Bending History

Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know. –Aldous Huxley

Last week California State Senator Mark Leno introduced Senate Bill 48, the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act.

SB 48 would amend the Education Code to include social sciences instruction on the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. This bill would also prohibit discriminatory instruction and discriminatory materials from being adopted by the State Board of Education.  (source)

This is the second time this legislation has moved through the California political system.  In 2006 a similar bill passed both political bodies in California only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In 2008 Schwarzenegger again vetoed LGBT history by blocking the proposed Harvey Milk Day.  That measure would have set aside the birthday of the slain gay activist/politician in his memory and encourage public schools to commemorate and educate about the history of California’s first openly gay politician.

I reference these two earlier failed attempts to teach the history and struggles of this maligned and abused minority group because ironically, there is intentionally no means to transfer this history to future generations.  

It’s a secret…

And thus far it will stay a secret in California thanks to Governor Schwarzenegger in this particular instance.

But when you think about it, it is getting more and more difficult to completely straighten-out history for our children any longer.

Just recently in a classroom discussion a student told me she had learned all about Bayard Rustin in an a.p. civil rights history class but had never learned that he was a gay man.  This little omission spoke volumes of the quality of the history course. 

The ignorance and ideology leaking through a social studies curriculum which ignores the fundamental bias and discrimination faced by LGBTQ political leaders; a literature curriculum which ignores the relevance of the private and public romantic relationships of authors writing about love and relationships; even an early childhood family and community curriculum that denies the existance of queer families present in the classroom and in the larger community is glaringly obvious to students.

Intelligent students come to realize they are being or have been duped at some point.  Or they come to adhere to this institutional ideology that requires us as a society to erase gay lives. 

And it has been my experience and consistent observation that those students who take the latter path begin actively engaging in anti-gay discourses and violence at an early age.  My daughter was repeatedly told at five years old, “You can’t have two mommies!”  and she was sometimes kicked to prove that point.  This sort of public silencing by her peers begin happening to her when she was attempting to play house in the kindergarten classroom.

And so some among educators continue to push for ‘education’ to combat ignorance, hostility, and community discord.  In California this push has gone so far as to bring forward this legislation for a second run at becoming state education policy.

Though the political fire of actually advocating for a hated minority, (a fire exemplified by the years of conflict over Lesson 9 in the Alameda School District) frightens some districts into establishing a neutrality policy for addressing LGBTQ issues in the curriculum.

These educators advocate for curricular silence with regard to LGBTQ people and issues  – a neutrality simmering with hostility epitomized by the Anoka-Hennepin school district.   In these cases educators suggest that they will simply say nothing at all about the LGBTQ members of our community or historical figures in U.S. society. 

To suggest that neutrality or silence is a new educational innovation to address this culture war is laughable – silence is actually the underpinning framework for the closet.

What is new and inspiring however are curricular practices recently exemplified by Town School, a private all boys school in San Francisco.  This school recently made the news for taking a group of second grade students on a field trip to the Castro to learn about LGBTQ history.  The field trip included a stop at Pink Triangle Memorial Park,  the Hope for the World Cure Mural that examines the AIDS epidemic, and the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and took pictures at Harvey Milk‘s camera shop.

When a contingent of parents complained about this trip and went to the local news to broadcast their complaint  the school’s headmaster sent a letter to parents to address the controversy.   It included this statement; “Town (School) values being a diverse community that nurtures integrity, sensitivity and respect in its boys, and prepares them to become productive and contributing members of an ever-changing world.”

Queerty provided a link to the entire letter here.  It is worth a read and ought to be a model for educational leadership programs. 

Because to me it comes down to this fundamental question about the primary function of education: 

Is education to provide tools for the mind and expand the field of possibilities for our future as a society …

Or is education a tool to indoctrinate students to become the submissive subjects of the past?

And because I am not as good with words as so many who have come before me, I’ll close this with one other quote that came to mind as I pondered this issue:

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token to save it from that ruin, which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. An education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their choice of undertaking something new, something unforseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.
– Hannah Arendt (German-born U.S. political scientist, 1906-1975)

You can learn more about California’s FAIR Education Act at change.org

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