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Artillery Row

Children need education, not indoctrination

We need more debate on what children are being taught in RHSE

Imagine yourself back at school. It’s time for history class. You open your textbook, ready to dive into the past. But today, your teacher announces that it won’t be needed. Instead, a special guest is here to talk about “historical relativism”. As the presentation begins, you’re bewildered to see slides filled with terms like “QAnon”, “pizzagate”, and “cannibalistic child molesters”. What’s that about?, you wonder. “These are popular topics online, and we believe you should have a basic understanding of them in case you come across them. You see, this is all over the Internet.”

For an hour or so, you go from rabbit hole to rabbit hole. Matthew Arnold’s educational model, which aims to introduce children to the best that has ever been thought, is flushed down the toilets. You leave class feeling confused and uneasy. When you get home, your parents notice something is off, but you struggle to explain. So you turn on your computer and start searching for answers.

It sounds crazy. But if you replace that history lesson plan with a Relationships, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) lesson plan, many argue that this would be considered a perfectly acceptable idea.

Since its inception, the RSHE curriculum has been the object of numerous experimentations in the UK. Today, it combines Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHE) and its most potent subsection, Relationships and Sexual Education (RSE). New Labour introduced the former as a non-statutory subject in 2000. Boris Johnson’s government made the latter a compulsory feature of the curriculum in 2020 without pairing it with an exam board.

This shift followed significant lobbying by charities with a special interest in LGBT rights, which includes activism regarding gay marriage, parenthood outside the scope of heterosexuality, transgender interests, and the opposition to Section 28. The decision was also informed by repeated pushes for reform from the Welsh devolved government, which has prioritised sexual education alongside basic literacy and numeracy in classrooms from age 3.

Crucially, PSHE and RSE’s frameworks have their roots in some deeply concerning organisations outside of the UK. Their curriculum is fashioned after the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), which is defined in corresponding standardising documents by the UN, the WHO, and the EU. However, it is essentially drawn from US policy, designed and promoted by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the USA (SIECUS) and Planned Parenthood, both of which are longstanding consultants to the UN. Few are courageous to debate the eugenics of Margaret Sanger, the activist, writer and nurse who engendered Planned Parenthood. Even fewer people grasp the dubious background of SIECUS that started with some funding from Hugh Hefner, the founder and owner of Playboy Magazine in which he proudly exhibited his sexual liberalism. Hefner’s educational principles continue to this day in the form of the “Pleasure Project”, lauded by many “experts” including UK academics, that seeks to promote and disseminate “sex positive” theories and “ethical” pornography. 

UNESCO explicitly presents Hefner’s “Pleasure Project” as a reliable reference on the topic of sexual education, including its “Global Mapping of Pleasure: A directory of organisations, programmes, media and people who eroticise safer sex”. The website affirms that it is “putting the sexy into safe sex since 2004. Because sex education is rarely sexy. And erotica is rarely safe.” Activities include “break[ing] the inhibitions […] with terms around sex, sexuality and pleasure”, aiming for group activities to explore “sexual acts, sexual organs and pleasure.”

For years now, UK parents have tried to alert the general public about the content of PSHE and RSE lessons. Because there is no ratified exam board on the topic, it is difficult to obtain a comprehensive overview of the extent of the problem. But the extracts that have been reported and that have been meticulously reviewed by organisations, such as Safe Schools Alliance UK, illustrate that the situation is out of control. Too often, ideologically-driven third party providers don’t base their material on evidence and misrepresent the law in order to promote toxic beliefs, such as “gender ideology”. Resources such as the “genderbread person” have been demonstrated to be pure and simple political indoctrination for young, impressionable minds. British common law already holds solid provisions against this, such as sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996. But these have mysteriously disappeared from guidance material.

Although parents ought to be the first teachers of their children, the latest RSHE policies fail to disclose in full what parents are entitled to know about the content and methods used during these lessons. The “No Secret Lesson Plans in UK Schools” campaign, led by Clare Page, perfectly illustrates that key problem. Sensitive ideas are presented to children without prior consultation or collaboration. Worse, copyrights directly threaten parents’ rights and prevent them from fulfilling their most fundamental duties.

