Misleading claims about the new sex education syllabus for secondary school students in Ireland have been debunked. Fact-checkers from The Journal investigated various leaflets circulating in response to changes to the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum and highlighted the misinformation being spread.
The first document examined was distributed by Christian Voice Ireland at its “Parents’ Information” evening at The National Stadium in Dublin. In it, the religious organisation lists 10 points about the new syllabus that it objects to.
First, it claims that biology is being “replaced” with gender identity. The Journal notes that “While gender identity is covered in the curriculum, it will not replace biology (which is a separate Leaving Cert subject).” It adds that under the current Gender Identity strand of SPHE, knowing how to differentiate “the difference between sex and gender” is a learning outcome, indicating that neither is replacing the other.
The leaflet in question also writes that sex education is a “subversion of the constitutional role of parents as ‘primary educators’ on ‘religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social’ matters.” However, Article 42 of the Irish constitution also says that the State requires “that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social,” which may be provided at home or in school.
Furthermore, as The Journal reports, almost 20,000 parents were consulted on the changes to the SPHE syllabus, and it will be possible for students to be withdrawn from the classes.
“There was a public consultative process in advance of the development of the Junior Cycle curriculum available from September 2023,” Dublin City University researcher Dr Elaine Byrnes told journalists, adding that anyone could have “chosen to engage with the process”.
“Further, the public consultation process for the Senior Cycle reform remains open on the NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) website until 18 October 2023. There is an opportunity for students, teachers and indeed ‘parents or guardians’ as specified by Christian Voice Ireland to voice any concerns they may have related to RSE reform.”
Other points included in the leaflet oppose “pronoun use”, “bathroom access on ‘gender identity’ basis”, and “normalisation” of “transitioning surgeries”, “Cross-dressing” and “sexual attraction to all genders”. While these are not factual claims, the NCCA clarified that it does not promote any particular sexual orientation and even avoids using terms like “normal”.
Literature from the Parents’ Rights Alliance was also analysed. It claims that the government is “proposing to impose transgender ideology and pornography classes on all Primary and Secondary schools, starting with the Junior Cert Curriculum in Sept 2023”. However, experts clarify that there is no mention of so-called “transgender ideology” in the sex education syllabus or official teaching guidelines, and children will not be shown pornography.
“Pornography will never, ever be shown in a classroom to students,” secondary school teacher, Assistant Principal and SPHE and Wellbeing coordinator Eoghan Cleary said.
“It would be illegal for any teacher to do that.”
Among other things, the leaflet also says that the course “ignores the ethos of Catholic and religious minority schools”.
In response, the NCCA stated that while “SPHE is not religious education,” it does, in fact, encompass “Christian values”.
“They’re values that anybody of any fair or any good humanist would be able to concur with. But it’s not the job of the SPHE teacher to engage in religious education,” the organisation explained.
Finally, a document which does not contain any group’s name, logo or branding, was also studied. It claims that “the sexualization of our children has begun” and that the new sex education syllabus marks “the beginning of the normalisation of paedophilia”. It also falsely states that minors are being encouraged to “engage in same-sex relationships” and that the curriculum is in breach of the Children First Act 2015, a law that is commonly invoked by the far-right to spread anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, as has been seen in the recent library protests.
Fact-checkers state that the new SPHE syllabus “does not contain the material that the flyer claims” and that “it’s clear to see that the leaflet mischaracterizes what children are taught at certain ages.”
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