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Education about GBV: Opportunities & Obstacles in the ON Secondary School Curriculum

I'm excited to share a synopsis of the first article to come out of the Time to Teach About Gender-Based Violence in Canada research project. This publication in the journal Gender and Education describes my analysis of the Ontario high school Social Studies and Humanities, Canadian and World Issues, and Physical Health Education curricula, complemented by 7 interviews with Ontario high school teachers about their practical experience teaching about GBV issues within these courses.


Findings show that there are many mentions of a range of GBV topics, such as consent, domestic violence, homophobia, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), providing numerous opportunities for teachers to address these issues with their students. How these topics are addressed in the curriculum, however, differs greatly in the Grade 9 and 10 required Phys Ed and Canadian and World Studies curricula, such as Canadian History and Civics and Citizenship, and the optional Grade 11 and 12 Social Studies and Humanities courses, such as Gender Studies, Equity and Social Justice, and Challenge and Change.


In the required lower-level courses, GBV issues are raised uncritically and using language of individual responsibility. For example, the Grade 9 health curriculum portrays all adolescents as empowered to make choices about how and when they engage in sex, without recognizing power discrepancies that could complicate one's ability to consent and that contribute to the over-representation of women and girls, particularly those who identify as Indigenous, women of colour, LGBTQ+, and disabled, as victims of GBV. The Grade 10 Canadian History curriculum prompts students to consider the advocacy of Amnesty International in relationships to MMIWG, and government policies such as the National Inquiry no MMIWG, without raising the substantial advocacy done by Indigenous women's organizations such as the Native Women's Association of Canada or the legacy of colonial violence by the government that has contributed to this issue. Teachers interviewed also describe struggling to address GBV issues such as MMIWG appropriately in the Grade 10 courses that are so full of material they feel pressed for time.


By contrast, MMIWG is raised in the Grade 11 Gender Studies curriculum, but in a way that provokes students to critically reflect on why Indigenous women are so over-represented among missing women in Canada. The Grade 12 Equity, Social Justice and Diversity course also asks students to distinguish between individual and systemic forms of discrimination. These courses demonstrate more complex and critical portrayals of GBV issues, raising questions about intersections between power and norms linked to race, gender, and other social constructs that serve to make certain groups more vulnerable to GBV. This approach is in line with calls for more critical anti-oppressive approaches to sex education, which I argue are relevant for teaching about GBV in any subject.


While it is positive that GBV issues are mentioned repeatedly within the Ontario curriculum, including in Grade 9 and 10 required courses, the limitation of critical and anti-oppressive approaches to teaching about them to upper-level elective courses is problematic. Teachers who have taught the Grade 11 and 12 courses indicate they tend to be taken by students already somewhat familiar with these issues, and they are not taught at many schools. This means that, despite the increasing recognition of the prevalence of GBV in our society following the #MeToo movement, many Ontario students will complete high school without ever having learned about the root causes of gender-based violence.


The full article here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09540253.2021.1884193 (send me a message through the Contact page if you cannot access it). I hope you find it interesting.