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Concerns as RSE for Junior Cycle programme flagged to teach Irish Junior Cert students about porn

Parents have expressed concern over draft proposals for the new Junior Cert curriculum – as it was today revealed that lessons about online pornography will be given to Irish secondary school students.

The controversial draft curriculum, which has triggered backlash from parents, will also have a focus on consent, gender stereotyping, and the sharing of sexual images.

The Department of Education concluded that the current approach to Relationships and Sexual Education (RSE) for Junior Cycle students was “heavily concerned with the risks and dangers associated with relationships and sexuality and did not allow for sufficient discussion of the positive, healthy and enjoyable aspects” – as it announced that pornography would be studied in classrooms for the first time in Ireland.

The Irish Independent, on its front page today, reported that: “Every school, regardless of ethos, will have to deliver” the amended curriculum. There will, however, be a three-month period of public consultation through which anyone can make their voices heard on the matter.

The consultation, which opened today (Monday 18 July) will run for three months, and anyone can make a submission. The new curriculum is expected to be rolled out in schools from September 2023.

Minister for Education Norma Foley TD today ‘welcomed’ the opening of a consultation phase by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) on the draft RSE curriculum which includes Relationships and Sexual Education (RSE) for Junior Cycle students in secondary schools.

The consultation comes after the NCCA previously conducted a review of RSE education at all stages of education, with the stated objective of the review to ensure that RSE education is “fit for purpose and meets the needs of young people in modern Ireland”. As part of the review process, a range of stakeholders as well as school communities submitted inputs, and it was determined that there was a “need” for RSE education to be “brought up to date and improved” in a range of ways.

Speaking today, Minister Foley said:

“I am pleased the NCCA has today opened its consultation phase on the draft junior cycle curriculum for Social, Personal and Health Education, including Relationships and Sexuality […] The aim is to ensure that we have a modern and appropriate curriculum that reflects modern, day to day challenges and equips our students with the knowledge and skills that they need to make informed, healthy life choices”.

The draft new curriculum includes topics like contraception, consent, pornography, and the sharing of digital images online. Other areas include gender identity, unhealthy and abusive relationships.

A press release from the Department of Education today said that there will be an opportunity for school communities to ‘have their voices heard’ on the matter. It read:

“When schools return in September, there will be a particular focus by the NCCA on engagement with school communities to ensure they all have the opportunity to have their voices heard, with the consultation continuing until the middle of October.”

‘This is not education’

Today’s publication of the draft document on the review of RSE in schools has ignited a wave of concern from parents, with some speaking out on social media.

Underneath one article shared to Twitter, one apprehensive user said that relationship and sexual education was a matter for parents, rather than teachers, to discuss with children:

“This ‘RSE and Sex Education’ is completely inappropriate and getting out of hand,those conversations if needed are between a caregiver and a child depending on the child’s capability to query and understand. This is not education”.

“This is what happens when degeneracy is allowed to run rampant,” was another response shared online.

“All about normalising dysfunctionality – you can be or do anything you want in this “compassionate” inclusive” country. It’s how the Roman Empire declined and fell and we’re heading the same way,” one response said.

Government to Teach Children About Internet Porn Instead of Stopping It’

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD today responded to the indication that the reformed curriculum would teach children about internet pornography. He criticised the Irish Government for choosing to teach children about pornography instead of stopping it, as he highlighted the associated dangers, and pointed to an increase in secual abuse and sexually harmful behavior on children by children in Ireland in recent years.

An Teachta Tóibín stated;

“Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI), a specialist and professional therapy service for children who have been abused has found that there has been a 44% increase in sexual abuse and sexually harmful behaviour on children by children in the last 2 years. CARI found that many children happened upon pornographic sites during the Lockdowns and some of those children acted out scenes on other children, often their own siblings. This is shocking and heart breaking as it destroys the victim first and foremost, but it is also creating perpetrators of sexual crime of young children”.

‘Pornography distoring understanding of sexuality and relationships’ 

“There has also been a massive increase in the number of sexual offences in society over the last 10 years. In 2011 there were 1958 Sexual offences recorded. In 2021 the figure increased by 75%to 3,433 sexual offences. In 2011 there were 447 rapes recorded. In 2021 it had doubled to 983 rapes.

“Sexual violence is increasing in Ireland at a horrific rate. We have had 3 FG Ministers for Justice in that time and little if anything has been done to tackle what’s happening. In Ireland today primary school children have access to hard core violent pornography which is distorting their understanding of sexuality and relationships, creating copycat behaviour and leading to addiction. Internet pornography is an incredibly powerful material. One which even many adults find it extremely difficult to deal with”, the TD said.

Gript has previously highlighted a push from Irish campaigners to have pornography taught in Irish schools.

Porn studies advocates at centre of push for new RSR programme 

In 2019, we revealed that a ‘porn workshop’ featuring ‘porn alphabet games’ was being advocated by a leading campaigner for a new Sexual Education programme for Irish schoolchildren. A disconcerting selection of potential terms to be explained in workshops was posted by porn studies advocate, Kate Dawson of NUIG, leading to outcry. Terms included in the ‘porn literacy workshop’ targeted at irish children included ‘gang bang’, ‘hardcore’, ‘ass eating’ and the pornographic slang term ‘milf’.

The Galway researcher has been to the fore in seeking radical changes to sex-education programmes, insisting that school children must be made “porn literate” so that they can engage better with pornography, and telling the This Morning programme that she believes 8 year olds should be taught about self-pleasure.

The HSE-backed researcher has previously said she wants ‘ethical’ porn to be taught in Irish schools. Writing for Gript in 2019, Dr Angelo Bottone asked: “To what extent will these things be part of the planned new Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) course?”. Adding that parents deserved an answer to such a question and other concerns expressed.

Commenting on the work of Dawson, he said: “It is interesting to note that the only moral concern expressed about porn is about how it is made. It is “ethical” as long as it is produced according to certain moral standards. Aside from that, porn is seen as morally neutral, if not actually a good thing”.

At the time, Dr Bottone also highlighted a 2019 report on porn which had been launched by Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Kate Dawson was among those who contributed to the report.

Dawson wrote at the time:”It is not good enough to just say that ‘porn is bad’ because it is not, people really enjoy watching it, there are a lot of positive uses, but people need to have the skills to make their own mind up about the content they see because porn is so varied.”

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