How serious is the Government about the need to protect children from pornography? A year ago, this post might have centred mainly on the dangers posed to children by smartphones and digital media – to which some children are gaining access too young and too freely.
And if you had asked me a year ago, I would have said that the Government and the State shared the widespread public concern that pornography was bad for children and they needed protection from it.
Then something bad happened. It emerged that publicly-funded libraries were stocking child inappropriate and pornographic material and none of our political leaders – not the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, not the Tánaiste Micheál Martin, not the Minister for Education, Norma Foley nor the Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman, would speak up about it or demand regulation and accountability.
But worse again was the revelation, again without demur from these Ministers, or indeed anyone else in the Government, that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in its draft Junior Cycle SPHE programme wanted students to investigate, yes investigate, the influence of pornography.
Following a strong negative public response this learning objective was adjusted to the requirement of ‘discussing’ the ‘influence of pornography’ – effectively allowing for this discussion to take place within a moral framework.
Because young people do not need to ‘investigate’ pornography to realise how damaging it can be.
What’s in a word? When, as envisaged by the NCCA, the overriding moral norms are inclusivity and diversity, a learning objective like that can become a vehicle for normalising the place of pornography in society. (By contrast, despite all mentions of inclusivity, the same draft curriculum shows zero interest in investigating the influence of marriage on relationship expectations, or vice versa. Marriage is nowhere mentioned in the curriculum.)
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just a matter of clumsy wording. In the draft Senior Cycle SPHE curriculum, now open for consultation and comment from the public, the NCCA is back at it again expecting students ‘to investigate the influence of pornography on attitudes, behaviours and relationship expectations’.
According to the NCCA, the development of Senior Cycle SPHE is ‘informed by key government policy initiatives and international commitments around children’s rights and the provision of quality health and wellbeing education.’
The trouble is, these priorities, in the hands of minority vested interests within and with access to government, allow for the aligning of SPHE objectives with the worst features of prevailing international ideologies. These ideologies are, to say the least, weak (not to say soft) on pornography and its negative influences on society.
And nowhere does the NCCA acknowledge the rights (legal, constitutional & UN Charter of Fundamental Rights) of parents through the ethos of their chosen schools to override these ideologies.
So instead of educational priorities we have, courtesy of the NCCA, a curriculum for social and political indoctrination.
Exposure to pornography should not be normalised, and parents need to exercise their voices to ensure that this does not happen. Your free speech is your best defence in a democracy.
We don’t embed communism in the Economics syllabus so why put ‘Queer Theory’ into Senior Cycle SPHE?
A well-constructed History syllabus should certainly teach about Communist theory (esp. what it was all about and the disasters to which it led). Likewise, a Religion or Politics-and-Society class might have a discussion about the private ownership of property and whether it is an absolute right or something that can sometimes be curtailed in the public interest.
What these classes would not, and should not, do is promote as proven truth theories that are highly contested and that have, in fact, wreaked social and political havoc.
So why then would anyone want a Leaving Certificate Personal Development curriculum that unquestionably presents modern Marxist Critical Theory? And Queer Theory?
Critical theory argues that as modern social problems stem from social structures and cultural assumptions which have been passed down to us then solutions only lie in the overthrow of these traditional structures and institutions. The curriculum speaks of ‘patterns of inequity, discrimination and violence’ and of privilege and minority identity groups. Believe it or not, the proposed senior cycle Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum produced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) contains a bizarre reference to the ‘privilege’, in that ideological sense, allegedly enjoyed by those who are white or male or Irish.
‘Queer Theory’ is the idea, that in sexual matters, there are no norms. None. It’s whatever you want to do (within the law more or less) and so there is no space in such a curriculum for the life-affirming meaning of sex or for proposing such an ‘unequal’ institution as marriage. Even a quick look at the draft curriculum from the NCCA reveals zero reference to ‘marriage’ or even to ‘long-term committed relationships’. These ideas would be too judgemental for Queer Theorists.
It is simply wrong to present Marxist Critical Theory and Queer Theory in a curriculum without acknowledging the need for a framework to critically assess these ideas. They actually wilt under scrutiny, but an intolerant, ideological curriculum doesn’t envisage such scrutiny.
A curriculum like this can only emerge from an echo chamber, insulated by the censoring or silencing of all outside contrary voices.
The information note accompanying the draft Senior Cycle SPHE tells us that ‘curriculum development work is informed by extensive national and international research, and by commitments set out in international conventions to which Ireland is a signatory, and commitments set out in Government of Ireland policies and strategies.’
Note that reference to ‘international conventions’ and ‘commitments’. That’s their way of telling you that all this is settled politics, and that your view, if you object, doesn’t count for much.
