The head of Catholic Education Tasmania has criticised mandatory consent education programs introduced this year as part of the national curriculum. Dr. Gerard Gaskin wrote on the Archdiocese of Hobart’s website that they include “highly sensitive, amoral and potentially harmful information.”
Nearly two years ago, Education Ministers around Australia unanimously agreed to mandate consent education in schools from this year after former Sydney high schooler Chanel Contos and her organisation Teach Us Consent called for mandatory consent education to be put on the national agenda.
Dr. Gaskin noted that consent education is usually included as part of Respectful Relationships programs with the objective of reducing rape and other forms of sexual assault, by requiring consent from each person involved in any sexual activity.
His concern is: “These programs make no distinction between sexual relations within marriage and extra-marital relationships. Consent is proposed as the only standard we should use to judge whether a sexual act is right or wrong, legal or illegal. In Catholic morality, consent is necessary, but not sufficient, to make the sexual act right or wrong. It is the long-held teaching of Christ that sexual activity is only legitimately expressed within the loving relationship between husband and wife.”
“In April 2022, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) published its commitment to “strengthening the explicit teaching of consent and respectful relationships from Foundation to Year 10 in age-appropriate ways”.
“Let’s be clear, age-appropriate or not, this means that according to federal curriculum requirements, children are to be taught that any form of sexual activity is OK provided both persons give consent. Note too, ACARA also says that consent education must be taught explicitly. It is difficult to imagine how such complex and bewildering sexual information could possibly be taught to little children in any way that could ever be considered as age appropriate.”
“The sexual and moral formation of the child is the exclusive right of parents. Only they are entitled to judge how much information about sexuality their child needs, and at what stage of their development it should be given. Yet, federal and state governments appear to have decided that such highly sensitive, amoral and potentially harmful information must now be provided by teachers, and that it must start in the first years of schooling. This places an unreasonable and unacceptable demand on our teachers.”
“Needless to say, Catholic Education Tasmania reserves the right to question and challenge any educational prescriptions that would impose such an anti-family and secular ideology on our schools, students and families.”
Dr. Gaskin revealed his organisation has engaged a couple regarded as highly respected Catholic educators to support its teachers with appropriate and faithful Catholic resources “to promote respectful relationships and to promote the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of marriage.”
Consent education specialist and CEO of Body Safety Australia Deanne Carson responded that: “If Dr. Gaskin was familiar with the curriculum, he would know that young children are taught consent from a non-sexual perspective.” She told EducationDaily that the “Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made it very clear that teaching children their right to bodily autonomy is critical in preventing childhood sexual abuse.”
The federal education department insists schools have some degree of flexibility when it comes to teaching the curriculum, saying: “In many cases, decisions are made by individual schools which ensures that school leaders, teachers, and communities can tailor education programs and resources to suit students’ specific needs and their school’s context.”
Teaching Consent author Jane Gilmore agreed the curriculum does not prevent religious schools from teaching their values to students. “It just ensures that children and young people are also given the tools they need to understand that any sexual activity – kissing, touching, even holding hands – must be consensual,” she told EducationDaily.
“No matter how much parents and schools might want young people to practice abstinence, the evidence says it just doesn’t work and is far more likely to lead to unwanted sexual activity and unplanned pregnancy. Consent education helps young people protect themselves and each other. Keeping young people ignorant will never keep them safe,” she added.
Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg warned students could easily become disengaged when it came to consent. “Age appropriate consent education supports healthy, safe relationships. But the key is age appropriate. And I think we have to be careful that we don’t overdo it,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“There is a significant level of cynicism particularly in years 8 and 9, students say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah we know all this.’ The curriculum is only ever going to be as good as the teacher teaching it. They need to be able to read the room, pitch it at the emotional stage.”