Looking more closely at the institutions that shape the curriculum, it is staggering that their philosophical premises are rarely disclosed to the public and debated more openly. In particular, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), created in 1989, emphasises the child’s legal and personal autonomy, including their right to receive RSE teaching. The idea that a child might be fully autonomous, even from their parents, and specifically for the purpose of teaching about “sex” and all its corollaries (gender, sexuality, and so on), should ring alarm bells.

Yet in UK schools, the UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools scheme, in conjunction with Stonewall School Champions, still promotes the UNCRC in relation to CSE. Thanks to the scrutiny of grassroots campaigns and organisations such as Sex Matters, Whitehall departments started withdrawing from the Stonewall Diversity Champion scheme around 2021. In exposing Stonewall’s political lobbying, it has already been made clear that the charity wilfully misinterprets past and recent legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010, in order to advocate for the abandonment of existing cultural norms concerning sex, sexuality, relationships, procreation, and family. Nevertheless, this lobbying continues to be alive and well within classrooms, thanks to the RSHE’s Trojan horse.

RSHE, if appropriately structured, could offer a platform to nurture society’s sense of trust, purpose and belonging by addressing fundamental aspects of human nature and civic identity. There exists empirical evidence underscoring the necessity of such a curriculum, such as the male propensity for violence, the risks of pornography for children’s conception of human relations, the influence of smartphones on mental and social development, and the consequences of early sexual activity in terms of pregnancy.

But a core problem of the RSHE curriculum is that it doesn’t start, like with any other topic at school, from the point of view of what is necessary for the overall flourishing of the child. Rather, the emphasis tends to naturally favour topics that benefit from a large media coverage. Things that already saturate the Internet, and in particular social media.

We would never accept teaching conspiracy theories in classrooms just because they exist “out there”. In the classical liberal tradition, we expect education to provide to our children the most robust foundations of knowledge, thanks to which they can be equipped to critically think about what they read or hear. So why should we accept the exact opposite when it comes to sex, relationships, and other sensitive topics that form children’s understanding of their identity, as a person and a citizen?

Somehow, we’ve persuaded people that inoculating children with risks in small doses, in a “controlled environment”, is a genuinely good idea to protect them against those very risks. Anyone who has a child or a brain (or both), would immediately spot the obvious, massive drawback of such principle. Instead of being a vaccine dose, this philosophy of teaching resembles giving a loaded gun to the youth, urging them to not pull the trigger while providing a blueprint for using the weapon. An equivalent principle drives the mental health establishment, which has developed an increased and frankly disturbing interest in young people.

The different problems embedded in the curriculum are obviously complex and overlapping. But it doesn’t take much thinking to recognise that we have been, for years now, prompting children’s natural curiosity on a variety of sensitive topics by using schools as megaphones for these rather than as a proper safeguarding mechanism against them. The normalisation of harmful narratives regarding sex and sexuality is done as a part of a pretended necessary initiation of children to redefined “cultural norms”.

The recent DfE’s review of RSHE further demonstrates the perversity of such a framework. The policy move to include suicide as part of “health education” is informed by bereaved parents who have, rightfully, campaigned for increased prevention on the matter. Yet its inclusion in the curriculum triggers more questions than it brings answers. Given that self-harm isn’t only increasing but also to be moving down the age range, one can legitimately doubt that “teaching suicide” would prevent the rise of mental health issues, which are more and more prominent among the youth.

The existence of suicide or depression in society doesn’t — or shouldn’t — automatically make such topics relevant points of discussion in children’s education. This is particularly true with regard to the broader debate around gender, as suicide ideation is sometimes used as emotional blackmail for accelerating social transition at an early age. What impact, then, will “teaching” depression and suicide have in this context? Can it ever be age-appropriate? These issues deserve to be more thoroughly debated instead of being, yet again, accepted as a fait accompli.

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