Monday, January 29, 2018

The Consent Curriculum

In my blog post published January 22, 2018, I mentioned that I obtained permission/consent from the fabulous LTOs at my school to publish their photos and write about them. I made a point of adding that sentence because I knew that I wanted to talk at some point on my blog about consent.

Consent is a pretty important concept and I don't think it's too early to start talking about various types of consent with students.

1) Consent around Photos

In September, we have our families sign a media consent form. It's a generic one and I understand why. Teachers, or at least the ones at my school, take a lot of photos for a variety of purposes - as pedagogical documentation, for evaluation by the teacher, for displays in the classroom, for sharing with parents via password-protected sites, and even for sharing (without faces) on social media. Right now I'm working on the school yearbook, and I really should examine which families have indicated "no" on the media consent forms. In the past, when I checked in with some parents, they readily agreed to the yearbook and explain that they signed the way they did because they were concerned about their students' images appearing online. That's harder and harder to regulate. We don't film our Winter or Spring Concerts for general distribution because some performers do not have media consent forms signs. Yet, other parents or families will film their own children (and naturally, catch other students in the process of recording) and share the photos or video on Facebook or other social media platforms. I know some schools just ban audiences completely from taking any photos at all during school-wide events, but that seems rather heavy-handed and does not foster great school-home relations. (I speak from experience on this topic - and thankfully, with some advocacy, parents were allowed to take photos during the Grade 8 graduation at another school without having to try and snap photos surreptitiously without being noticed by the principal.) The ones that are often left out of this discussion are the students. When students make awesome things in the library makerspace during recess, I ask if I can take a photo. It's a polite thing to do. (I bet some celebrities wish that paparazzi would be so courteous!) Often, they students are the ones asking me if I'd take a photo for them. No one wants their images to be misused. We should be aware that visuals of any sort can be manipulated by others using technology and that we should try to be as cautious as we can when sharing photos beyond the physical/virtual walls of our school. Still, it's best to ask permission - often, it might be a yes when the sharing is for positive, celebratory reasons that given agency to the individual and are shared respectfully.

2) Consent around Touch

The Girl Guides of America wrote a holiday-related post in December 2017 advising families not to force their children, especially their daughters, to hug relatives. (This article, from the New York Times, links to the actual article as well as describes some of the reactions the post received.) I know my parents would have struggled with this recommendation, but it makes a lot of sense. My cultural background (Caribbean/West Indian) has a tradition of hugging and kissing every adult goodbye after a gathering. Knowing, however, that 80% of assailants are friends or family of the victim (I found that statistic from makes possibly offending a grown-up a healthier option that suppressing a child's ability to show appreciation or greetings in other ways.

I'm pretty comfortable with students hugging me but I know that for some of my students, they struggle with appropriate boundaries, especially with strangers. I try to remind students to ask for hugs rather than just grabbing me. Modelling behaviour is so important. I also model how to say no. For instance, when some of the kindergarten students went to hug me, they tried to climb up me like a tree. Not only is this unsafe, it's uncomfortable! When a student did that, the next time he asked for a hug, I said no. I explained that I didn't want to be climbed like a tree. I didn't owe him an explanation but I wanted him to understand that I denied the request because of past conduct, not because I didn't like him. 

I also need to remind older students that the kindergarten students are not dolls, and should be treated with respect. Older students, even kindergarten helpers, will pat the 4-year-olds on the head, or hug them, or beg for hugs from them. Some even pick them up, and observant readers of the blog know that carrying a student who doesn't need help is a practice that I don't approve of, unless the student has fallen asleep on your shoulder and you (the adult in charge) need to take them back to class. Asking permission before touching or picking up is a trend that has even filtered down to infants (I understand the sentiment, but I'm not sure how far I'm willing to go with allowing babies this liberty, especially if I have to take my child away for safety reasons or if they refuse because they don't want to leave somewhere and we must go.)

On the other end of the age line, there are more serious issues around consent.

3) Consent around Intimacy / Sex

I love this video (and I've embedded the curse-free version below).

The importance of this lesson (and the flip side - empowering people who are "offered tea" the freedom to decline if they don't want it) was reinforced for me a couple of years ago, through Minecraft. My friend Denise Colby and I wrote about the experience on the GamingEdus blog. Read the description there. Students must be able to say no to things that are uncomfortable (not about things like taking tests, but to situations that are unsafe and optional and not in their best interest).

I called this blog post "the consent curriculum", one, because I love the alliteration, and two, because I think we need to build things like requesting and obtaining permission to say and do things into daily experiences for young people. If we aren't given the opportunity to make decisions for ourselves, even if it means saying no, then when and how will we learn?


  1. m3diacy at

    Consent has certainly changed and needs to be re-thought. A recent Spark CBC podcast adds more complexity to the consent debate. We all need to exercise our agency to protect ourselves and others.

    Please hear

  2. Consent is an important and evolving concept that we need to consider carefully. As media become more intrusive, we all need to be aware and active.
    An interesting wrinkle to the Consent issue was presented in a recent CBC Spark podcast.
    Please hear the scary future of facial recognition at