While some have voiced concerns, others are applauding an Alert Bay teacher who gave her young students an assignment on touching their private body parts.
Kindergarteners from T’lisa̱lagi’lakw School of ‘Namgis First Nation, located northeast of Vancouver Island, were assigned a worksheet from Body Smart: Right From the Start last week.
Page 37 of the 94-page workbook, which aims to provide activities and discussions to help increase abuse resistance, asks students to list and draw the private places in their home “where you can touch your penis or vulva.”
After someone posted a screenshot of the worksheet to social media, the backlash against the school, the teacher, and the author who penned the workbook started trickling in.
People referred to it as a “masturbation assignment.”
A T’lisa̱lagi’lakw School parent took their anger to Facebook, saying, “If your 4-year-old child came home with this homework, how would you feel … it wrecked my day and gave me a disgusting feeling.”
But recalling personal experiences, a Nanaimo-based sexual assault responder, who’d rather remain anonymous, says the material proves vital.
She says she’s “passionate” about this type of education in schools, even for students at a young age, because it takes the onus off the parent, who can be “completely blindsided.”
In an interview with Victoria Buzz, she says if her now-adult daughter was taught the proper names for her genitalia in kindergarten, it could have prevented the life-altering trauma endured.
A man who married into the family started abusing and grooming her daughter at a very young age, “under the noses of everyone,” according to the anonymous interviewee.
“My daughter was quite young when he came into the family. She was three. Very quickly, he became her favourite uncle. This is the classic scenario that happens in families,” she said.
‘It can turn your life upside down’
Following years of abuse, her daughter became depressed and withdrawn and was hospitalized five times under suicide watch.
“She started using substances, still does.”
Looking back, the mother wishes the subject would have been more thoroughly taught in her daughter’s kindergarten classroom, as it is today.
“It’s very painful for me to think that perhaps if there had been more education when she was in school, could that have given her the tools to be more vocal about what was going on?” she added.
“Could she have had a voice and stopped it earlier?”
Certified sexual health educator Kerri Isham of Power Up Sexual Health Education in Nanaimo is behind the workbook in question, saying it’s intended for children between the ages of three to ten.
On Monday, Isham said “a lot of hate” had been coming her way, including threats.
“I have been called a pedophile more times than I can count, I’ve been called a groomer many, many times,” she recalled.
“I don’t care about what people call me, I care about the safety of our kids.”
Speaking with Victoria Buzz, Isham pointed to alarming nationwide statistics from the 2018 Canadian Missing and Exploited Children’s Conference.
“Of the children who are sexually abused, we have one in four girls and one in six boys before their 18th birthday experience unwanted sexual touch,” she said, noting 59% of affected children are abused by a direct family member.
“When people are saying this should not be taught in schools, this should be taught in homes, what do we do with the children who are actually being groomed and sexually abused by their parents?” added Isham.
“The more kids know, and the more people are talking to them about it, the more likely they will report if somebody touches them inappropriately.”
Despite online comments, Isham insists it wasn’t a “masturbation assignment.”
“The teacher sent it home to inform the parents to please go over with their child that we don’t touch our private parts in a public place,” she said.
Isham also says it may have been “helpful” if the teacher sent home a letter explaining the reasoning behind her teachings, but notes that’s not a mandate of the BC Education Ministry.
“I really feel like the teacher has been put in a situation where she was trying to do something really positive for the kids, and it’s turned out to be not so positive for her.”
In a Monday statement, ‘Namgis First Nation said it was “aware of activities” that have upset the community, noting a formal investigation is currently underway.
“Administration is reviewing the matter at large, including curriculum standards regarding physical and health education at our school,” wrote Chief Don Svanvik.
He added the Council is committed to resolving the matter, noting steps are being taken to address concerns and re-evaluate all areas of education delivery at the school.