Saturday, May 07, 2011

History Is So Much More Than Just A Mish-Mash of Different Groups Of People

It's bad enough now, and Leno wants to make it worse:
For decades, California educators have wrestled with how to teach history in the public schools.

Given the diversity of race, ethnicity and religion in California's classrooms, whose story do you tell? Who are the leading characters? And how are they portrayed?

Existing state law requires social studies lessons to incorporate the storylines of American Indians, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans and European Americans. In the 1970s, textbooks were amended to highlight the contributions of women. In recent years, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh representatives have lobbied for their place.

Now, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would add another thread to that complex tale: requiring public schools to incorporate the achievements of gays and lesbians into the history and social studies curriculum.

The bill, dubbed the Fair Education Act, also would add bisexual and transgender people, Pacific Islanders and people with disabilities to the list of groups whose stories must be highlighted. The legislation would prohibit school districts from adopting materials that reflect negatively on a person's religion or sexual orientation.

The bill was authored by state Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat and one of the first openly gay men to serve in the Legislature. He argues the legislation simply adds gays, lesbians and transgender people to the list of minority and gender groups already represented in public school lessons.

Adding the accomplishments of gay people to a lesson on gay rights, for instance, is entirely appropriate. But pointing out that someone who just happened to be gay did something or other, that's paternalistic and insulting. What it says is, "What you did isn't good enough to be recognized in general, but only because you're attracted to someone of the same sex." It's the exact same lesson with skin color, religion, ethnic background, etc.


Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with this is that teaching time is limited. For any historic situation, there were prime movers and shakers, then people more remotely involved. By forcing inclusion of gay (or fill-in-the-blank minority), a very skewed result happens.

Example: Some big historical event. All the organizers were dreaded white males. But! One person in the crowd was a hispanic lesbian! We will focus on her and tell her story, to the exclusion of what the event was really about.

Who organized it? What happened? Why? What changed as a result? What was the whole reason for the event? Sorry, no time to answer those questions, but be glad that at least one person in the crowd (who did nothing except stand there) was a hispanic lesbian. Special bonus points if she's in a wheelchair.

Ellen K said...

I am sure that all those populations that were marginalized because of ethnicity or religion are going to appreciate having people whose lifestyles mark them for special attention. Should we also include people who are frequently seen on TMZ? I am sure their contribution to history are underreported. What about the contributions of people of specific religious groups? What will be the outcome of history based on the achievements of Lutherans, Presbyterians and Mennonites? Sorry, but in my view history is meant to show the big picture, cause and effect. To take it down to demographic minutae not only makes history more confusing but alienates kids who don't care much about pesky details but who need to know what happened and why.

gbradley said...

Usually Anon replies are not worth reading, but that one totally made sense.
Be proud and sign your name to that one.