Social Studies

California Panel Adopts History Textbooks With LGBT-Inclusive Themes

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 05, 2017 2 min read
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California has moved a step closer to approving a set of social studies textbooks in grades K-8 that includes discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

The state’s Instructional Quality Commission, which reviews textbooks for their adherence to state-developed curricular frameworks, approved 10 of 12 textbook series submitted on Sept. 28. It’s a major step in implementation of the state’s 2011 FAIR Education Act, which requires history and social studies classes to include the contributions of LGBT people.

“It will be so revolutionary to have these books. California is in the forefront of doing this, and doing it respectfully and inclusively,” said Rhina Ramos, the director of California programs for the Genders and Sexualities Alliance, an LGBT advocacy organization.

The law, as I wrote earlier this year, has been on the books for years, but many districts seem to be unaware of it, or dragging their feet in preparing to implement it.

IQC hearings aren’t like those before legislators, as on Capitol Hill, where the policymakers actively engage in discussion with witnesses. Instead, much of the meeting is taken up with public comments, and the panel members’ discussion happens largely behind closed doors.

Before the IQC decision, dozens of LGBT advocates and families gathered to weigh in on the books. And the FAIR Education Act Coalition, made up of LGBT advocacy organizations throughout the state, had pointed out places where the textbooks didn’t fully align to the curriculum framework, and pushed the state to adopt only the complete books.

LGBT advocates weren’t the only ones to weigh in heavily. Many commentators and scholars also weighed in heavily on the depictions of Hindu religion and culture, arguing that they were stereotypical and focused on the caste system and not on other contributions to world culture. (Debates about how the books represent Hinduism began in 2005 and haven’t abated.)

In the end, the panel approved most of the textbooks—some conditional on edits suggested by the coalition—and rejected two Houghton Mifflin Harcourt series on the grounds that those books would have needed so many edits they would have effectively constituted a rewrite, impermissible at this stage in the process.

Because there’s not much interaction between the public and the commision, it’s hard to know the commissioners’ thinking exactly on their choices, said Jo Michael, the legislative manager at Equality California, the nation’s largest state LGBT advocacy group. “But from our perspective this was hugely successful, in terms of LGBT content in textbooks used in California certainly, and probably in other states as well,” he said.

The state board of education must still approve the books before they’re made available for purchase by school districts; that meeting will happen in November. Typically, the state board approves the commission’s recommendations, but there have also been cases where it has deviated from them.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.