Thursday, May 14, 2009

A response to MOE's statement on sexuality education

(Unpublished - May 7, 2009)

A response to MOE's statement on sexuality education

I refer to Ministry for Education (MOE) Press Secretary Jennifer Chan’s statement on sexuality education programmes conducted in schools across the nation.

I am concerned with MOE’s usage of the rhetoric of ‘social norms’, and the label of ‘alternative lifestyles’.

MOE should take more responsibility in addressing and engaging the term ‘social norms’ and its implications.

I feel MOE should encourage an open and free-flow of information to empower our children, not use the rhetoric of ‘social norms’ to justify the omission of certain aspects of sexuality education.

Social norms, to a large extent, perpetuate and legitimise division and discrimination in our society.

For example, social norms cause the stigmatism of single mums and ex-convicts; arisen from these norms are also gender hegemony, ageism and racism.

Social norms perpetuate ideas of men being tougher than women, of the elders being slow and economically worthless, and of ethnic minorities as generally underachieving.

In this scenario, in leveraging the rhetoric of ‘social norms’, MOE is doing a huge disservice to youths who either identify as queer (non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgendered/non-cissexual) or struggle with their sexuality.

The concerns and issues of queer and questioning youths become treated as irrelevant and left unaddressed.

Essentially, a portion of a sexuality education programme should touch on sexuality.

The use of ‘alternative lifestyle’ is reductive, simplistic, dehumanises and renders invisible other varieties of non-heterosexual identities.

Sexual identity is part of a person’s humanity, as it consists of individual sexual and emotional preference, desires, fantasies, preference for specific aesthetics, physiologies, body and gender types, and does not merely manifest in a ‘lifestyle’.

Providing information on homosexuality does not equate to the promotion of homosexuality; only ill-informed closed-minded homophobic fear-mongering from various opinion leaders can create such a false equation.

Furthermore, youths today are more media and information savvy, and are in general becoming more sexually active at a younger age.

What they first deserve is information and options, not moralising; moralising does not make you more responsible or safe.

Might I suggest MOE adopt a more polycentric approach to sexuality education and let parents and their children choose which sexuality education programme they would like to attend?

Families will then have a buffet spread of sexuality education programmes and finally take some responsibility in choosing which type best fits their respective moral ideologies.

This is aligned with Jennifer Chan’s statement that “families are ultimately responsible for inculcating values in their children”.

This beats the suspension of existing programmes or the streamlining of sexuality education.

MOE should also appreciate that its stakeholders consist not only the mainstream, but also the marginal.

That way, MOE will be able to serve families who are more concerned with form (e.g. structure and make-up of the family), as well as families who are more concerned with function (e.g. to love, to support, to nurture).

The political pressure of the well-educated moral elite should not, in any way, hamper continuous and credible research in the area of sexuality education.

MOE is and should always be a servant of education and to the young in Singapore.

Ultimately, education is to empower a person to think and to make informed decisions that will be beneficial and aligned to one’s goals in life.

Ho Chi Sam

-add-

Below was written by a teacher in response to the discussion on sex education:

I Teach General Paper, not Homosexuality

With all due respect to the well-meaning “concerned parents” out there, this is starting to sound like a dodgy GP essay to me.

Apparently, because my students and I “discuss topics such as the legalisation of gay marriage and parents of the same sex forming families through adoption” in class, I am guilty of promoting homosexuality.*

Right.

But never mind. MOE has already come to the rescue with their statement that “GP lessons are meant to promote critical thinking” and GP teachers “should also adhere to social norms and values of our mainstream society”.*

Oh yes, apparently one can facilitate critical thinking, that is, the reasoned questioning of assumptions, norms and values AND fully reinforce and adhere to social norms at the same time.

And wait, I see this again, in the debate on sexuality education and just what should be said about homosexuality:

1. Homosexuality is against the social norms and values of mainstream society.
2. Homosexuality is illegal and considered unnatural under Singapore law.

The first thing any student of GP (or indeed, any human being who knows anything about world history) will realise, is that social norms change.

Secondly, if you insist on going by “mainstream” values and beliefs, you may like to follow 43% of Singaporeans and look to Buddhism, which views homosexuality on neutral grounds, as opposed to Christianity (15%) and Islam (15%).

In any case, the legal argument will only hold as long as homosexual acts are considered illegal in Singapore.... and judging from the force of change in the world, frankly my dear, you can't hold the dam for much longer.

Singapore's law criminalising homosexual acts is based on British law – which decriminalised this in 1967.

Other countries which have decriminalised homosexuality include France (1791), The Netherlands (1811), Brazil (1830), Ottoman Empire (1858), Germany (1871), Japan (1880), Italy (1889), USSR (1922), Denmark (1930), Iceland (1940), Switzerland (1942), Sweden (1944), Greece (1951), Thailand (1956), Israel (1963), Chad (1967), Canada (1969), Kosovo (1970), Australia (1981), South Africa (1994), China (1997) etc.

This shows an increasing acceptance that personal preferences that do not harm anyone else should not be governed (in this case, criminalised) by the state. As with the wearing away of all other forms of inequality, I believe this discrimination of homosexuals cannot last.

So what are we left with?

Are we justifying a brand of education with reasons that won't hold weight for much longer?

You may argue that making something legal doesn't make it right, and you have a point.

But then that would depend on what you consider “right”, which really is a moral issue and one that concerns personal belief.

So I have two points for you:

1. Personal beliefs – religious or otherwise – should not influence the laws of a secular society. The onus is on parents and preachers to educate their children in these beliefs. Say what you want at the pulpit, not in Parliament, and certainly, do not foist this responsibility onto your child's teachers in secular schools.

2. It is unfair, impractical and dangerous to insist that youths be given only the old rules when they live in a completely different world. Parents, if you insist on a black-and-white moral education for your children, you only drive them into secrecy when they need you most. If teachers cannot teach openly and factually, rest assured that the internet will.

As an educator and maybe future parent, I admit I am less concerned about whether my children are homosexual/transsexual/(fill in the blank) or not, and more concerned that they should always respect others and themselves, never discriminate, always critically examine issues, always feel free to share their thoughts with me without fear of condemnation, always love and always be loved no matter what.

This is my hope.

Lisa Li
11 May 2009

PS. If you think your children will rush to become homosexual/transsexual/(fill in the blank) because of my words, I THANK YOU for crediting me with such influence! By the way, your children are smarter than you think....

3 comments:

Xtrocious said...

Great reply from the GP teacher :)

You go girl

But do expect another letter from "concerned parent" AKA George Lim - he doesn't exactly "think" a lot if his letters are anything to go by :p

Anong said...

Sam
You write so well.
Could you write an equally persuasive article for my friend who has a committed and concensual sexual relationship with his biological daughter? He's 50 and she's 30 and they both admit to incestuous tendencies.
He doesn't think he is hurting anyone and he would like to have the laws changed to accommodate people like them who are born with such inclinations. They are careful to indulge in protected sex so that they can't be accused of inbreeding.
I feel their pain in that they can't come out of the closet like so many homosexuals can today.
He will be grateful for your support.
Regards.

Sam Ho said...

george lim has every right to make a stand and be heard. he writes well (i didn't say sensibly) any way. but i wonder why the straits times 'enjoy' publishing him. maybe he increases reader interest. flamebait i say.

anong, it's culturally taboo to have inter-general relationships. at the most, relationships between cousins would border on intolerable.

i'll probably think it through. because i also have to think about my position too. consensual inter-generational relationships make me question my beliefs and predispositions too.

stay tuned.