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By David Quinn

The new Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) syllabus for Junior Cycle students aged 12 to 15 has been published by Education Minister, Norma Foley, and it is a deeply ideological piece of work that will upset many parents.

SPHE incorporates Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). In the run-up to the development of this new syllabus, a consultation process took place that all interested parties, including parents, could take part in.

Participating parents tended to be most concerned about how the syllabus would teach so-called ‘gender ideology’. Those concerns seem to have been totally ignored. The public consultation looks like it was window dressing. Campaign organisations have been listened to instead. Norma Foley does not seem to have had the nerve to face them down. It is very doubtful whether she herself believes in gender ideology to the extent the programme does and that children will now be expected to accept.

Let’s remind ourselves what gender ideology (something Pope Francis frequently criticises) entails.

It has two aspects. The first and most controversial one would have us believe that a person can identify as a ‘gender’ that is different to the one they were born into. That is, someone might be a boy, biologically speaking, but identify as a girl. A biological girl might identify as a boy.

They would then expect to be treated exactly as if they were actually the sex/gender they identify as. Therefore, a biological boy who says he is a girl would expect to be called by a new name, be addressed with the pronouns ‘her’ and ‘she’ plays in sports team for girls and use their toilets and changing rooms.

They might also use puberty blockers to stop their bodies developing and then later maybe sex hormones.

This is all incredibly controversial stuff, but the Irish government now wants it all taught as a fact to pupils who are little more than children in the name of ‘tolerance’. In the name of ‘tolerance’, pupils will be expected to believe that it is perfectly alright for a biological boy who identifies as a girl to play alongside biological girls in (say) their GAA team. Parents will also be expected to accept this without question.

A second aspect of gender ideology is the belief that all the differences between male and female behaviour is connected to how we are raised and what society expects of us. The technical term is that male and female behaviour is ‘socially constructed’.

This ideology expects us to believe that if biological boys were raised in stereotypically ‘girlish’ ways, then they would behave as girls, and the same, only in reverse for biological girls, that is, if raised as boys, they would end up behaving in ‘boyish’ ways.

It totally discounts the possibility that some of the differences between male and female behaviour is natural and innate. Therefore, it believes that boys only become interested in playing with toy trucks if that is what they are given by their parents, and girls only becoming interested in playing with dolls, if they are given dolls.

If boys were given dolls, this theory says, they would play with dolls, and girls would play with trucks.

Then in later life, boys might be drawn to more traditionally ‘female’ occupations such as nursing, and girls to more traditionally ‘male’ occupations like construction work.

But does any sensible person really believe this? Yes, both boys and girls can be stereotyped, and this can have an influence on their behaviour, but it is a long way from there to insisting that male and female preferences in jobs etc are entirely to do with how we are raised and have nothing to do with natural differences.

Everywhere you go in the world, you find far more men than women working in construction, and far more women than men working in jobs like nursing.

You will find far more men working in physically dangerous jobs as a general rule.

Are we really expected to believe that these differences, which are found across all cultures, are to do with the way we are raised? If the differences have no natural basis, then surely one culture somewhere would have wiped out or even reversed stereotypically male and female behaviour. There would be one culture where a big majority of truck-drivers and bin-collectors are women and nurses are men. But no society, anywhere, looks like this.

Indeed, even in a country like Sweden, which has been pushing gender ideology for years, men and women still work in exactly the jobs you would expect.

Therefore, why push an ideology on boys and girls that is clearly false in the extreme form we find in the new Junior Cycle SPHE syllabus? It is one thing to tell children to avoid gender stereotypes, but it is quite another to pretend differences at a general population level in male and female behaviour have no natural basis at all. Why confuse and mislead them on the point?

Furthermore, if it is important to fight stereotypes, why fight those based on ‘gender’ to the exclusion of others based on social class, ethnicity, or religion? Social class is certainly socially constructed.

If you asked a classroom of 14 years olds to describe a typical Catholic, the stereotypes you would hear back would probably be almost entirely negative. That certainly needs to be addressed, and Catholic schools would be a good place begin the process.

The new syllabus is to start in schools from September. But under Section 9(d) of the Education Act, schools are supposed to “promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students and provide health education for them, in consultation with their parents, having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school”.

SPHE is precisely concerned with the “social and personal development of students”, and therefore, this programme should not go into schools without consulting parents in each school properly first, and without taking into account its “characteristic spirit”.

Any school which does not do so, will be flouting the law.

It remains to be seen what Catholic schools do. How much of this syllabus will they accept, and how much will they adapt to Catholic beliefs? They should be careful not to accept too much of gender ideology. In the extreme form presented in the new State syllabus it is incompatible both with Catholic teaching, and reason, because its view of human nature is so plainly false.


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