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Teaching Gay History In California Public Schools

Social studies textbooks in California public schools will soon be adding another piece of history - contributions of gays and lesbians.

Social studies textbooks in California will soon be adding another piece of history. A bill signed by the governor last week adds historical contributions of gays and lesbians to social studies classes in public schools. One family advocacy group is already challenging the law.

Guests

Dean Vogel, President, California Teacher's Association

Randy Thomasson, President of SaveCalifornia.com

Laurie Moiser, San Diego County Office of Education, Coordinator District and School Improvement

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

California is now the first state in the nation to require schools to teach kids about the historical accomplishments of gay men and lesbians. Governor Jerry Brown signed the measure into law last week. Supporters say it's a major step forward toward full equality for gay citizens, but a challenge to the new law is surfacing among services. Dean Vogel is joining me, president of the California teacher's association. And good afternoon.

VOGEL: Good afternoon, Maureen, I'm happy to be with you today.

CAVANAUGH: What exactly does this new law require schools to do?

VOGEL: Basically, what it's asking schools to do is put into the instruction that would normally be a part of social studies, where you're looking at history and what's basically unfolding around the history of the state and the country, the contributions of GLBT people.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the California teachers' association supports this now law. Can you tell us why?

VOGEL: Well, we have a long history of supporting curricula that addressed the common values of society, that promote respect for diversity and cooperation, ideas that prepare the learned to compete in and cope with complex society. We see this very much in the same vain. Years ago, you couldn't see the contributions of women historical contexts. Not too long ago, you couldn't see the contribution of ethnic minority folk. And we see it's only a natural progression in terms of helping citizens understand the contributions of all citizens.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I've also heard that there are links between bullying and discrimination, and that there's some hope that including gay history into the curriculum might decrease that for gay students.

VOGEL: Well, that's very true. One of the difficulties that we have in schools is the -- trying to help these LGBT youth feel safe and comfortable in their school environment. And what we've found is that where we do have at school sites opportunities for these students to hear about contributions of GLBT people, not only in the school, but in society at large, they start feeling saver, more connected. . The part of it is that the students they work with and sit next to and interact with in class, when hearing these things, start to understand that they're part of the fabric of the society that we're in. That they're not abnormal.

CAVANAUGH: And at what grade will the new gay history lessons be introduced?

VOGEL: That's not something I'm conversant in at this point. There's going to be quite a differentiation of implementation as this goes. What we hope is that that will happen locally, and those determinations will be made locally.

CAVANAUGH: And just really quickly, if I can with you before I go to our next guest, dean, when you say that the contributions of LGBT people will be talked about in these history lessons, how will that be introduced? Will there be familiar names and kids will be told and he was gay? Or are these gonna be people that we've never heard about before?

VOGEL: I don't know that that's something that I can just say one way or the other. That's part of the conversation that has to unfold as we start dealing with the mandates of this law. What I think is most important is going to be to the degree that we involve everybody, the teachers, the stakeholders, are the administrators, the folks around the school, and even the community in making these determinations, we're gonna be better off.

CAVANAUGH: Dean Vogel is staying on the lineup with me. He's president of the California teacher's association. I'd like to welcome Randy Thomasson. He's president of save California.com. A group which opposes the new gay history law. And Randy, hello.

THOMASSON: Hello, Maureen. And hello dean Vogel.

VOGEL: Hello.

CAVANAUGH: What's wrong with teaching kids about the accomplishments of gay citizens, Randy?

THOMASSON: Well, when you look at the history, the purpose of history is to learn lessons. George Santayana, the philosopher said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. That used to be written on a lot of blackboards for history students. But when you look at what's going on, where we used to say history and social studies was studying societies, government, who did good, who was successful, who was foolish, who was bad. And learning to follow good lessons on one and not repeat the bad lessons of others, now we have gone into a war about who's going to be stuck in there. And when you look at the ethnic groups, the racial and ethnic groups that are already in the existing law to be studied, obviously that's something that's inherited. You inherit your race, you inherit your ethnicity that's a put in then, "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons" that is not a fit because you cannot inherit these attributes, there's no so called gay gene. In fact, there are thousands and thousands of former homosexuals that you don't find a former black person, you don't find a former Hispanic or Asian. So it simply doesn't fit. And that's only one of the reasons that it is a bad law. The other reason is that this is not as dean Vogel said, an act to school districts, this is a man date.

CAVANAUGH: Let me stop you there. I know there are a lot of people who would disagree about what you said about the genetics involved in homosexuality, and whether or not there are people who used to be gay and who are not now. Let us though just concentrate on the fact that this is a group that has been discriminated against in history. And the fact that they are gay or have been gay has not been able to become known. What's wrong with teaching kids that?

