In a unanimous and unprecedented decision, the California State Board of Education has rightly voted to include minority history, particularly LGBT history, in the mandatory public school curriculum across the state. The law will educate students as early as second grade on LGBT history, the community’s civil rights struggles and contributions to society.
The initiative generated significant public interest and debate, with the California Department of Education receiving more than 10,000 email comments between December 2015 and February 2016 from passionate supporters and opponents alike.
By taking this step, California is projecting a more understanding and inclusive society for the future, while also acknowledging the role of representation and how it impacts children growing up. Bringing the conversation to the classroom assures that what is likely the first contact of children with LGBT themes is an informed, educated one in a learning environment.
Especially because the topic is still taboo in most families and LGBT people are often marginalized, deconstructing the negative image these groups were given and treating their history with due respect is essential in an institution designed to shape people’s world views and promote coexistence.
LGBT children have a right to be informed of the community’s meaningful past – such as the Stonewall riots, which led to movements for gay liberation and LGBT rights – and be introduced to potential role models – such as pioneer gay politician Harvey Milk. Restraining such a meaningful part of history that could strengthen the sense of identity of children growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is not only unfair but also cruel.
It is urgent to stop treating the LGBT community as if their history is an annex to American history rather than a part of it. California’s leadership in giving children access to minorities’ history should set the standard for other states to follow, as well as for private schools in the state.
The initiative is also an opportunity for instructors themselves to get more educated on the subject and, as a consequence, better administrate and promote conversations in classrooms.
Teachers, administrators and publishers will be guided to promote the building of students’ history-social science knowledge and skills, according to a press release by the CDE. Children will also learn financial literacy, voter education, the history of genocide and the contributions of people with disabilities to the history of California and the United States.
Understanding how LGBT history has shaped our nation is to understand where we stand as a society in 2016, especially when it comes to civil rights. A history neglecting these contributions would be simplistic, shallow and incomplete.
The value of information and representation as agents of change cannot be underestimated, and this is an important step forward taken by California.