Q&A Sam Ham­mond, the el­e­men­tary teach­ers’ union boss, on be­ing a sex-ed vig­i­lante

Sam Ham­mond rep­re­sents 83,000 el­e­men­tary school ed­u­ca­tors in On­tario. He says Premier Doug Ford’s sex-ed roll­back is an at­tack on hu­man rights, and he is fight­ing mad

Toronto Life - - Contents - By court­ney shea

You’ve called Premier Ford’s de­ci­sion to roll back the sex-ed cur­ricu­lum “reck­less,” “ir­re­spon­si­ble” and “shame­ful.” Tell us how you really feel. I’ve worked with six ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ters over the past 10 years and they would pro­vide a con­sul­ta­tion process when chang­ing the cur­ricu­lum. While that was hap­pen­ing, the ex­ist­ing cur­ricu­lum would re­main in place. None of that has hap­pened here, and it has re­sulted in ab­so­lute chaos. Ford hasn’t even said what his is­sues are with the cur­ricu­lum.

Why do you think that is? There is a small group of so­cial con­ser­va­tives who are push­ing this agenda. They were part of Ford’s lead­er­ship cam­paign, he made com­mit­ments to them and now they have his ear.

You’re talk­ing about lead­er­ship can­di­date Tanya Granic Allen, who threw her sup­port to Ford, pre­sum­ably with strings at­tached. Yes, along with evan­gel­i­cal leader Charles McVety.

You vowed to de­fend teach­ers who con­tinue with for­mer premier Kath­leen Wynne’s 2015 cur­ricu­lum. Ford coun­tered by set­ting up a snitch line. Have any par­ents called it? I haven’t heard of any com­plaints re­gard­ing spe­cific teach­ers. What I do know is that there have been a lot of mem­bers of the pub­lic who have re­acted pos­i­tively to the work that our teach­ers are do­ing.

The 2015 cur­ricu­lum cer­tainly had its share of de­trac­tors. What did you like about it? It taught about con­sent, the dan­gers of so­cial me­dia, bul­ly­ing and the fact that LGBTQ stu­dents are not ab­nor­mal. It re­flected the re­al­i­ties of the world that stu­dents live in. Op­po­nents of that cur­ricu­lum say it dis­cussed gen­der iden­tity as early as Grade 3 and mas­tur­ba­tion in Grade 6. That’s ab­so­lute non­sense. Teach­ers un­der the 2015 cur­ricu­lum didn’t “teach mas­tur­ba­tion,” as some peo­ple have claimed. Mas­tur­ba­tion is one of the many top­ics men­tioned in a sec­tion called “Prompts,” which is where we pro­vide ad­vice for teach­ers on how to han­dle cer­tain sub­jects if they come up in class.

So it wasn’t like, “Thurs­day at 9: mas­tur­ba­tion.” No! Teach­ers didn’t have that in their les­son plans. Re­search shows us that stu­dents who learn about the sexed is­sues dealt with in the 2015 cur­ricu­lum are more pre­pared for sit­u­a­tions when they do hap­pen, and those kids are safer in terms of sex­ual abuse and sex­ual in­ter­ac­tion.

What about par­ents who want to han­dle “the talk” them­selves? I think we should be do­ing it to­gether. You wouldn’t say that par­ents alone should be teach­ing, say, ge­og­ra­phy or his­tory, so why sex ed? Ide­ally, kids learn some­thing in school and then ask their par­ents about it at home.

Did your par­ents sit you down for the “birds and the bees” talk? No. Nor did it hap­pen in health class. We learned about it through ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and dis­cus­sions with each other, and I don’t think kids should go through that. My brother was gay and died from HIV-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions. My par­ents lacked un­der­stand­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, and they kicked him out of the house when he was young.

That shouldn’t hap­pen.

How did you fare when de­liv­er­ing “the talk” to your kids? I have three adult chil­dren. I think they would tell you that my wife and I al­ways spoke to them in an ageap­pro­pri­ate way. My wife works in the health care sys­tem, and we used proper terms (“That’s your pe­nis” or “That’s your vagina”) and had open con­ver­sa­tions with our kids about safe sex and re­spect for other peo­ple. With my sons, we talked about re­spect­ing women, in par­tic­u­lar.

You’ve launched an in­junc­tion to keep the 2015 cur­ricu­lum in place un­til a new one is de­vel­oped. If you had the premier’s ear for one minute, what would you say? Well, could I get a week? I guess I would say that all we’re ask­ing for is that he keeps the 2015 cur­ricu­lum in place and gets rid of the snitch line.

That’s what you want, but would you try to ap­peal to him on a hu­man level? Ha, no. My an­swer is no.

This in­ter­view has been edited for length and clar­ity.

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