Honest History Legislation Stirs Controversy
“History should be honest,” said Governor Jerry Brown after signing legislation requiring instruction in social sciences to include a study of the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and Pacific Ilsanders to the development of California and the United States.
State Senator Sharon Runner, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Education said she was “saddened” by the signing.
Instead of the social sciences, Runner turned her focus on teaching the “basics.”
“Colleges and universities are not testing for students’ understanding of the personal lives of an inventor or historical figure; they are testing the students’ knowledge of math, reading, writing and science. These are the subjects that schools should be teaching our students; subjects that will help them succeed,” Runner said.
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The author of the bill, State Senator Mark Leno responded:
“We also have something – I’m not sure if Runner missed this when she went to school – called socials studies,” Leno said.
According to the bill:
“Existing law requires that when adopting instructional materials for use in the schools, governing boards of school districts shall include materials that accurately portray the role and contributions of culturally and racially diverse groups including Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups to the total development of California and the United States.”
Leno said, “All this does is add LGBT: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans along with those from the disability community.”
For years school districts have tried to address the issue of diversity and bullying as violent incidents have grabbed headlines nationwide.
In Chatsworth, 17-year-old Brandon McInerney, then 14, is alleged to have shot and killed 15-year-old Larry King in February 2008 inside a classroom at Oxnard’s E.O Green Junior High School.
King reportedly showed up at school wearing women’s clothing, accessories and eye make-up. Prosecutors say the murder was a hate crime.
McInerney's lawyers have not contested that their client pulled the trigger, but say King sexually harassed their him.
“We are failing our students when we do not share with them the fact that there are differences among us,” Leno said.
Locally, the Hart School District has been awarding a Valuing Diversity Award since the 2005-2006 school years. According to the district website, this year La Mesa Junior High School was given the honor because “they have steadily strived to create a school environment where all students feel safe and respected.”
Additionally, La Mesa was honored because “there was a particular emphasis on bullying prevention and on breaking down social barriers between social groups.”
"The Hart School District values and promotes diversity at all our school sites. We teach tolerance to our students and encourage and support various programs such as our district-wide Mix-it Up Day that has received national recognition, as well as anti-bullying campaigns and our Safe School Ambassador program," said Gail Pinsker, Hart District Community Liaison Officer.
Leno says the bill helps establish safe and inclusive schools:
“Research indicates that students who learn about LGBT people find their school environments more accepting of LGBT youth. Students are also more likely to report that their LGBT peers are treated fairly at school – and that other types of peer-to-peer disrespect also declines – when LGBT people and issues are included in instructional materials.
While not addressing the social aspects of the bill, Runner did bemoan the cost.
“I cannot believe the Governor has the audacity to sign a bill that puts the state into even more financial crisis, when requiring just California textbooks to be re-written!” Runner said.
Leno said, “There is absolutely no cost to the state for this bill. If it had any cost it would have been held in the fiscal committee, the Appropriations Committee.
A spokesperson from Leno’s office says the state mandates that textbooks be updated for the 2015-2016 school year and the legislation would not be applied until those educational materials were being changed anyway.
Leno addressed those who say the bill pushes an amoral agenda by comparing it to arguments a few decades ago against Black Studies and Women’s Studies.
“There were those who said their bible prohibited them from being exposed to such things. Y’know, we live in a democracy, not a theocracy,” Leno said.
Senate Bill 48 can be read in its entirety here.