Alex Blaze

California Considers Queering History

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 04, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: California, education policy, Mark Leno, schools

Karen posted about this bill a while back but it looks like it's gaining speed:

If implemented, the measure, which would revise social science textbooks, could have effects beyond California. The state is a major purchaser of educational texts, and publishers often produce books tailored to California that other states use as well.

The proposal would require that social science texts and other instruction include "a study of the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans ... to the economic, political and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society."

Each school district would decide which age groups received such instruction.

That's a great step for California schools to take. While teaching about the sexuality of historic figures is problematic, let's not be precious and assume that schools are currently neutral on questions of sexuality. I remember being taught in 9th grade world history that the downfall of the Roman Empire was caused by gays in the military, and the implication when we talk about any person is that they're straight.

Just teaching history as it is, without heterosexualizing historical figures who we know weren't straight and creating materials that decenter heterosexual monogamy as the norm for human sexuality (one of the biggest lies we pass on to children), that show that people who don't follow rigid sexual and gender rules can achieve great things, would definitely be an improvement over the status quo.

In other words, yes, there are issues with going back through history and saying X and Y person were gay (I'm guessing that's not what these lessons are going to look like), but it's also problematic to go through history with the overt implication that everyone was straight, monogamous, and vanilla unless otherwise noted.

If anything, by limiting itself to the social sciences this bill doesn't go far enough. There are plenty of other subjects that force heterosexuality on children that could be opened up. Besides A Separate Peace, do high schoolers read many books about queer people? Does sex education in California already cover the fact that some people's sexuality is different? And what about a mention in biology classes that XY doesn't always mean "male" in humans just as XX doesn't always mean "female"?

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Why don't they just release a reader instead of a new textbook...

It's annoying that the only time I was able to queer historical figures was in my LGBT studies courses in college. Every student should have access to that information

Wow. So California can influence textbooks with their pro-gay history, but Texas is the biggest influencer and they're pushing hard to hide any lgbt or progressive history. Who will win?

They're both big states, but homophobes generally don't care as much who sees them as such, while the gay-friendly straight set can often worry about offending the right.