Friday, June 02, 2006

Teaching respect for gays, others moral and practical

VICTORIA - It's no big thing that the government is going to have schools teach students about respect for gays and lesbians, says Attorney General Wally Oppal.
"This really is a classic case of much ado about little or nothing," he said. "I mean, we're 2006 now and we're still concerned about whether or not we should be acknowledging the contributions made by homosexuals? Why should that be controversial?"
Oppal's right. But the government's actions - under the NDP and the Liberals - indicate this is significant.
The B.C. government announced plans this week to introduce a new Grade 12 elective course that will “explore the nature of a just and equitable society by focusing on social justice issues.” The elective course will look at the economic, legal, political and ethical issues around race, gender and sexual orientation.
And government promised a gradual review of the entire school curriculum over the next few years to make sure it “reflects inclusion and respect for the diverse groups that today make up B.C.'s population.”
Laudable and necessary. But Oppal's claim that this isn't a significant change doesn't really stand up.
The government didn't just decide to introduce these changes. They are part of the negotiated settlement of a human rights complaint , one government has been fighting since 1999. That's when Murray and Peter Corren, a Vancouver couple, alleged systemic discrimination against gays and lesbians in the school system. Only now has the government accepted the need for change.
Even the announcement of the changes showed that this was unusual. The people who write government press releases are normally required to make sure the minister's name is mentioned in the first two paragraphs. A manufactured quote - often clunky - has to be include by paragraph three.
No minister's name made it into this release at all.
Despite the government's edginess, this is a good and overdue change.
The new curriculum need not interfere with anyone's right to disapprove of homosexuality, or of people from a different country or race. Peoples' thoughts are their own.
But it will increase understanding. And it will teach the reality that B.C. and Canada are diverse places and we need to have the knowledge and respect to let us live and work together successfully.
While there's been progress, we have far to go. Three Liberal MLAs toured the province in 2003 as a Safe Schools Task Force. “In nearly every community visited, no matter how large or small, individuals made presentations about the issue of harassment and intimidation based on sexual orientation," they reported. "Even the perception of being homosexual or of being tolerant of homosexuality is enough to result in harassment and intimidation, including both emotional and physical abuse.”
Students reported being bullied and harassed for the colour of their skin, their religion or their ethnic background.
It is wrong that children face discrimination in school, and it is immoral and foolish to allow people to graduate with little respect for others.
B.C. is becoming an increasingly diverse place. Statistics Canada forecasts that by 2017 visible minorities - largely from Asia - will be in the majority in Vancouver. Across the province one-third of the population will be visible minorities.
That's an asset, as Premier Gordon Campbell has noted. The diversity brings cultural richness and can help B.C. become a centre for global business.
But it brings challenges and schools must play a large role in dealing with them.
It's not a question of moralizing or brainwashing. Students need to know about the legal bars against discrimination in Canada and why they exist. They need to learn about the ethical and economic aspects of diversity. They need to move beyond cliche and stereotype. All of those things should be part of the school system from a very early stage.
The changes announced this week are a small step, but a significant one. School will be a better place for many students, and B.C. will be a better place for the next generation.
Footnote: The new Grade 12 course will be ready for testing in the 2007-8 school year and introduced the year after that. Changes to of the rest of the curriculum will take place over several years as part of the normal reviews that the education ministry conducts. But slow or not, the changes are a great tribute to the Correns' persistence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And overdue, I might add. At this point only 4 districts have specific mention of Sexual Orientation as a form of discrimination which is prohibited in their district policies. Mission is just now considering it.

Congratulations to the government for being forced by a court decision to do what it should have done of it's own accord, simply because it's the right thing to do.