When I first started teaching in 1990, I thought I was working in the most exciting, progressive career I could imagine, in the most forward thinking state I could live in.
Now I wonder how California is going to pull our education system out of the deep dark abyss we have been hiding in for the last several years.
As time has passed, I have changed my way of thinking. Year by year I have seen my class sizes get larger, the students need more attention to skills, and the number of preps increase. No Child Left Behind's focus on standards dramatically changed the focus of many districts towards test-taking achievement and away from critical thinking.
Last weekend’s headline in the Sacramento Bee, “Gay History To Hit Classrooms In January," however, made me feel proud to be an educator and citizen of California.
I was born during the Civil Rights movement and just a little girl when women were fighting for their liberation. In a multi-racial and multi-lingual state like California, emphasis often is put on creating a multicultural, diverse curriculum to meet the needs of all students and ensure equal representation. We teach our students to use appropriate, politically correct terminology and to have tolerance for all people, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. However, very few districts have put any sort of emphasis on the latter. To me, the taboo of speaking about sexual orientation is as antiquated as the pre-Civil Rights era when segregation was commonplace.
Just as when blacks were being lynched and attacked for the genetic make-up of their skin pigment, teens and adults today are experiencing discrimination, torture, beatings and death for their inborn sexual orientation. Just as we learned not to judge people for the color of their skin, we will now be able to show the content of all people’s character, regardless of what gender they choose to love.
For years when I taught 7th grade World History my students critically examined races and religions worldwide over the history of time. My American Literature students have read, thought and wrote about people from the wide variety of cultures that make up the United States of America. As a trained educator, I know how to teach without bias. Adding gay history to our curriculum will be no different from teaching about Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Native Americans, the Red Coats, slavery, Hitler Vietnam, the Gulf War, or any other topic in our country’s past.
What would it be like if we never talked about these people and events?
I don’t for a minute think that the passage of this law will suddenly create a ‘gay pride’ unit in many school districts. Nor do I believe that teaching about gay history will change any heterosexual teen’s sexual orientation. State education leaders and school districts will carefully and deliberately work to construct frameworks and lesson plans to objectively include, not purposefully disclude, this element of our society.
What I do believe is that this law will allow age-appropriate lessons that will humanize gays, hopefully creating a more harmonious society for our children to grow up in. I do believe in inclusion over exclusion. I do believe that by bestowing value on all people we help to lift them up, which in turn can only bring us all to a higher place.
What do you think? Do you agree with the new legislation? Or do you want to keep things ‘old school’?
Me? I’m proud to be a Californian today.