Defining history

The state of California now has a law that requires social studies classes to cover the contribution of gay and lesbian citizens to the state's and nation's history. California's governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, said that the law, "revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books." Opponents of the bill argue that public schools are charged with teaching basic educational skills, such as reading and math, and resisted a measure that they felt would inject values into textbooks that many parents may oppose.

There are many topics that were once off limits that are now routine. In addition to the heroic founding fathers, students now learn in more detail the plight of slaves in the founding of America. The notion of manifest destiny is now balanced by stories of genocide against native Americans. Great capitalists are still revered in social studies classes, but the hard work of immigrant Americans building the nation now receive greater attention as well. 

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Trying to put aside the particular subject, in this case homosexuality, who determines what, and whose, history should be taught to young people in public schools? Being such a subjective field, how do social studies balance the requirement to teach young citizens versus the beliefs of their families? When are controversial issues benign enough to include in textbooks for younger students? 

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7 years 2 months ago
Anyone who has seen Jay Leno during his walkabouts should know that the school systems in California need to do much more about the teaching of basic history before they add in this particular area. 
Brendan McGrath
7 years 2 months ago
I'd say if there's a controversy, let them discuss it in class.  "What do you guys think - some people say this shouldn't be in your textbook and we shouldn't be learning about this.  Thoughts?"  Or have them read/discuss multiple opinions on it, and even have them search for multiple opinions on it. 

But of course, having said that, I realize that it's somewhat disingenuous, since obviously on other issues, we don't feel a need to present different opinions.  E.g., we don't feel a need to "teach the controversy" over whether Hitler was right or not, etc.

This is part of a larger issue that always irks me - the tone high school textbooks take should be more like the tone of the books that you get to read in college.  A textbook can certainly point out contributions of gay and lesbian people and identify their sexual orientation - but it's insulting to students' intelligence to then have the author(s) of the book start preaching about it.  I wish I had the words to explain what I mean; it's basically the difference between saying, e.g., "XYZ is wrong," vs. "So and so says that XYZ is wrong." 
Jim McCrea
7 years 2 months ago
The fun has just begun.  From what I have read, Texas has in inordinate influence on what is found in textbooks which are used throughout the country.

Will California convince publishers that a form of history that will obviously NOT fly in the Texas school systems  be publishable to the degree that it will fly elsewhere?

Stay tuned for the sturm und drang.

I am proud of my state of California and the emphasis that Northern California has had in this matter.
Crystal Watson
7 years 2 months ago
I'm proud of California too!  History should represent everyone - gays/lesbians, the disabled, racial minorities, etc.

  Historian Howard Zinn set a good example when he wrote "A Peopl's History of the United States" ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_People%27s_History_of_the_United_States

.... that presents history "through the eyes of the common people rather than political and economic elites."

BTW, what's shameful is how hard the Catholic Church in California tried to stop the bill.
Brendan McGrath
7 years 2 months ago
Crystal - I'm disappointed, for various reasons and on different levels, to hear that the Church in California tried to stop the bill.  To come at from just one angle - even if one accepts the Church's teaching on homosexual acts, there's no reason one couldn't support or at least allow a move to include the positive contributions of homosexual persons in textbooks. 

(Of course, it becomes more complicated when you take into account that the message, even if only intended and not explicit, will not be, "Homosexual persons are called to be celibate, and look at these wonderful examples of the contributions homosexual persons have made to society," but rather, "Look at these wonderful examples of the contributions homosexual persons have made to society - this supports the idea that there's nothing wrong with homosexual acts."  Even if one rejects the Church's teaching on homosexual acts, one can see that various complications make it difficult to look just at the thing proposed by the bill itself.)

Even if one were to say that homosexual acts are (objectively, not necessarily subjectively) mortally sinful, Catholic doctrine affirms that those in a state of sin can still do good on a natural level, and can receive actual grace to do good supernaturally.  I.e., the Church at the Council of Trent and in papal decrees afterwards explicitly condemns the idea that "all the virtues of the pagans are vices," or that all the actions of those in a state of sin are sinful, etc.

Anyway, my point is, Catholic doctrine actually REQUIRES us to affirm that, yes, homosexual persons, whether sexually active or not, are as capable as anyone else of doing good.  That's one of many reasons why I'm disappointed to hear that the Church in California opposed the law.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 2 months ago
Something like this can get silly (if it becomes propaganda) but hardly dangerous.  You can propagandize as much as you want for or against homosexuality but, finally, these things are determined by the time of birth with some further details defined in the early years.  You can't alter people's sexuality to any significant degree.

It's a matter of being better to know something than not.  Everything is interesting to the curious mind.  Turing, Tchaikowsky, Poulenc, Cather, Cheever had non-standard sexualities.  How important this is to their work, I don't know.  In the case of the mathematian Turing, probably not at all.  In the case of literature, I'm of the same opinion as my  fantastic college English teacher, Fr. Loughrey, that works of literature stand on their own merits and should be analyzed independently of the author's background or personality.  
Vince Killoran
7 years 2 months ago
"There are many topics that were once off limits that are now routine."

Thank God for that-the "male & pale" narrow, mostly celebratory history is long gone. This story recalls the "culture war" of the 1980s/90s over history standards.

 The important questions and priorities of today are reflected in the questions we ask of the past. Historians are not national cheerleaders-they must consider evidence, debate its relevant significance and provide their unvarnished conclusions.  If we don't like it we are welcome to craft our own evidence-based narratives.
Crystal Watson
7 years 2 months ago
All the bill  - the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act - does is make sure that the historical contributions of those who are disabled, gay, Pacific Islanders, etc., are not left out of history.  The law in CA has already has done this for most  racial minoritites and this is just to expnd an already existing law.  History is about all of what happened ... how can it be "dangerous" to include historical events connected with people wo are disabled or gay?
Brendan McGrath
7 years 2 months ago
It just occurred to me that I'd like to see a law requiring schools to teach about the contributions of Jesuits to society.  :)  Actually, what about more generally the contributions of priests and religious?  And more broadly, clergy and religious leaders of any religious tradition in general.  (Interesting how often people overlook Martin Luther King's being a reverend.)

If the bill were still under debate, perhaps that would be a way to compromise - i.e., "we'll require them to teach about X if you'll agree to have them teach about Y."
Crystal Watson
7 years 2 months ago
David, I don't think your worries are rediculous, I just don't understand them, I guess.

Brendan,  I think the whole point of laws like the one in CA is to redress wrongs.  Ssome minority groups have been discriminated against and left out of history - for instance, leaving out the contributions of the Chinese to early California.   I don't think the Catholic Church, with all its power and prestige, has to worry about being left out of history.
Brendan McGrath
7 years 2 months ago
Crystal - Well, it was partly more of a "wouldn't it be cool if..." type of idea.  But on the other hand, although as you said the Church will never be left out of history, will its positive contributions always be remembered, particularly in this country with its history of anti-Catholicism, of various kinds?  The point of the law in California (unless I'm mistaken, which I could be) is not simply to ensure that LGBT people's role in history will be taught, but that their positive contributions will be taught.  How much do kids in public schools learn about the positive contributions of priests and religious?
Brendan McGrath
7 years 2 months ago
Iv bags - What on earth?  That sounds like something from James Joyce's "Ulysses."  Or maybe "Finnegan's Wake."  Yes yes I said yes I will yes!
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 2 months ago
Brendan makes an interesting point.  How many Californian public school students know,by the time they graduate, that the big bang theory's originator was a Catholic priest?  Or that Tolkien was a Catholic?  Perhaps it would allay some anti-Catholicism or even anti-religious feelings.

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