On the Hill – Closing Doors and Minds

In the early hours of June 2, a resounding slam echoed from the Alberta legislature. It wasn’t the kind of thing likely to wake sleeping neighbours, but it should have: it was the sound of minds being firmly closed.

Following a seven-hour debate, the legislature passed Bill 44. The bill is intended to enshrine gay rights in Alberta’s human rights code (an astounding 11 years after the Supreme Court of Canada issued a directive to do so).

But provincial legislators also saw fit to include an education amendment in that human rights bill, a move that, ultimately, fails the children it claims to protect.

The amendment gives Alberta parents ?the option of pulling their children out of class when lessons on sex, religion or sexual orientation are being taught.? In other words, we’ll acknowledge that no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or religion, but we don’t want our kids to learn the skills they’ll need to live in that diverse world.

What skills? As anyone who remembers fourth-grade long division should know, It’s not about the details of specific problems; It’s about having the tools to figure out any problem. The same holds true for many other areas in life. The specifics aren’t the key. Being able to evaluate information and apply broader lessons to situations is.

And That’s what’s so alarming about robbing kids of an opportunity to hear about different views, discuss them both at home and at school, and participate in respectful debate even when you feel strongly about opposing ideas. Exactly the kind of skills those kids will need to function in an increasingly diverse and globalized world that isn’t going to go away, no matter how much their parents want to deny it.

Suppose some Alberta students are pulled out of class during a discussion of Buddhism or Christianity or Islam. The world (including newspapers and television and the Internet) is still going to be full of Buddhists and Christians and Muslims. And whether some parents are adamant that little Johnny is never, ever going to hear a discussion about non-traditional sexuality, he’s still going to need to function in a society that encompasses many sexual choices. But he certainly won’t be well prepared to deal with it.

The argument behind this amendment is that it gives parents the right to be more involved in what their children learn. In fact, it does the opposite. If parents are vehemently opposed to different sexual or religious views, to the point that they don’t want their kids to hear age-appropriate discussion about them, It’s hardly likely those kids are going to come home and openly ask questions about why Jane has two dads or another child’s mother wears a hijab. But if different beliefs are openly discussed in the classroom, it provides an avenue for parents to explain their own beliefs to their kids, why they agree or disagree with other points of view, and maybe even affirm the values taught at home.

In the end, specific discussions about sex or religion will be forgotten. The real test will be whether our kids have learned to listen objectively, evaluate information, and make thoughtful decisions. And when it comes to those lessons, It’s never too early to start.

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