it. The language in the document is very closed off to the idea of what they call “modern gender theory.” They say, ‘God’s Plan or vision is that your biological sex matches your gender identity. Full stop. We can’t promote anything that would teach biological sex as different from gender identity.

Jacobsen: So, the idea would be the promotion or teaching of a lifestyle of abstinence, sex only within a marriage, non-promotion of homosexuality (gay, lesbian, or bisexual), as well as rejection of more modern gender theory with a preference, in other words a full stop strong preference, for ‘God’s Providence’ – so to speak – or ‘God’s Plan’ with biological sex and gender being one and the same.

French: Yes. It all has to be discussed within the appropriateness of a marriage between a man and a woman. That phrasing was in there repeatedly. There are ideas about contraception: ‘We believe that when you have sex it is full giving and you are not fully giving of yourself if you are holding back the life making portion of it.

Jacobsen: What has been proposed as some of the next steps in terms of the conversation between the Government of Alberta, the Catholic education schooling system within the province, as well as the regular school system?

French: So, what happened was, after I interviewed Karl from the CCSSA (he’s the president), he said that they were concerned about the Ontario sex ed curriculum. This document outlining all of their areas of concerns, which was a proactive outreach step to say, “When you write your learning outcomes (what you have to teach), they want to be as vague as possible to be able to teach it from their perspective.”

It would have an influence not only on what Catholic students learn but on what all Alberta students learn no matter where they went to school. Education Minister David Eggen said, ‘This document is unacceptable. Schools are not going to teach that being gay is wrong or that God has a moral judgment about it.

The problem is the Catholic superintendents haven’t put out their alternative sex education plan. That hasn’t happened yet.  They say that’s going to happen sometime in November. The health and wellness committee or the working group working on the provincial curriculum haven’t written their outcomes explaining what they think students should learn.

We probably won’t see that until Spring. Karl said that in his conversations with the Ministry, not the Minister but the people who work in the government such as the civil servants said this is not going to be a big problem.

We’re not going to have a big conflict here. But when I hear the Minister and the Premier talk about how their perspective is not acceptable, I do not see how that can be the case. They’re probably going to butt heads about this for a while.

I imagine there are a lot of conversations happening behind the scenes after all of the attention that this got.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Janet.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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