SCHOOLS: by Kevin ReedNews Weekly
Same-sex marriage and the school curriculum
, August 4, 2012
As a retired educator who worked in curriculum development, I believe that changes to Australia’s Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage will lead to changes in the school curriculum which will not be acceptable to many people.
Significant changes in society usually result in changes in the school curriculum. For example, the introduction of computers into society led to the extensive use of computers in schools.
The feminist movement, a huge societal change, also saw changes in the curriculum. Stories and class discussions about family life could no longer always depict “mum” staying at home and “dad” going to work. Both “mum” and “dad” had to be seen as having careers, and sharing in home-making responsibilities.
There were language changes too. The impersonal pronouns “he” and “man” were banned from usage in stories, essays and in every-day conversation. “He” was often replaced with “they” and “man” with “people” — both non-sexist terms.
With feminism, changes were also made to subject availability. Girls were offered, and encouraged to take, subjects such as woodwork, that had previously been the forte of boys. And boys too were offered a wider range of subjects, some of which, like cooking, had not previously been offered to them.
These changes to the curriculum were accepted because society generally saw them as moves in the right direction.
If the proposed changes to the Marriage Act are passed in the federal parliament, homosexual marriage will be placed on an equal footing with heterosexual marriage. Homosexuality and the homosexual lifestyle will be seen as normal and the school curriculum will have to change to cater for this.
Stories and discussions about family life will have to include same-sex couples, many of whom would be without children whilst others would be caring for children.
There will be language changes too. To use the words “wife”, “mother”, “husband” or “father” would be seen as both “monosexist” — an offence that assumes that there is only one type of family — and “heterosexist” — an offence that assumes that this one type of family consists of heterosexual parents.
Thus the use of the word “partner” will be mandatory instead of “husband” and “wife”, and the word “parent” will replace “mother” and “father”, in stories, essay-writing and everyday language.
Currently, health and physical education courses include sexuality education. These courses will have to change too. According to the Victorian Government Schools Reference Guide, the goal of sexuality education in Victorian schools is “to build on [the students’] knowledge, skills and behaviours, thus enabling young people to make responsible and safe choices”.
If changes, which see same-sex attraction and homosexual activity as normal, are made to the Marriage Act, then other changes to the curriculum will logically follow. Children will be taught about opposite-sex and same-sex relationships, as well as “safe sex” practices for both types of couples. These changes will occur initially in the Victorian health and physical education curriculum and, subsequently, in the National Curriculum which is currently being developed by the federal Labor government.
Unlike changes made to the curriculum as a result of the changes in society owing to the use of computers and the advent of feminism, many in the community will not be happy with the above curriculum inclusions which would follow changes to the Marriage Act. Children may not be allowed to opt out of such programs at their parents’ request. Such requests would be seen as homophobic or heterosexist, or both.
Catholic and other denominational schools have consistently followed the belief that marriage between man and woman is the natural and normal way for society to reproduce itself and that, generally, children are happier if they are raised with their siblings by their biological parents in their family home.
Generally, churches also recognise there are instances of same-sex attraction, and teach that such people, like everyone else, should be loved as “neighbours” and certainly should not be discriminated against. Generally, most churches also teach that same-sex attracted people should be celibate, just as they teach that unmarried opposite-sex attracted people should be celibate.
In light of these teachings, many denominational schools will oppose those changes to the curriculum, which would regard homosexual activity as normal, taking place in their schools.
This situation raises two questions. First, will such schools be able to ignore those parts of the changes to the curriculum which normalise behaviour that is contrary to their teachings?
And, second, what will be the consequences of so doing if these schools are required to adopt and teach the amended curriculum? In particular, would there be problems with government funding if these schools ignored those required changes to the curriculum which normalised homosexual behaviour?
There is no doubt that changing the Marriage Act will result in far more significant changes to society than same-sex couples saying “I do” in front of a marriage celebrant.
Kevin Reed is a retired former senior lecturer in education at Victoria’s Deakin University.