Catholic students will continue to be educated using the Fully Alive program online going forward. Photo by Michael Swan

Publisher discontinues Fully Alive texts, bishops investigating online options

  • January 18, 2023

Though publisher Pearson Canada Ltd. has stopped printing the textbook and will cease hosting its material online in March, the Fully Alive family life program for Grades 1 through 8 will continue to be taught in Ontario Catholic schools.

The Catholic Register has learned that Ontario’s bishops and the Institute for Catholic Education intend to take over online support for the eight- to 15-year-old series of books for students and teachers on subjects that range from health and hygiene to sexuality and family life.

Peterborough Bishop Daniel Miehm, who heads up the Association of Catholic Bishops of Ontario’s education commission, said the bishops and ICE are looking at online options for Fully Alive resources “so that they will remain available to Catholic school boards.”

“The ACBO will collaborate with ICE to ensure the provision of materials so that an effective family life program will continue to be offered in our Catholic schools,” said Miehm.

Pearson stopped printing the books in December and has said it will abandon online support for the program in March. The company has not given a reason for its withdrawal.

The Fully Alive program has come under fire, both within the Catholic education community and from without. Critics allege it fosters an atmosphere and tone harmful to gay, lesbian and transgender students and their families. By emphasizing heterosexual marriage as the only sacramentally approved context for sexual relationships, the books imply that homosexuality is an aberration that can only lead to sinful behaviour, the critics say. 

“In choosing to send their students to a Catholic school, parents rightly expect that the presentation of a family life curriculum will reflect a Catholic view of human life, sexuality, marriage and family,” ICE executive director Anne Jamieson said in an emailed statement. “Our core teaching remains the same — every individual is a child of God, to be treated with love, respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

In Vancouver, where Fully Alive is used in some Catholic schools, education consultant Patrick Gillespie pointed out that textbooks in general are of declining significance as teachers rely more and more on online sources and classroom discussion. 

Gillespie challenged the idea that Catholic schools either condone or teach the marginalization of sexual minorities.

“We always must be prudent in how we teach and draw people to the truth, always in charity,” he said. “The reality is that we want to offer the truth to people, in freedom, for their good, their freedom and for abundant life.”

Declan Amaral, former student trustee in the Durham Catholic District School Board and now a music student at York University hoping to become a Catholic teacher, won’t be sorry to see Fully Alive fade from use.

“I would argue that we don’t need Fully Alive to teach kids about sexual education, sexuality,” he said. “We have all the information that we need as a faith community.”

Amaral was part of a study of the textbooks when he was a student trustee and came to the conclusion the books did more harm than good.

“Right now the Fully Alive program, some of that language about love only truly existing between a man and a woman, and having children, is extremely damaging for children who are homosexual and they love someone of the same gender,” he said.

Amaral argues that families should trust Catholic teachers more than textbooks to guide their children.

“If we trust our teachers and provide them with direction that is informed by both the science community and of course our faith about love and inclusion, I think then we’re already setting ourselves up for success,” he said.

“Catholic teachers support a process of regular, timely and collaborative curriculum review, so that teachers have relevant, up-to-date information and resources,” said Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association president Barb Dobrowolski.

(With files from The B.C. Catholic.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.