As you may or may not know, we live in the community I grew up in. It’s an extremely safe city, with just about every resource that you could want in suburbia. Great hospitals, excellent schools, a fantastic park system, you name it. As a product of this community and its schools, I know that my children should be well-served growing up here, with one very glaring exception: it’s not very diverse. That definitely lead to gaps in my knowledge and life experiences, something I won’t allow to happen to my own children.
In 2012, the state of California passed Senate Bill 48, the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act (FAIR Act for short). This law added language to Education Code Section 51204.5, which states:
Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural 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.
(I bolded the added language.)
To put this simply, California public schools must now include members of these groups in history and social science lessons. Let me break down what this means:
~When kindergarten students learn about families and communities, all sorts of families will be included. Kids will see examples that might include straight parents, gay parents, a widower, a family where kids live with their grandparents, an interracial family, a family with a mom who’s deployed, a family where dad is in a wheelchair.
~Elementary school kids will learn about Louis Braille, or the history of athletes with disabilities, or tolerance.
~Middle school students will learn about Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., or about hate crimes, or equal treatment, or equal access for those with disabilities.
~High school students will learn about the Stonewall Riots, or Harvey Milk, or Ed Roberts, or Gloria Anzaldúa.
If you had to Google any of the people or events mentioned, then you’re demonstrating the need for this legislation.
Did you notice that when I broke down what the law means for students, I didn’t say that little kids will get a lesson on gay sex? Good. Unfortunately, a portion of the people who live in my school district think this is exactly what will happen once history and social science lessons include members of the LGBTQ+ community. This is, quite simply, false. When our kids learn about Neil Armstrong they aren’t informed what sexual positions he preferred. This will be no different.
Most alarmingly, our district’s school board president has said he will not support this “politically correct propaganda,” citing his religious beliefs and the fact he doesn’t want to “promote homosexuality.” He, it seems, is planning to put his personal opinion over his elected responsibility to adhere to the legislation.
Last night our local school board was scheduled to have their first vote on how to begin implementing the new standards and framework (it’s going to be a year-long process). I attended the meeting, along with about 200 other people. When it came time for public comments about the FAIR Act, over 50 people spoke passionately. While I was pleased that the majority of the speakers were in favor of the FAIR Act, I found myself getting depressed as I listened to the people who spoke out against tolerance and inclusion. These are my neighbors. The parents of kids at my local school. I started to question if this was the right school district for my children.
But as the meeting wore on, current students had the chance to speak to the school board. They were so eloquent about why representation matters, and why it’s so important for the kids in our community to know that there’s a whole world out there beyond the homogenous borders of our city. They spoke about their personal experiences, from being bullied for starting a gay/straight alliance at school to feeling left out because her family was never represented in books. I thought about my brother, and how he literally didn’t know another gay person until Ellen Degeneres came out. It is so important for children to see themselves, their families, and their friends reflected in school textbooks.
I believe public schools should be fair, accurate, inclusive, and respectful to EVERYONE, regardless of their race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Schools are a place of learning and discovery. Every student has the right to feel safe and valued at school. I was so heartened to see so many current students understand this. I just wish more adults and elected officials did, too.