I blogged earlier about how I was pleased that the California Legislature gutted SB 1437. This bill, as proposed, would have amended various Education Code provisions to require California schools, beginning in first grade, to teach positive lessons about homosexuals. In another post, I explained my position: I certainly do not believe that we should be negative about, or derogatory of homosexuals. However, I was concerned that the bill, as passed, would result in a situation in which some nonentity was placed in the curriculum, not because of his accomplishments, but because he was gay. Now that my kids are in public school, I’m getting the chance to see how public schools are handling their already existing obligation to deal with identity politics in the curriculum — and realizing that my sense about the proposed amendment was correct.
As it stands now, Education Code Section 51204.5 states that
Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, black Americans, American Indians, Mexicans, Asians, Pacific Island people, and other ethnic groups, 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.
and Education Code Section 60040 states that
When adopting instructional materials for use in the schools, governing boards shall include only instructional materials which, in their determination, accurately portray the cultural and
racial [sic] of our society, including: (a) The contributions of both men and women in all types of roles, including professional, vocational, and executive roles.(b) The role and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups to the total development of California and the United States.
In other words, just as was being proposed about gays, lesbians, etc., California schools are currently required to highlight people, not because of what they’ve done, but because of their ethnicity.
My first exposure to this policy in action is a homework folder/calendar that my daughter brings home. It’s a useful tool. It’s essentially a calendar that allows my daughter to record her required homework every day, for every subject, with spaces for both the parents and the teacher to sign off. It’s called “Character Counts! School Agenda” and comes from Alliance Publishing & Marketing, Inc., in Maryland. The book includes useful information, such as punctuation guidelines, the basic parts of speech, abbreviations, etc. The book also includes, for every week, the biography of certain people who are meant to show specific character traits such as responsibilty, citizenship, etc.
It’s these mini-bios I find interesting. Here’s the whole list, which I’ve broken down into six paragraphs just to provide some visual relief, with a brief notation for those who are less well known:
Sarah Chang (violinist); George Washington Carver; Bessie Coleman (first female African American pilot); Kyle Maynard (congential amputee and championship wrestler); Lou Gehrig; Hellen Keller; Paul Ruseasabagina (Rwandan who sheltered over a thousand Tutsis); Christopher Reeve; Bethany Hamilton (surfer who lost her arm to a shark); Theodore Roosevelt; Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (a 19th Century Rosa Parks);
Hank Aguirre; Veronica Guerin (crusading Dublin crime reporter); Chico Mendes (environmental activist); Major General Jeanne Holm (first women in the armed forces to become a major general); Ronald Reagan (I was actually surprised to see him here); Gail Small (Native American activist); Thomas Edison; Mother Theresa;
Adi Roche (raises money for Chernobyl victims); Delvar Barrett (former college basketball player who loves his mother); Arnold Palmer; Ruth Bader Ginsburg (lauded for her activism on women’s behalf; apparently Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice, wasn’t available for this book); Leonard Covello (Italian American educator who helped Italian immigrants in the early 20th Century);
Ella Fitzgerald; Abraham Lincoln; Temple Grandin (overcame autism); Martin Luther King, Jr.; Marlee Matlin (deaf actress); Chief Joseph; Peter Westbrook (African American championship fencer); Gandhi; Dolores Huerta (co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America); Jim Thorpe; T.A. (Tom) Barron (writes books to teach kids to respect nature); Harriet Tubman; Dean Kamen (inventor);
Joan of Arc; George Harrison (Beatle, who, rather weakly I think, is used to illustrate the trustworthiness section because he helped out Ravi Shankar re troubles in Bangladesh); Konosuke Matsushita (founder of the eponymous company); Oskar Schindler (rescued 1,200 Jews from the Nazis);
Elissa Montanti (started a foundation to help children in war torn or disaster ravaged countries); Albert Schewitzer; Mary Ann Bickerdyke (Union nurse during the Civil War); Mary Hayashi (Korean-born woman who works in various health related areas); Barack Obama; Adrian Cronauer (DJ during the Vietnam War); Ralph Nader (well known anti-Semite and crackpot).
You can draw your own conclusions about the list’s political make-up. For purposes of this post, I’d like to focus on people who seem to be there to fill a quota. The one that first leapt out at me was Mary Hayashi. She sounds like a decent, intelligent, humane and interesting woman, but she also sounds like a quota:
Mary Hayashi , whose family moved from Korea to America when she was a child, reveals how this move helped her grow as a woman in her book, Far From Home : Shattering the Myth of the Model Minority. Today Hayashi is a well-known advocate for the expansion of healthcare delivery coverage. She founded the non-profit National Asian Women’s Health Organization in 1993 to attain equal health benefits for Asian American families. Hayashi has also established the Iris Alliance Fund to help prevent suicide among children and young adults.
Reading the above makes me feel as if I’m reading the resume for someone applying for a corporate position.
Barak Obama also sounds like a filler. Yes, he’s African American, but he’s certainly not the first African American in Congress. Again, it’s just resume reading. Frankly, if they wanted to put an inspiring “minority in Congress” squiblet into this booklet, why not Bobby Jindal? Isn’t he the first Congressman of East Indian descent?
Another quota filler, from the way the bio is written, is Delvar Barrett. To be honest, he sounds like an absolutely lovely young man:
Delvar Barrett took the time to care for his diabetic mother, Vivien, while playing basketball at Ohio University. Growing up in an underprivileged, gang-ridden area of Detroit, Barrett was teased for being especially poor. When offered a basketball scholarshiop at Ohio, he happily accepted — and took his mother withhim. Barrett then balanced full-time studies and athletics with cooking, cleaning, and caring for Vivian in their shared apartment. After graudation, he became a pharmacy technician. He continues to care for his mother.
As I said, Barrett sounds like a lovely, decent young man. But has he really done something significant enough to be included in the pantheon with Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, and Thomas Edison? He loved his mother? (That keeps making me think of Tom Lehrer’s masterful song about Oedipus Rex.) I’m all for mother-love, being one myself, but this is stretching.
So it goes: A bizarre mix of genuinely accomplished people, who represent a spectrum of race, colors and creeds, mixed in with decent, hardworking people who appear merely to fill quota requirements. What’s sad about this isn’t that it has a slightly demeaning smell about (“sorry, we couldn’t find a better Asian woman”), but also that it takes space that could be used for a few more genuinely accomplished or significant people (and again, I leave you to draw your own conclusions about the people you’d add to the volume if the quotas were gone).
UPDATE: I don’t like baseball, so had never heard of Hank Aguirre, who is included in the calendar. I noted, though, that he didn’t sound very impressive on the little squiblet (which I don’t have now; it’s at school with my daughter). He was pretty much damned with faint praise, and sounded as if his main claim to fame was that he showed up at work every day. Oh, and by the way, he’s Hispanic — but he’s not even the first Hispanic in the major leagues. Again, he sounded like a quota, not a star. I mentioned this to Don Quixote, who likes baseball, and he sent me the following:
Email This Post To A Friend
I thought you might be interested in this link:
Turns out Hank Aguirre was a mediocre pitcher in the 60′s. He made the all-star team exactly one time and ended his career with an unimpressive 75-72 won-loss record. What was he on the calendar for? If they were looking for an Hispanic ballplayer from the 60s, they would have been better served to use my boyhood hero, Roberto Clemente who not only was one of the greatest players ever, but died a hero. He was also a pioneer, being the first Puerto Rican player (I think the very first, but maybe the first of note) in the major leagues.
Here’s a little bio on him:
and his stats:
Wouldn’t he have been a better choice?
10 Responses to “Teaching by identity”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.