THOMASSON: Well, when you look at what is being taught, this law requires, it's a man date upon the schools, all schools, children as young as kindergarten. And it will teach them to admire these historical or contemporary followings who are engaging in homosexuality bisexuality, transsexuality. If we were all teachers, and dean, I think you are, we would want to children to be taught the facts, not withholding information. But this law actually prohibits any negative facts about these figures to be taught. The bill actually says that you cannot "reflect adversely or promote a discriminatory bias." That's a very broad prohibition. In other words, what I have said could not be said to children, even if it is backed up by fact, which it is, and you can't even prevent information from the centers for disease control and prevention that says that homosexual and bisexual behavior results in nearly 90% of the HIV transmissions. That would not be allowed.

CAVANAUGH: Randy, I want to get dean's response. And also, dean, although Randy hadn't mentioned this, are talking about this as a parental rights issue. Parents cannot opt out of these courses for thirds requirement children. What is your response to what Randy said, and to the fact that parents can't opt out?

VOGEL: Well, I will say that the point that Randy's making here is really the fundamental difference between folks that stand on one side or the other of this issue. And I don't just mean SB48. Just the whole idea of GLBT folk having the same rights as anybody else. That's argumentive, all the way down the line. You can talk about science this or science that. Personally, what I believe is that a gay, lesbian or transgender or bisexual, these folks are who they are. Very much like I'm 57 and I have blue ideas. And I'm not really interested in engaging in that debate right now. I think the real question before us is, given the fundamental pieces of this law, what is the best way to make it happen? To make it operational? And I stand by what I said earlier. I understand that it's a man date. I understand that public schools are K-12 or K-14, or however you want to identify T. But to the degree that we can put all the stakeholders together and thankfully determine how we're going to handle this and what the curriculum materials are going to look like, we're going to be better off. If we start trying to divide ourselves along these idealogical line, like I said earlier, the fundamental differences in these two camps, we are not gonna be very well served.

CAVANAUGH: I need to move onto my last guest. But one last question for Randy if I may. Will your group be taking any action to prevent the implementation of this new law?

THOMASSON: Our organization, save California.com is urging parents who want their parental right, who don't want half truths told to their children, who don't want false history being told, to understand that this is the eighth school sexual indoctrination law on the books. And they have still some rights. They can take their children out of the dysfunctional, imploding school system. We're encouragingly home schooling, solid church schools, private schools. They do much more academically and socially for children, and parents still have that right to rescue their children and take them away from social engineering and into good academics and good virtues that the parents approve of.

CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there, gentlemen, dean Vogel, and Randy Thomasson. Thank you very much.

THOMASSON: Thank you.

VOGEL: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And it hear how the new law will affect us here in San Diego, Lori Moiser from the San Diego office of education. She coordinates history and social science studies. And she's on the line with us now. Hi Lori.

MOISER: Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: How does the San Diego County office of education gear up when there's a change like this in the curriculum.

MOISER: Well, the law was just approved last week. So it's really early. Instruction materials will need to be revised or rewritten to address the new law. And that will be up to the textbook publishers, and then the state board of education to decide whether the new materials accurately address the new law. In the meantime, we understand the intent of SB48, which is to include information and add LGBT communities to the list of existing groups whose historical contributions to our state and nation should be added to the social studies curriculum. At the county office, we intend to work closely with our school districts throughout the county to help them understand the purpose of the law, and support the youth of instructional -- use of instructional materials so that our students gain a better sense of the achievement and contributions of these people.

CAVANAUGH: Do you get any instruction or any help from the state about where to go for these instructional materials?

MOISER: Well, currently any changes or additions to instructional materials, they -- it takes time. So while the legislation as passed, it's not likely that we'll see the changes updated in our framework and standards do you wants for eye few years as you know, currently state wide budget restrictions have installed the process in social sciences through 2015. With the textbook process in flux, it will be really important for district leadership and government boards to engage in conversations with their teachers about the changes in the curriculum, engage their communities this these discussions, and make decisions about when and where the entry points into the curriculum are more relevant.

CAVANAUGH: Before the new textbooks come out, who's going to be in charge of including these new materials in -- for kids in San Diego County?

MOISER: It's gonna be up to local to governing boards to make those decisions with the county office of education. And I believe we'll work closely with our state wide networks and history based organizations to monitor the response in our region and work together to provide access to supplemental procedures in the interim.

CAVANAUGH: It happened it sounds like you got a big job ahead of you. I've been speaking with Lori Moiser of the San Diego County office of education. Thank you very much.

MOISER: Thank you, Maureen.

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