California Teachin’

Sometimes I wonder how California is going to pull our education system out of the deep dark abyss we have been hiding in for the last several years. When I first started teaching in 1990, I thought I was working in the most exciting, progressive career I could imagine, in the most forward thinking state I could live in.

As time has passed, I have changed my way of thinking. Year by year I have seen my class sizes get larger, the students need more attention to skills, and the number of preps increase. NCLB’s focus on standards dramatically changed the focus of many districts towards test taking achievement and away from critical thinking.

Last weekend’s headline in the Sacramento Bee, “Gay History To Hit Classrooms In January”, however, made me feel proud of being an educator and citizen of California.

I was born during the Civil Rights movement and just a little girl when women were fighting for their liberation. In a multi-racial and multi-lingual state like California, emphasis often is put on creating a multicultural, diverse curriculum to meet the needs of all students and ensure equal representation. We teach our students to use appropriate, politically correct terminology and to have tolerance for all people, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. However, very few districts have put any sort of emphasis on the latter. To me, the taboo of speaking about sexual orientation is as antiquated as the pre-Civil Rights era when segregation was commonplace.

Just as when blacks were being lynched and attacked for the genetic make-up of their skin pigment, teens and adults today are experiencing discrimination, torture, beatings and death for their inborn sexual orientation. Just as we learned not to judge people for the color of their skin, we will now be able to show the content of all people’s character, regardless of what gender they choose to love.

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For years when I taught 7th grade World History my students critically examined races and religions worldwide over the history of time. My American Literature students have read, thought and wrote about people from the wide variety of cultures that make up the United States of America. As a trained educator, I know how to teach without bias. Adding gay history to our curriculum will be no different from teaching about Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Native Americans, the Red Coats, slavery, Hitler Vietnam, the Gulf War, or any other topic in our country’s past.
What would it be like if we never talked about these people and events?

I don’t for a minute think that the passage of this law will suddenly create a ‘gay pride’ unit in many school districts. Nor do I believe that teaching about gay history will change any heterosexual teen’s sexual orientation. State education leaders and school districts will carefully and deliberately work to construct frameworks and lesson plans to objectively include, not purposefully disclude, this element of our society.

What I do believe is that this law will allow age-appropriate lessons that will humanize gays, hopefully creating a more harmonious society for our children to grow up in. I do believe in inclusion over exclusion. I do believe that by bestowing value on all people we help to lift them up, which in turn can only bring us all to a higher place.

What do you think? Do you agree with the new legislation? Or do you want to keep things ‘old school’?

Me? I’m proud to be a Californian today.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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18 thoughts on “California Teachin’

  1. Justin Cox says:

    Great blog. I know very little about what goes into lesson planning, so it’s hard for me to fully weigh in. I’d say that ideally “gay history” would just be woven into all history, rather than specifically singled out and taught. But I suppose it takes a law like this to make sure it becomes a part of the conversation (otherwise it can go deliberately ignored). I imagine this is just the first step in the direction of the all-inclusive goal, which is constantly evolving. Again, nice post.

  2. That is fantastic! Leave it to California to be so progressive and forward thinking. It will take years for conservative Connecticut to catch up, meaning more gaps to fill when the time comes to educate youth on the reality of humanity.

  3. Iana says:

    Great Blog Post! I sincerely loved it! I’m a native Californian, so this post hit home for me!

    I am a new follower, and I hopped over from the Monday Mingle Blog Hop.

    I follow you via GFC.
    I’d love a follow back!

    Have a great week and new year!

    Sincerely,
    Iana at http://www.ultimateheadline.blogspot.com/

  4. Kathy says:

    I loved this post as well, though like the first person who commented I wish we could just teach history without having to distinguish between women’s history, African American history, Gay history. It is all our story and all so important in teaching our children the story of our country. I am a born and raised New Yorker and was very proud when we finally passed marriage equality in our state. Congratulations to California for taking a great first step. I wish we were further in our steps in treating all people equally but I guess it all requires baby steps! Thanks for a great post! Happy New Year! As always I love your blog!!

  5. Well, in an era where education is going backward under the guise of moving forward, this is positive news. As a teacher in Michigan, I know all-too-well how irritating test-driven instruction is. Glad California is managing to address something so important in the midst of it all.

  6. mamawolfe says:

    Justin~ I agree. I think that unfortunately we have to have a law that requires addition of this to the curriculum to make sure that it is included and not brushed aside if someone decides they don’t want to teach about it.
    Hi Perspective`Yes, it is encouraging that CA is taking a stand!
    Hi Lana-thanks for stopping by, and Yippee for CA!
    Hi Kathy-thank you. Yes, baby steps are necessary in order to make change. I so appreciate your support!
    Hi Laura! I like how you put it as ‘going backward under the guise of moving forward’ – sadly, so true. I am hopeful, however!

  7. TyKes Mom says:

    As a couple other comments have all ready stated, I do not understand why we need to separate gender, sexual orientation and race in history lessons. We are all people with a history. It should be taught as one. That being said, I am glad I homeschool so I don’t have to worry about what the schools might be doing.

  8. Mrs. No-No says:

    Great topic!! I totally agree with you! I am not gay, but I am part black and I know first hand HOW MUCH discrimination HURTS – – and I know how many important and influential people were blacks. And, I am sure that the same thing is true with gay people. Additionally, I think that kids are interested and curious and for the most part enjoy learning about interesting topics (and I don’t think that 12 year olds really care if someone who started a movement or made great strides in history is gay or straight).
    happy new year!
    carla from vb
    Mrs. NoNo Knows

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  10. Ah, California, I miss her. Great post. To me, it’s simple. Education is power and people, children in particular, need to be informed and they need to know this part of history. Thanks for posting.