But here’s the good news. None of this is settled, nor will it be, if parents and teachers make their views known. We need more public meetings and signature campaigns and personal submissions letting the NCCA know what parents think of this dystopian curriculum. Our Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, makes it clear that parents are the primary educators. And as taxpaying citizens parents are also, of course, the paymasters.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) wants to make schools find an extra hour in every week for teaching its controversial Social, Personal and Health Education programme to 5th and 6th year students. The SPHE programme will be mandatory. So instead of alleviating pressure on senior students the NCCA wants to add to it. This means 60 minutes less teaching time for core subjects, and one more hour for unhelpful and potentially destructive political ideology.
How destructive? Well, we’d all like to believe that a Social, Personal and Health curriculum is worthwhile, given the many social pressures facing young people today. But what is being presented by NCCA contains little or no learning. Instead, it’s a depressing mix of politically progressive, selectively chosen and harmful ideologies, which deliberately avoid any meaningful morality.
Imagine this. The proposed programme, despite naming one of its three strands ‘Into Adulthood’, does not refer at any point to the concept of ‘mother’ or ‘father’. The word ‘pregnancy’ is only used when preceded by the word ‘unplanned’, and there is no mention whatsoever of ‘marriage’. These facts alone make clear that the NCCA only understands young people’s welfare in terms of the strange ideological prism through which it chooses to view the world.
This draft SPHE curriculum presents the fringe, NGO supported, minority-held worldview that your gender is whatever-you-have-in-your-head — as fact. This is a view that has most of the country scratching heads in confusion. But for the NCCA this strange and confusing ideology is correct because it sees ‘inclusion’ as an unlimited good.
But inclusive of what, you might ask? Can’t the NCCA think of any examples of human behaviour, not illegal, but of which people might quite rightly have a phobia and that should remain taboo for everyone’s sake? It shouldn’t be that difficult.
The irony is that, as I have shown previously, Queer Theory, to which the NCCA curriculum is so committed, has a phobia of its own: it is dead set against norms of human interpersonal or sexual behaviour.
‘Diversity’ is always enrichment in the NCCA’s eyes. And so its draft curriculum promotes minority Queer Theory ideas on sexuality over traditional moral norms. The draft curriculum is also laden with assumptions of Marxist critical theory such as ‘inequity’ and racial privilege. It stands by the view that one cannot truly acknowledge gender at birth. It espouses tendentious, unscientific ideas like the ‘sexuality wheel’ and the ‘gender spectrum’
It abandons the universal dimension to human rights, replacing these with some of the claims of progressive politics. Remarkably, the draft SPHE programme does not pass any body-of-knowledge test of the kind that might be set for a Leaving Cert subject. It uses unclear definitions in most matters related to sex and gender. So can this draft curriculum be made to work without harming young people? Some people, who are unhappy with it its origins, and suspicious of the intent behind it, still feel that it might be made to work.
Are they being naïve? I think the only way to make this curriculum work is for the vast majority of students is to completely ignore its underpinning logic and much of its content. So, for example, on the topic of pornography – which we mentioned before – a teacher might helpfully explore studies which outline the deeply negative impacts of pornography on young persons’ lives. But if the teacher does that, he or she would be misinterpreting the intent of this non judgemental, inclusive curriculum which views diversity (including sexual behavioural diversity) as an enrichment, and consequently embraces all sexual behaviours, including the kind associated with pornography, as being of equal merit.
Over time, and with the support instead of an intrusive inspectorate and mandatory teacher training, the force of any curriculum will win out. Thus, any ‘sure it will be alright’ approach is to play a game of risk with young people’s welfare and wellbeing.
The draft curriculum contains some minor nods in the direction of a religious ethic, but these seem like the Trojan Horse used to bypass the gatekeepers. The greater influences on the curriculum and its content include Marxist ideals which, if fully explained, would find little support among school parents.
What is happening to this curriculum is similar to what is happening around ‘hate speech’ legislation. We were led to believe that everybody was for the ‘Hate Speech’ Bill, but, in fact, its public defenders turned out to be interests who mostly depend on government or big donor largesse for survival. On the ‘Hate Speech’ Bill, some ordinary politicians felt unable to express their views. With this curriculum, many ordinary parents and students feel unable to publicly express their opposition, due to the pressures of cancel culture. And to date, the NCCA, much like the Department of Justice, seems unable and unwillingly to take on board the many legitimate concerns of those who do complain.
Of all the strange ideas to be found in the NCCA’s Social, Personal and Health Education draft curriculum for Senior Cycle, maybe the worst is Critical Theory, an idea with Marxist roots. We find it in the draft SPHE curriculum when ideas about ‘white’, ‘Irish’ or ‘racial’ privilege are being touted.
