One for the textbooks

Posted: May 21, 2006 12:05 AM

The more irrelevant a bill is, the more likely it is to pass in the California state Senate. This month, the Senate passed by a 22-15 vote Senate Bill 1437, sponsored by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, which would require that California textbooks contain "age appropriate" information about the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in California and American history.

 For those of you unfamiliar with Kuehl, she is the child actress who played Zelda in "The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis," as well as the first openly lesbian state legislator. Ergo, if passed in the Assembly and signed by the governor, her bill likely would place Kuehl in California textbooks.

 That's nice for Kuehl, but I cannot believe it is good for California students. When close to 11 percent of seniors have flunked the high-school exit exam -- thanks to a superior court judge, they now can flunk the test and still graduate -- it is clear that California students need more education, not more political indoctrination.

 There is every reason to believe this legislation would dumb down history. Kuehl points out that in the past the Legislature has required textbooks that note the contributions of women, blacks, Native Americans, Mexicans, Asians and Pacific Islanders. The result can be academic tokenism -- inflating, for example, the role of women in American history when women lacked the power to change the course of events.

 A more intellectually honest -- and scholarly -- approach would be to require history texts to explore the everyday lives of ordinary people. That moves history class away from the old white guys and onto the lives of women, blacks, Indians, Mexicans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, as well as homosexuals -- without telling textbook publishers what they have to say and how to say it.

 Yo. Since homosexuality has been taboo in America, most gay public figures were in the closet. In a sense, then, SB1437 sends this message to historians: Guess.

 It is scary to ponder which historic figures pandering publishers might decide to "out" -- gay or not. Abe Lincoln? He shared a bed with a man, didn't he? Eleanor Roosevelt? She had a close friendship with a female reporter. J. Edgar Hoover? Sorry, he was just reputed to wear dresses, so he doesn't qualify for the chapter on important contributions by transgenders.

 Arguments in favor of the bill have hardly been academic. State Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, told her son that if the British hadn't jailed Oscar Wilde for homosexuality "he could have been as great as Shakespeare." Talk about your tangled web.

 Then there's that old standby that if California doesn't pass laws that essentially promote homosexuality, children will die. Kuehl argued, "Silence and biased messages about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people only promotes negative stereotypes, and this, in turn, can lead to discrimination, harassment and violence." A Senate analysis suggested the bill could prevent teen suicides.

 All hail, as New York University professor Jonathan Zimmerman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, "history as therapy." Or call it history as propaganda. I have no desire to gay-bash, as I recognize the trauma gay men and lesbians endure growing up in America. But there are plenty of other kids who struggle and suffer through their teens. Fat kids. Nerds. Devoutly religious kids who think homosexuality is a sin. You can't create a curriculum for all those roots of angst.

 What bothers me the most is the left's -- be it noted, all those who voted for the bill were Democrats -- apparent scorn for knowledge as a jewel in and of itself. This bill threatens to rewrite history as gay advocates want it to have been, not what really happened.

 SB1437 highlights the intolerance of the gay lobby. Kuehl may think she is pushing tolerance, when in fact she is forcing her ideology on other people's children -- whether they like it or not.