  11. —EVERYBODY deserves R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
    You must be an Awesome Teacher!!! :)))) XX
    —What do your other staff think about this?

  12. mamawolfe says:

    Hi Tykes Mom~ I agree with you. Unfortunately, history has shown that there are underrepresented groups in our country-I hope some day we won’t have to have legislation to consider everyone equally.
    Hi Carla~ You’re right…our children are much more open minded than many adults are!
    Anna- You’re welcome!
    Thegirlfriendmom~ Education IS power. Denying information is not going to advance us whatsoever.
    Hi Inner Chick-Thank you! I LOVE teaching! I imagine my staff will be 100% behind the legislation-it will be interesting to see how districts approach creating the curriculum.

  13. Annie says:

    What an interesting topic! I honestly never thought about Gay History as a subject needing to be taught. I support respecting people of any race, religion or sexuality. But I am not trying to figure out what would be taught in this class. Is it in grade school or high school? I’m guessing high school since you mentioned 7th grade….so would they read poetry from homosexual poets? maybe they would learn about people they think were gay and learn about why that person (like people in the renaissance period) hid it?

    Like I said, I fully support parents teaching their children how to respect everyone no matter what and support teachers teaching that respect when parents are not doing it. I just can’t seem to picture what will take an entire school year to teach……I look forward to learning more about this though 🙂

  14. I think I’m with Kathy and Tykes Mom on this one. I have gay friends, and they are just people with great accomplishments. Just like I have straight friends who are people with great accomplishments. It never really crosses my mind about their sexual preferences. I like to reverse it, and see if it sounds funny. “Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, and he was straight.” We don’t even know that really, but it’s strange to bring that up. It wouldn’t matter what his sexual preference is, he still landed on the moon. Great post!

  15. I agree with the other ladies; I wish it could just be one History lesson, instead of having to segregate it out based on religion, sexuality, skin color, etc. When we do this, we will never truly reach equality because there will always be a minority that will be left out or have less emphasis than the others. If there was to be true equality in teaching each history, you’d probably need a few YEARS to balance it all out between all the sects. I wish History would be taught merely by era, and teach “Yes, there was slavery, it was a strong part of the history and culture…it was WRONG and we learned from it. Racism and hatred for any kind of difference is wrong.” and do the same with every era. If you think about it, even if you are “white” slavery is very much part of our history, as we need to remember how horrible it was of our ancestors to ever do that to our brothers and sisters just because they had a different color skin.

    We lived 3 years in Germany; and I learned quite a bit with their schooling. They don’t hide the history of the Holocaust, nor dot hey sugar coat it. They display it for all it’s atrocities in hopes that their country will never repeat that mistake. They don’t separate Jewish history from German history and teach each separate and equal but they are intertwined.

    But who said we ever lived in a perfect world. /sigh. I’m not in the education system, so I don’t know what goes into the creating of curriculum, but I hope they do take great care to be politically correct as this is still a very sensitive subject.

    With all the history curriculum they currently have; does it emphasize on no hatred for any race, creed, color or religion? I’d imagine so, but you never know, growing up our textbooks still from time to time used slang and prejudiced terms and talked down about different races; although that was quite a few years ago..I’m sure they’ve improved since then.

    Your VB Friend
    JadeLouise Designs

  16. mamawolfe says:

    Hi Annie~ I think there is a lot to be determined about how/when it will be taught, and just what ‘it’ is. The law says it applies K-12 in age appropriate fashion. It will be interesting to see what happens.
    Mommy LaDy Club-I agree that sexual preference has nothing to do with someone’s accomplishments. I hope that this law doesn’t get interpreted that way. I see it more as an opening to discuss, or even speak about, the aspect of our culture that has been ‘taboo’ for so long. I hope it evolves into a non-issue; but as we’ve seen with the civil rights and women’s movements, just because we have laws it doesn’t mean everything is immediately equal.
    Hi Amber~ you bring up some excellent questions. I agree that we shouldn’t try to hide any unsavory aspect of our history-we need to ‘never forget’ so as to learn from it. Our current curriculums do emphasize tolerance for all, and I think textbooks have evolved tremendously in the last 20-30 years. Texts won’t adopt this current legislation until 2015, so until then it will be up to districts/teachers to create the curriculum. I hope the public trusts teachers to educate without bias, and respects us as professionals.

  17. Rosann says:

    Great post! I miss California too. I agree with the other comments that there’s not a need to segregate. History is history. I must admit I do like knowing my girls are being raised in a small town with a great school system. The classes aren’t over crowded and the students are getting the attention they need to thrive. My step-daughter went through middle school and high school in Southern CA and even as smart as she is, she struggled to get through both. It was a foot race to get her to graduate. She struggled with test performance and felt like she wasn’t able to connect with her teachers. I’m sure some of that was her fault for being the typical teenage girl, but I also think if she would have been able to connect more with her teachers instead of just being another head in their class, she would have done much better.
    ~Blessings,
    Rosann

  18. Hi Rosann, Thank you. Smaller class sizes do make a huge difference-I feel sad if there are days when I can’t speak to every one directly. It shouldn’t be that way!

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