Critical theory argues that social problems stem more from social structures and cultural assumptions rather than from individuals and their personal behaviour.
It is, of course, true that the events of the past and the inheritance of wealth and opportunity over generations can help explain some societal inequalities today. The correct response to this is to identify the disadvantage and also the resources and means to tackle it.
But critical theory says that, since structures, institutions, wealth and assumptions about life have been passed on from previous generations, the only solution lies in the overthrow of those structures and institutions that have perpetuated privilege. What replaces the old structures is not of concern, since Marxism expects the system to then right itself.
Critical theory also overlaps with ‘intersectionality’, another Marxist way of looking at the world. This idea seeks to present society as comprising of different identity groups which are pitched against each other in a power struggle, with people assigned to groups on the basis of identity, and minority groups suffering discrimination and disadvantage at the hands of the majorities. So the old economic class struggle of Marxism is now replaced by the struggle between identity groups.
For a different point of view, Christianity sees a sinful world that requires ongoing repair. It does not propose throwing everything out as there are fundamental principles which are always worth conserving. It also realizes that original sin ensures that we can never get it quite right, even with the best of intentions, although that is not to say we shouldn’t try hard.
Christianity proposes dialogue as opposed to no platforming, and peaceful persuasion as opposed to violence. It proposes listening over cancel culture. It proposes personal liberty over a group victimization culture. It encourages a knowledge of history rather than crudely rewriting it. Christianity seeks to construct rather than dismantle and destroy. It promotes freedom over enforced ‘equity’.
At first sight, Christian social-justice morality can sound like the Critical Theory espoused by this curriculum. But the language used is the giveaway. The NCCA’s draft curriculum speaks of understanding ‘patterns of inequity, discrimination and violence’ — but fails to define ‘inequity’ and who is to be the judge of it. It speaks of white, racial privilege and minority identity groups. It chooses allyship over Christian solidarity.
Confrontational Critical Theory has a great capacity to fuel resentment, anger, fear and despair among young people. These feelings all add to, rather than ameliorate, the mental health problems in our society. This is not what we should want from an SPHE curriculum.
How the pretence of ‘neutrality’ and ‘inclusiveness’ masks an ideological takeover of the school curriculum
As people are finalising their submissions on the draft Social, Health and Personal Education curriculum for Senior Cycle in secondary schools, it’s worth looking at a particular strategy being used by the framers of the draft curriculum.
It’s a strategy to present as neutral, or ‘inclusive’, certain values that are highly contestable at best, and undermining of people’s wellbeing at worst.
Because – how far does ‘inclusiveness’ go? Does it mean supporting gender affirmation models for people gender dysphoria? Does it support the choice of hedonism over restraint and self-control in matters of human intimacy? As LGBTQ+ identities, relationships are now to be ‘fully integrated’ does that mean that any kind of sexual activity is legitimate under this heading? What responses to unplanned pregnancy are moral? Does ‘inclusiveness’ mean that abortion as a back-up for failed contraception is to be fully integrated into ‘possible responses to unplanned pregnancy’?
The draft curriculum fails to acknowledge what should be common sense, which is that ‘inclusiveness’ itself has to be subject to limits so that we don’t end up tolerating, or even promoting, the intolerable.
Someone once wrote about people being “so open minded that their brains fall out”. In the same way, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, with its version of ‘inclusiveness’ is pretending to promote some neutral high ground that should be acceptable to everyone living in a democratic society.
And the language the NCCA offers is tempting to the generous-minded. Phrases like ‘inclusive in accordance with principles of equality, human rights and responsibilities’ sound very reassuring.
But it’s all a fiction. The curriculum fails the standard of inclusiveness that it sets for itself. It makes no allowance for any religious culture. It seeks instead to impose a mandatory curriculum inspired, in this case, by neo-Marxism and other fringe theories on all schools.
The NCCA (and the Minister) concede that parents have a right to opt out their children from any learning. The ‘devil thank them’ ?that’s in the Constitution. But, tellingly, the NCCA and the Minister are ignoring the right, even the duty under law, that schools as institutions, acting on the behalf of their founders and the parents who choose those schools, to imbue their teaching of the curriculum with their established characteristic spirit or ethos.
By attempting to push a mandatory curriculum for all, the NCCA has chosen to ignore the request from many people to recognise that some schools will have a religious and moral underpinning. In the eyes of the NCCA, other considerations, be these of politics or policy, must trump a genuine pluralism.
So much for ‘inclusiveness’.
