SACRAMENTO — A change is coming to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, one meant to broaden the scope of history to include a traditionally marginalized group — the homosexual and transgendered community.
Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 48, a piece of legislation carried by Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which mandates that the accomplishments of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community be included in school textbooks and lesson plans.
A similar bill was originally championed by Santa Monica’s own Sheila Kuehl — it made it as far as then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk before being cut down by the veto pen.
Much like Kuehl’s 2006 version, there are two pieces to SB 48, Leno said.
“One is the prohibition of bias or discriminatory information about the LGBT community being taught, and the other is the inclusive curriculum,” he said.
The two components will be addressed by the State Board of Education and local school districts, neither of which the legislation nor the legislature has any control over, Leno said.
“The decisions will be made by the State Board of Education with regards to textbooks, and lesson plans will be done at the school level,” Leno said.
That being said, Leno envisioned school textbooks treating the history and struggles of the LGBT community and its quest for civil rights much like that of the African American fight for equality.
“We require that our students be taught that there was an African-American man by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., who valiantly fought for everyone’s civil rights, and was assassinated for his efforts,” Leno said. “There was also a gay American man by the name of Harvey Milk who fought valiantly for civil rights, and was also assassinated for his efforts.
“Why teach one and not the other?”
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) applauded the bill and its efforts to include LGBT students in the conversation about the history of their movement.
“I believe that if we’re making sure students know that LGBT members of the community are contributing and recognized, it creates better conditions on campuses for LGBT students to know they’re an inclusive part of the school community,” she said.
The bill also had detractors, mainly from socially conservative groups like Concerned Women for America of California, who opposed the legislation saying that it promoted a dangerous lifestyle and that “identifying homosexual and bisexual activity as normal and healthy will result in confusion for children, possibly even encouraging experimentation … .”
This left Brownley scratching her head.
“I’m astonished by some of the comments that are being made,” she said. “They think this is about teaching our children sex education. We’re providing authenticity and accuracy about people who have contributed significantly to our society, and authenticating that if they happen to be gay, that kids should know that.”
The attacks miss the point of the bill, Leno said.
“This is not about sex, this is about history. It isn’t about outing historical figures, it’s about recounting an ongoing struggle to have the great genius of our constitution slowly manifested for all people,” he said.
With regards to textbooks, changes won’t begin rolling out until at least 2015. That gives the state enough time to get its fiscal house in order — the normal textbook cycle has been suspended until the funding situation improves — and parse out exactly what will be required in state-approved textbooks as a result of the bill.
Once that happens, SMMUSD officials will get a list of approved textbooks to choose from, said Peggy Harris, director of education services, curriculum and instruction at the district.
The district will then take the selected texts and run them by advisory committees to make sure they’re acceptable to teachers and the community.
The timeline on selection isn’t totally clear, because texts cycle through every seven years. Since that process has been suspended, it’s hard to say when adoption will be possible, Harris said.
Changes to curriculum could take place as soon as the bill comes into effect in January 2012, although what that means to schools hasn’t been worked out yet.
The additions, she said, represent a positive move, one of which Santa Monica is already participating in through its freshman seminars, which discuss diversity and tolerance.
“One of the goals is to build a respectful, diverse community … ,” Harris said. “We look at how things have happened in the past, and how man’s inhumanity plays itself out ultimately.”
Student advocates find themselves in a holding pattern until they see what exactly will be added to curriculum.
Olivia Mugalian, the former co-president of Samohi’s Gay Straight Alliance, said that putting in historic information about the fight for gay rights could be risky if done incorrectly.
“I feel like if you have to teach a unit on this, it makes members of the LGBT community out to be a taboo super-minority,” she said.
There’s a more constructive message that could be sent out, particularly that homosexuals and transgenders eat, sleep, breathe and, in general, live like normal people.
“Now we’re here, we’re queer and we’re just like you,” she said, co-opting an old idiom.