Effective Living & "Sex Education"

Canadian society in the post World War II period was marked by an upheaval in traditional value systems. These changes prompted schools to address new subjects associated with responsible "citizenship," including subjects relating to personal and family relationships. The schools' incursion into the personal and social lives of students was often met by opposition from both parents and teachers. The controversy surrounding the Effective Living curriculum guide of 1952 in British Columbia is a case in point.

Effective Living was first introduced into the provincial curriculum in 1950 and was authorized by the provincial Minister of Education, W. T. Straith. Effective Living was intended as a "constant" or requisite subject for students in Grade Seven and Grade Eight, and was intended as a core subject for at least two years in Grades Nine, Ten, and Eleven. It was to be offered five times a week, in separate "periods" or "classes." Of these, two "periods" were supposed to be devoted to physical education. The remaining periods were allocated to health, guidance, mental hygiene, and home and family living. The aim of the Effective Living program was to promote an "understanding and appreciation of 'the good life.'" Student report cards recorded only a "P" for "passed" or an "F" for "failed" in the course.

In 1952, a new edition of the Effective Living teachers' guide was introduced. The guide was authorized by the Hon. Tilly Rolston, who was Minister of Education in the newly-elected Social Credit party government of Premier W. A. C. Bennett

The 1952 edition of Effective Living was not unlike the 1950 edition, insofar as it did not contain explicit references, biological or physiological, to human reproducation. In 1953, however, the Effective Living curriculum and the Effective Living teachers' guide were criticized by parents, teachers and politicians, including members of the Social Credit government. Excerpts from the teachers' guide were read out in the legislature by a Socred MLA who found the content to be "immoral" and who described the guide as "sinister" and as a "sex text book." The MLA and others who opposed sex education claimed that the schools were usurping "parental privileges and responsibilities."

Most of the accusations of "immorality" centred on Unit 4 of the high school Effective Living syllabus, a unit innocuously entitled The Family and Effective Living. The unit included topics dealing with social relationships and rituals that typically preceded marriage - i.e. "dating, courtship and engagements." In the Teaching Notes in the Effective Living guide, it was suggested that teachers to "Make a survey of opinions of the class on the ideas conveyed by the following modern expressions and practices: Frequency of 'dates;' lateness of 'dates;' 'blind dates;' 'Dutch treats;' 'going steady;' 'petting;' 'good-night kiss;' 'pick-up dates;' cost of 'dates;' 'wearing a boy's [or a girl's] school ring or class pin.'"

The accusation that the Effective Living curriculum guide was a "sex text book" sparked a considerable debate in British Columbia. The debate was part of a larger public reaction to the apparent prevalence of "sex" in post-War society and to general misgivings over a newly-emergent teenage dating culture.

Tilly Rolston, Minister of Education, rejected allegations that the course promoted "sexual promiscuity" and argued that the Effective Living curriculum was an important part of the public school curriculum. "We must be vitally concerned with the kind of person the pupil is becoming," she said, in defence of the program.

The 1954 edition of Effective Living was retitled Health and Personal Development. This edition featured abbreviated teaching notes and suggestions on "dating," but otherwise the guide was much the same as the controversial 1952 edition. The 1954 teachers' guide recommended, however, that "a series of lessons on the physiological changes taking place [in adolesecent pupils]" be included in class discussions, and that the topic of "human reproduction" should no longer be considered to be a "contentious matter." The references to "physiological changes" and to "human reproduction" were significant departures from the earlier editions of Effective Living . But it was those editions that established the foundation for future instruction in sex education in British Columbia's schools.

British Columbia, Sessional Papers, Annual Report of the Public Schools (1950 -- 1955); Juliette Proom, "Tilly Jean Rolston: She Knew How to Throw a Party," in In Her Own Right. Selected Essays on Women's History in British Columbia (Victoria: Camosun College, 1980); British Columbia Archives "Vertical Files" on Tilly Jean Rolston; School District # 61 (Greater Victoria) Newspaper Clipping Book for 1952-1953; Doug Owram, Born at the Right Time (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996)

Contributed by Geri Itterman, ED-B 423, University of Victoria, June 1998.