The NCCA bases its idea of ‘inclusiveness’ on undefined notions of ‘equality’ and ‘human rights’. Yet human rights, in the NCCA’s understanding, are not the same as the universal human rights as we recognise them international treaties. The NCCA’s version involves giving priority to contested ideas around gender identity, to take one example, and removing any reference to ‘marriage’ from the curriculum, to take another.
In the world of universal human rights, not the concern of NCCA it seems, people enjoy freedom of religion and belief, whether acting alone or as members of a group. If a school is established and supported by a group of people, has a moral ethos through which it wishes to teach the requested State curriculum, and aims to ‘lead to a cohesive, compassionate and fair society’, then by international treaties it is entitled to do so.
What totalitarian instinct would lead the NCCA to ignore that right?
Was it just an oversight?
Of course, it is not just parents who value schools with a religious ethos who will have problems with the NCCA’s draft curriculum. There is plenty to offend the common sense of many types of person, religious and otherwise.
‘Critical theory’, ‘intersectionality’, ‘queer theory’, ‘gender theory’ – they are all there! The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has hoovered up every ‘latest new thing’ to produce a politicised, mish-mash draft curriculum for Senior Cycle Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in secondary schools.
We should question how our curriculum shapers are living out their duty-of-care to Irish students; some of the theories and agendas underlying their draft curriculum can be linked, it’s fair to say, to the mental health challenges facing many young people in Ireland today.
The biggest threat of all is the normalisation of gender ideology.
Many Irish young people are being put at risk of gender dysphoria by the activism of the dominant cultural influencers in the western, English-speaking world in particular. These young people are not helped by anything that suggests that a person’s ‘gender identity’ can cancel out or replace their actual sex. They are not helped by the dynamics and currents of social media in this direction.
But instead of a helpful clarity from educational, media and political leaders in our country, we see the silencing of those who would point out the reality of things.
Only last Friday, RTÉ’s new-kid-on-the-block Patrick Kielty gave a passive, facilitating and unchallenging interview on the Late Late Show to a transgender activist whose controversial book on gender and sexuality has caused protests outside public libraries. The book, with its graphically-descriptive and highly-sexualised content, has been ordered up for the children and young-adult section of libraries ? despite the child-protection concerns that this raises.
It is concern for, not indifference to, the suffering of others, that demands that we tell the truth about gender dysphoria in any discussion.
It is respect for people with gender dysphoria that says that we should see the condition as a problem that with sensitive care may well be overcome (avoiding severe negative health outcomes) instead of treating it as a normal situation to be affirmed where it occurs in young people (putting them at risk of life damaging hormonal and surgical choices if we do affirm it).
Humans come in two sexes. In denying this, gender ideology, a sixty-year-old theory with unscrupulous origins, promotes a lie about the human person.
This lie undermines young people’s sense of who they are. It exploits the vulnerability of teenagers while their bodies are still growing. It espouses sexist stereotypes and proposes a gender ‘spectrum’ as an alternative to natural male/female diversity. It denies the reality of womanhood. It affirms sexual fetishes. It pushes the early sexualisation of young people and almost unlimited sexual experimentation as part of young people’s development.
But promotion of this ideology feeds into the growth of psychiatric disorders, especially among vulnerable young people. It creates social contagion among teenage youth, especially girls.
For the record: No child is born in the wrong body, and there is no such thing as a ‘trans’ child. But, yes, there are highly suggestible, extremely vulnerable, young people, some of whom are confused about their gender identity. Children do not have the same frame of reference as adults. Affirmation models of gender dysphoria feed into young people’s vulnerability, and, as we are seeing, can lead to what should be seen as medical crimes against children by adults who should know, and act, better.
The promotion of the gender ideology model effectively denies the biological male/female reality. It is not humane to affirm children’s mental confusion in this way, instead of helping the person to move beyond the condition where possible. It is deeply unjust to promote a theory of gender identity that feeds gender dysphoria and allows for social contagion to happen.
Whose are the invisible hands in our country that are so skilled at foisting such views and mores upon people, so skilled at manufacturing desired consultation outcomes, and so largely unchallenged in our mainstream media and by our now rather discredited State broadcaster?
Most politicians seek to talk past these discussions about school and curriculum. They avoid giving straightforward answers to hard questions – afraid, as many of them are, that the guillotine of cancel culture might come down on their political careers.
The only effective response to this significant cultural problem is a groundswell of public opinion, properly but firmly expressing, through email and engagement with all media types, strong opposition to, among other things, the draft Senior Cycle Curriculum.
If you want my advice, disregard the rather leading survey questions on the NCCA website. Send your own personal email email@example.com by November 3, saying what you want or don’t want to see on the school curriculum. The mental health and physical wellbeing of many young people depends on clear-thinking citizens raising their voices now.