Fully Alive relaunched

  • June 18, 2007
TORONTO - Fully Alive has a new lease on life. A revised and updated second edition of the Ontario Catholic school system’s family life program was launched with a teacher-training seminar on the new Grade 1 and 2 text books in Toronto June 11 and 12.
While the look, language and many of the technical details of the 19-year-old program have been revised, the central ideas remain untouched. Students are still led through a process over their first eight years in school of coming to appreciate how their lives in their own families prove the Ireneaus quote, “The glory of God is Man fully alive,” said the authors, education consultants, teachers and bishops who have produced and taught the new program.

After 19 years in classrooms, the old Fully Alive textbooks have begun to look more than a little dated, said Sylvia Santin, lead author of both the first and second editions. The normal life span of a school text book is seven or eight years.

“It was dated. It looked dated,” said Santin. “We asked how congruent it was with where 13- and 14-year-olds are today.”

{sidebar id=2}Particularly when it comes to sexuality, one of five themes the text books cover, there are issues that simply weren’t there in 1988, said Santin. AIDS was not much discussed in the late 1980s, Internet pornography and Internet luring in chat rooms were hardly imagined, media portrayals of sexuality in the 500-channel universe were not an issue and gay marriage had yet to make its way through Canada’s courts.

Beyond finding images and language to deal with the complexities of family life in the 21st century, Ontario’s bishops have also decided to harness the Internet to keep parents involved in the program, said Alexandria-Cornwall Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher. The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops’ web site (www.occb.on.ca) is under revision this summer, and with its relaunch in the fall the site will have a section devoted to informing parents about Fully Alive.

The web site will reinforce the parents’ role as primary educators of their children, and make it easier for the lessons children receive in school to become part of life at home, said Durocher. The web site replaces a parents’ book which accompanied the first edition of the text book and “never really took off,” according to the bishop.

People who call Fully Alive a sex education text book aren’t looking very closely at the book or the overall program, said University of Western Ontario faculty of education lecturer Joe Bezzina. Bezzina prepares student teachers to teach Fully Alive as part of teaching religion to four- to 14-year-olds in Catholic elementary schools.

“Twenty per cent of the whole religion program is family life, and of that only one-fifth deals with created sexual, male and female,” Bezzina said. “It’s really only about four per cent of the whole religion program which deals with the sex part of it. That’s why we don’t call it a sex-ed course.”

Classroom veteran Betty Brush said her experience has been that even the most hesitant parents are won over when they see what is actually taught in Fully Alive.

“For parents, what they don’t know makes them fearful,” Brush said.

In 17 years teaching Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8 in and around Windsor, Brush said she has rarely run into opposition from parents.

“I don’t see the parents questioning as a bad thing. I don’t see it as an attack on me as a teacher,” she said.

But knowing the program comes directly from all the bishops of Ontario gives Brush confidence that what she’s teaching encapsulates Catholic values.

“As a teacher, as a mother, as a grandmother I fully support the program,” she said.

Durocher is quick to emphasize that every single page of all eight text books has been reviewed and approved by every bishop in Ontario.

People who complain that teaching children about sex compromises their innocence haven’t thought through the other channels by which children might be learning about sex.

“Their innocence is threatened by the society in which we live,” Durocher said. “The only way to preserve their innocence is to overcome the ignorance which makes them vulnerable.”

The updated text book will be rolled out two grades per year over the next three years.

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