Curriculum

Calif. Considers Adding Gays’ Contributions to Textbooks

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — April 25, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A bill that has been sent to the floor of the California Senate would require textbooks used in public schools to include information on the roles and contributions of gay people throughout history, a move that could affect the content of instructional materials throughout much of the country.

The measure would help build tolerance of diverse groups by students in California schools, according to its supporters. But opponents say it bows to the demands of yet another special-interest group and puts inappropriate demands on schools to add to an already vast list of required content.

Sen. Sheila James Kuehl, a Democrat, introduced the bill, which would revise two existing statutes: one that prohibits adverse depictions of people based on “race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, or handicap” and another that calls for textbooks to contain information representing the state’s general population.

The bill would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to that list of characteristics and in turn require that they be included in textbooks.

Statutes Exist

Instructional materials for K-12 students would be required to portray people and groups accurately and “include the contributions of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America,” the bill states.

“According to the textbooks now, no gay person ever made any contribution to anything in California,” said Ms. Kuehl, whose biographical information on her Web site describes her as the first openly gay person to be elected to the California legislature. “We require that textbooks reflect the diversity of California.”

The changes are reasonable “given the fact that these statutes already exist,” added Sen. Kuehl, who was first elected to the legislature in 1994. “It’s not like we’re making this up suddenly just for our little minority group.”

Ms. Kuehl said that when students learn about Langston Hughes or James Baldwin, for example, they should be taught that not only were they African-American writers, but that they were also homosexual.

Her proposal, however, has been met with criticism from some colleagues in the Senate, experts on textbook policies, and conservative groups.

Sen. Dick Ackerman, a Republican and the lone dissenter on the Senate judiciary committee that approved the measure, said it is politically motivated and would open the door for more special interest groups to make demands on school curricula.

A group representing Hindus sued the state school board and education officials earlier this year for what it deems to be derogatory content on the portrayal of the religion in lessons on ancient India. (“Hindu Foundation Sues Calif. Over Middle School Textbooks,” March 29, 2006)

“We have students who don’t know where the state capital is, or even who the president is,” Mr. Ackerman said. “To focus on issues of less importance is misdirected.”

California is the largest among the 22 so-called adoption states, meaning that they require districts to select textbooks off a state-approved list if they want the state to pay for them. Because of its size and the potential for large profits, publishers often tailor the content of instructional materials to California’s detailed requirements. Those texts are then marketed to the rest of the country as well.

Identity Politics?

Observers of the textbook-adoption process have assailed the seemingly growing influence of interest groups on academic content.

“It’s more identity politics playing out in textbooks,” said Gilbert T. Sewall, the president of the American Textbook Council, a New York City-based research group that has monitored history-textbook adoptions in California since the 1980s. “Are we advancing history in any way if we reimagine historical figures [as homosexuals] or throw into high relief minor figures, insignificant figures, trivia that crowds out the good stuff or the important stuff?”

But Ms. Kuehl argues that the bill is an extension of the state’s Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act, passed in 2000 to prevent discrimination of students based on their sexual orientation.

“Research shows that if you want to create proactively an environment that is safe for students, one way is to portray people in textbooks” who are like them, she said.

Mr. Ackerman, though, fears that if the measure passes, it would lead to inaccurate portrayals of some historical figures in the name of following the requirement.

“I debated someone the other day [on this issue] who said that Socrates was gay,” Mr. Ackerman said. “How do you even know that, and is it more important to know what Socrates taught as opposed to what preferences he may have had?”

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Interactive Play the EdWeek Spelling Bee
Educators use these words all the time. But can they spell them?
Image of a stage set up for a spelling bee.
Leonard Mc Lane/DigitalVision
Curriculum Outdoor Learning: The Ultimate Student Engagement Hack?
Outdoor learning offers a host of evidence-based benefits for students. One Virginia school serves as an example how.
7 min read
Students from Centreville Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., release brook trout they’ve grown from eggs in their classroom into Passage Creek at Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area in the George Washington National Forest in Fort Valley, Va. on April 23.
Students from Centreville Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., release brook trout that they’ve grown from eggs in their classroom at a creek in Fort Valley, Va., on April 23.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Curriculum Opinion Classical Education Is Taking Off. What’s the Appeal?
Classical schooling is an apprenticeship to the great minds and creators of the past, enabling students to develop their own thinking.
9 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Curriculum Download For Earth Day, Try These Green Classroom Activities (Downloadable)
16 simple ideas for teachers and their students.
Earth Day Downloadable 042024
iStock/Getty