OTTAWA – An Ottawa-based think tank has recommended against forcing students into activism by the Ontario government's mandating gay-straight alliances (GSAs) as part of its anti-bullying strategy.
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) warns of negative effects on freedom and equality if Ontario's Equity and Inclusion Strategy forces students to move "beyond tolerance to acceptance and respect," as the government's 2009 document states.
"Diversity will only flourish in Ontario schools when students are encouraged to respectfully interact with different thoughts and opinions," said the institute in a new study entitled Ontario's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy Reviewed.
The study, written by IMFC senior researcher Peter Jon Mitchell, traces the history of the policy and the controversy it has engendered.
The controversy heightened after the Ottawa Carleton District School Board sent out a survey requiring students to disclose their sexual orientation and debate began over whether Catholic schools would be forced to host GSAs.
It describes Bill 13 as the solidification of the strategy. Mitchell said "the government also seized the opportunity to strong-arm Catholic boards by specifically mandating" GSAs in all schools if students ask for them.
The Ontario policy says the classroom teacher must "assume responsibility for examining and taking steps to modify personal beliefs and biases that are inconsistent with equity and inclusive educational principles," the study points out.
"Teachers should address inappropriate comments and behaviours," the IMFC says.
"But parents should be asking how beliefs are determined to be inconsistent with the policy, what steps teachings are sanctioned to take to modify beliefs, and what role do parents play in this teacher-directed action?"
The think tank identifies areas where policies shaped by outside activists have been foisted on Ontario schools.
It noted the curriculum guide Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism, which has been sanctioned by the Toronto District School Board, suggests an appropriate activity for junior kindergarten to Grade 3 is to hold their own Pride Parade.
The classes could invite the media and Pride Toronto representatives to attend, the guide says.
"It is fair to ask whether this is an educational experience or activism and media event providing a platform for an outside special interest group," the IMFC says.
The IMFC argues against a "romantic view" of education that uses the classroom as a tool for social change.
"Special interest and community groups have a role in school, but students should not be coerced to participate in activism or activities that compromise their own beliefs and positions," the IMFC states.
The IMFC is a non-partisan think tank that compiles the latest social science research to help guide public policy in the areas of marriage and family.