I blogged some time ago about the latest insanity in identity politics: a bill before the California legislature mandating that the California curriculum incorporate feel good stories about gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. I hate the artificiality of it all and I really I hate forcing sexuality in children's faces (which is different, I said, from acknowledging that a successful person achieved something important separate from sexuality, and that he did so despite or because of the effects of his sexuality). Well, opinions such as mine are sadly lacking in Sacramento. The California Senate enthusiastically passed the bill:
Saying more role models could help reduce the social estrangement and high suicide rates of gay and lesbian students, the state Senate voted Thursday to require that the historical contributions of homosexuals in the United States be taught in California schools.
Apparently the first of its kind nationwide, the measure passed with no Republican support. It must also be approved by the Assembly and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has taken no position on it. California's Legislature last year became the first to authorize gay marriage, but Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure.
If passed, the textbook bill could have national implications. California is a huge portion of the textbook market, where it often sets trends, and many publishers put out a specific edition for the state that others can also use.
Trust Diane Ravitch to put this horrible Big Brother example of social engineering into perspective:
California, unlike any other state, has mandated by law since 1976 that instructional materials used in the schools must provide positive portrayals of specified groups.
When it comes to males and females, for instance, the Legislature decreed that "equal portrayal must be applied in every instance." That means, among other things, that an equal number of male and female characters must be depicted in "roles in which they are mentally and physically active, being creative, solving problems … " and that male and female characters in textbooks must show a "range of emotions (e.g. fear, anger, tenderness.)"
California's textbooks and other materials must instill a "sense of pride" in students' heritages and may not include "adverse reflection" on any group. Cultural or lifestyle differences may not be portrayed as "undesirable." Members of minority groups must be shown "in the same range of socioeconomic settings" as those in the majority.
And it's not just gender and ethnicity that is "protected." Older people, people with disabilities and people who pursue various occupations have been written into the law.
So it's not surprising that in recent months gays and lesbians have stepped forward to demand a place at the state's capacious table. They too want their roles to be portrayed positively in textbooks purchased by the state. And frankly, they've got a point. In view of the state's broad inclusion of every other group in its list of those deserving such treatment, the state has no principled reason to exclude any new claimant.
It is time to recognize that the problem is not the nature of the group demanding inclusion, but the fact that the state has arrogated the power to dictate how textbooks should be written.
The state's social-content guidelines should be abolished. They put the state Board of Education into the absurd position of deciding which facts are historically accurate and which should be included or excluded, a responsibility for which it is manifestly unqualified. The guidelines are an open invitation to interest groups to politicize textbooks.
Telling publishers that their books must instill pride only guarantees a phony version of feel-good history. Publishers, as a result, bend over backward to be positive, whether writing about the genocidal reign of Mao Tse-tung (presumably to avoid offending his admirers) or the unequal treatment of women in Islamic societies (to avoid offending Muslims).
Certainly, textbooks should accurately portray society in all its complexity. But to impose contemporary political requirements on how the events are portrayed only ensures that the history we teach our students is inaccurate and dishonest. History books have already grown larger and duller to accommodate every group's demands.
UPDATE: Here's Ben Shapiro making, more eloquently than I, my point about leading with a person's sexuality, rather than his or her accomplishments:
[T]he homosexual movement sees sexuality as identity. With that in mind, homosexual activists claim that pushing homosexuality in public schools will make "gay" children feel more accepted and tolerated. Their proclivities — their identities, according to the homosexual movement — will be granted legitimacy. Of course, normal anti-harassment policies already prohibit maltreatment, but that's not enough for homosexual activists — they want the practice of homosexuality legitimized in the classroom. This is antithetical to the very concept of parental authority. Homosexuality remains a controversial practice, and our public schools should not be a breeding ground for liberal values that may very well undermine parental wishes.
Today, I feel especially hostile against leading with sexuality as a teaching point because, just yesterday, my 9 year old once again gave away just how sweetly innocent she is. (She contended that two classmates of hers, whom I know are twins, aren't. Why? Because one was born 2 minutes earlier than the other.) While my daughter is definitely getting ready for some basic birds and bees biology, there is nothing to be gained by explaining to this little innocent the more arcane sexual practices available amongst human kind.