Teaching Relationship and Sex Education in schools

Yesterday, a friend shared with a few like minded friends an article by the Barnabas Fund titled:Your Child. Your Choice. The freedom for parents to decide on sex education”. Since this related to stuff I have been posting and responding to on Facebook, and ongoing concerns, I am wading in here.

Barnabas were making the point: “Act NOW to stop a law that will erode the right of parents to choose if their child will be taught “21st century” relationships and sex education lessons in England. A Statutory Instrument on Relationships and Sex Education is to be debated in parliament next week (Wednesday 27 March). Unless a decision is made to reject or amend, the new regulations will become law on 8 April 2019, for compulsory implementation from September 2020, applying to all school children in England”.

Two weeks back, a Facebook friend, LGBT activist Peter Tatchell, shared a Guardian article: “Pupils shouldn’t be denied LGBT lessons – whatever their parents say”. He prefaced this with the comment: “Pupils shouldn’t be denied LGBT lessons, whatever their parents say. Growing up gay & Muslim, I would have benefited, says Benali Hamdache. Parkfield school in Birmingham should continue its ‘No Outsiders’ lessons which mention same-sex love and relationships & which seek to tackle anti-LGBT bullying. It should not cave in to the Muslim parents who are putting religious dogma before the health and welfare of young people.” One of the ironies here is it was not Christian parents that were being belligerent over what was being taught, but Muslim parents, who felt strong enough to withdraw their children from the lessons. When I commented: “while I greatly respect you, I believe in one important aspect you are wrong. It is wrong imo for schools to teach values that conflict with those of parents and also when to teach also matters” Peter responded: “LGBT Muslims pupils need support. Schools should educate against all prejudice and all bullying. Parents have no right to keep their children ignorant & bigoted”.

Around that time, I had posted on my Facebook page a link to a debate between a mum with traditional Christian views and a gay dad: “Should LGBT Lessons Be Taught in Schools?” on Good Morning Britain, a breakfast TV show. I felt the mum argued her case well in a setting that was not particularly supportive of her views, although I did not feel she was too empathetic to the concerns of the gay dad, which were picked up in the discussion that ensued on my page and followed similar lines to that on Peter’s post (both sets I am pleased so say were done respectfully, which often is not the case). Without wanting to put words into the mouths of those who see things differently to Barnabas, the Christian mum and my friend who shared the Barnabas article, one of the concerns is that they and many gay folk, some now well into adulthood, have horror stories related to homophobic bullying, which might have been allayed if LGBT lessons had been taught in schools … which brings me on to one of my hobby horses …

It has often occurred to me that the school system, particularly if state run, has frequently been used to promote agendas. If that agenda aligns with that of the parent (many sad to say are indifferent on the matter) then all well and good, but if not … and here is the crunch … parents protest but in the end grin and bear it or take their children out of the state system into the private sector or, and especially if unable to pay, home school their children. While for most subjects, even the most religiously beholden parent, will go along with what is taught in schools … after all what is there to argue with when teaching the 3 ‘R’s … well maybe there is but it is a price worth paying given the teaching on offer is free. I reflect as a parent that recently saw my own child through the State system, I was overall satisfied and when views were put forward, at odds with what was taught at home, we could adequately compensate.

But back to the Barnabas article, I confess to being a little surprised that they should take a campaign on board more suited to the Christian Institute. After all, they are best known for raising the profile of Christians persecuted around the world, something often ignored by mainstream media. Interestingly some of my gay friends who support compulsory teaching regarding LGBT matters have also supported Barnabas in calling out attacks on Christians. I wondered if Barnabas going down the ban compulsory sex education path was being wise. But then, as I reflected, both are about allowing Christians to function in the public square free from harassment and being able to exercise freedom of conscience without being penalised. While we are not seeing in the UK, unlike many places in the world, Christians being killed for their beliefs, we are seeing increasingly Christians having to suffer because of them.

A point I continue to stress in my community activism, is while I completely get it that people, whatever their ideology happens to be, should be allowed to believe and do what they will, providing it does not harm others, allowance should be made for people to act according to their conscience, and that the State should not have the right to override this, and especially when their ideology, as in this matter, may be faulty. As a dad bringing up my son, I frequently emphasized the need to respect other people, even if their views were not ones I shared, and this included introducing him to my LGBT friends. But equally, when it comes to sex and relationships and any part of the curriculum that are especially values related, parents should have the final say in what is taught, and that includes at what age that teaching should be given.

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