2SLGBTQIA+ advocates say key textbooks taught in Catholic elementary schools promote homophobic and transphobic ideas.
The textbook and teaching resources, called Fully Alive, were published by Pearson Canada. The publisher discontinued printing the texts in December and will be removing their online resources in March.
However, educators across Ontario, including the Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB), will continue teaching the discontinued textbooks as part of the curriculum.
That’s a problem, said Barry Moore, as Fully Alive teaching resources are “certainly” homophobic and transphobic.
Moore is the chair of Out on the Shelf (OOTS) and capacity builder at HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health (ARCH).
OOTS is a non-profit organization that serves the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Guelph and Wellington. Guelph Pride is a subsidiary of OOTS.
ARCH provides healthcare services, programs, education and support to people in Guelph, Wellington County, Dufferin, Grey and Bruce Counties who are trans, gender-nonconforming, or impacted by HIV.
Moore is queer and nonbinary and attended Catholic elementary school in the 1990s and 2000s in Burlington before moving to Guelph.
Making a change
“Having gone through the Catholic school system myself and experienced the curriculum,” Moore said, it’s “my personal opinion that it definitely needs to change and I don’t know that we are seeing a willingness for that change.”
Moore has “lots of memories” of being taught Fully Alive and the negative impact of the content, and noted they didn’t learn any 2SLGBTQIA+ content in elementary school.
Ali Wilson, communications and community engagement lead at the WCDSB, said local schools have no plans to stop teaching the material.
“The Fully Alive Program is a resource used to address the Elementary Grade 1-8 Family Life Curriculum and Ontario Health Curriculum,” said Wilson in an email.
She noted that the WCDSB are “expecting further information from the Institute for Catholic Education (ICE) on any new resources that will be available to support the teaching of the Family Life Curriculum.”
ICE is an organization established by the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario that guides educators and organizations in writing the Catholic curriculum.
“God created us male and female”
One of the five themes in Fully Alive is “Created Sexual: Male and Female.”
According to documents for parents from ICE, it teaches “God created us male and female. Human love encompasses the body in its maleness and femaleness. Within the vocation of marriage, this love is expressed in the sexual relationship of husband and wife who give themselves to each other and welcome new human persons into their community of love.”
Moore said teaching kids that heterosexual and cisgender relationships are the only option causes harm in “a lot of different ways.”
Fully Alive is written from an assumption that “all students by default are cisgender and heterosexual,” Moore said, and this “others” 2SLGBTQIA+ students and students with 2SLGBTQIA+ family members.
It increases risk, Moore said, “in terms of sexual health but also mental health and communication and consent.”
“When you talk about queer people in a way that is very much assuming the students themselves listening must not be queer, it puts them in this position to also make that assumption about themselves and then become very confused when that’s not the case,” Moore said.
“There needs to be a recognition of the fact that it is not an accurate curriculum and it is failing a lot of students – not just queer students,” they added.
In a press release on Jan. 10, Anne Jamieson, executive director at ICE said “Fully Alive is the current program approved for use in elementary schools to support teachers in meeting the curriculum expectations.
“In choosing to send their students to a Catholic school, parents rightly expect that the presentation of a family life curriculum will reflect a Catholic view of human life, sexuality, marriage, and family,” she noted.
Teachers’ “professional judgment”
David Del Duca, president of the Wellington branch of the Catholic teachers’ union Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said “teachers have authority and professional judgment to use the resource that are most appropriate.
Del Duca said “teachers always do what is best for their students” when developing lesson plans and selecting resources.
“I would argue that Catholic teachers are incredibly inviting and welcoming to all students,” he added.
Teachers “may find resources that are better than Fully Alive. Simply because it’s referenced in the curriculum doesnt mean it’s the exclusive resource.
“All teachers are expected to meet curriculum expectations and how they meet those expectations is a conversation they can have with their principal,” he said, noting “the union will always support teachers’ professional judgment.
“As long as teachers are meeting curriculum expectations there should be no concerns.”
The Fully Alive resources have been approved by the Ministry of Education, so “if there are concerns with the documents, the Ministry of Education would have to review,” Del Duca noted.
Toronto District Catholic School Board teacher Paolo de Buono advocates for all Catholic teachers to stop teaching Fully Alive.
De Buono states on his website that the “Fully Alive program (including its textbook and teachers’ resource) teaches homophobia and transphobia to students in the Catholic part of Ontario’s public education system.
“In summary, students are taught that sexual love should only occur in a male-female marriage (in which children should only be born or adopted) and that persons should identify by gender with the gender (male or female) attributed to them at birth.”
The website includes detailed presentations outlining how the “explicit intent of Theme 3 of the Fully Alive program” is to teach homophobia and transphobia, describing in minute detail the content taught in each grade from 1 to 6, with information about Grades 7 and 8 coming soon.
Fully Alive is sponsored by the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO). ACBO write on their website that students are taught from the resources about once a week.
ACBO says the intention of Fully Alive is “to pass on a distinctively Catholic view of human life, sexuality, marriage and family.”
According to the Catholic Register, ACBO and ICE intend to make the Fully Alive online teaching resources available through their website to ensure they remain available to teachers after the publishers remove them.