California Board Set To Act on Human-Rights Curriculum

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Sacramento, Calif--The California Board of Education is expected next month to adopt a controversial model curriculum on human rights and genocide despite complaints by ethnic and special-interest groups that they are not being counted among the oppressed.

At a recent public hearing on a draft of the curriculum, more than 60 speakers urged the board to revise the document to include information on the sufferings of, among others, Afghans, Arabs, Chinese, Latvians, Lithuanians, Muslims, Poles, homosexuals, and aborted fetuses.

The board has also come under fire from Turkish-American groups for its decision to begin the curriculum's discussion of genocide with the Ottoman Empire's massacre of Armenians in 1915-18. Gov. George Deukmejian, who appointed all 11 of the board's members, is of Armenian descent, as is Armen Sarafian, the board member from Glendora who chaired the committee responsible for the model's development.

Mandated in 1985

The curriculum, which was mandated by the legislature in 1985 and orginally slated for completion prior to the 1986-87 school year, will become part of the state's history and social-science framework for kindergarten through 12th grade. Its purpose, the draft under consideration states, is "not only to preserve [the] significance [of past atrocities] as historic events, but also to help identify ways to prevent them from ever happening again."

In addition to the nine-page discussion of the Armenian genocide, the draft includes seven pages on the famine in the Ukraine in 1931-32, which has been attributed to the Soviet Union's forced-collectivization campaign. The material was prepared by the federal government's Ukranian Famine Commission.

Armenian Genocide

Three additional sections of the proposed curriculum were adapted from a new resource guide on human rights prepared by the Connecticut Department of Education. They include a historical overview, a discussion of the Jewish holocaust in Nazi-occupied Europe, and a review of contemporary violations of human rights in Argentina, Cambodia, and South Africa.

The guide's section on the Armenian genocide, which was prepared for the state by two Los Angeles-based Armenian organizations, appears to have generated the most heated controversy.

"My 83-year old soul feels like flying," said Archie H. Dickranian of Beverly Hills, a survivor of the massacre of the Armenians, at the board's August hearing. "Finally, the Armenian genocide will be taught in schools accurately and academically, free from political pressures and distortions."

But Turkish-American groups were so irate about the section on the Armenian genocide that they paid for an advertisement in a Sacramento newspaper protesting its inclusion.

"Every effort has been made to exclude us," Bonnie Joy Kaslan of Oakland, a spokesman for the Assembly of Turkish-American Associations, said in an interview. "We just want equitable treatment. The Armenians suffered, but so did the Turks."

In a concession to the Turkish groups, the board has agreed to revise the guide to state that the genocide was perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, rather than by Turks.

The groups, however, continue to complain that the list of 67 curriculum resources provided for districts and teachers in the proposed curriculum does not include a single Turkish-American group that could give its version of the Armenian genocide.

Mixed Reviews

The draft, which is expected to be approved by the board next month with few revisions, has drawn mixed reviews from others as well.

The education department officials who prepared the document "did a magnificent job with an impossible task," noted Kenneth L. Peters, a board member from Tarzana.

State Assemblyman Mike Roos, one of the chief supporters of the bill authorizing the curriculum's creation, added that the draft "represents a true landmark" that will provide the state's teachers with "an indispensable tool."

However, Jim C. Robinson, a board member, described the draft as "a very flawed document" that is "essentially hostile" and tells youngsters "horror story after horror story."

State Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon, the bill's sponsor, is also displeased with the final product, said Michael Burns, an aide to the legislator.

He said Mr. Calderon is particularly upset with the draft's "virtual exclusion" of information on discrimination against blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.

"The Assemblyman doesn't want an encyclopedia, but the curriculum should reflect the population of California's communities," Mr. Burns said. "The departent has done a poor job in implementing the bill."

Vol. 07, Issue 02

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