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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Echoes of Irrational Fear

For San Diego's North County Times
You'd think banning discrimination in school instruction would be a no-brainer. Respect for others who don't look, talk or act like you has always been an important value to pass on to our children.

But SB 48, prohibiting discriminatory content in school instruction, awaits action in the California Assembly, revealing a divide between those who think including a minority group in the curriculum will indoctrinate young children and those who believe exclusion breeds isolation, fear and contempt.

A song in the 1949 musical, "South Pacific," contained the lyrics, "You've got to be taught to be afraid of those whose eyes are oddly made and people whose skin is a different shade." Some claimed the song, by justifying interracial marriage, represented a Communist threat to the American way of life.

Echoes of that irrational fear can be heard in the organized resistance to SB 48. Headlines have unfortunately declared that the proposed bill would require "gay history" to be taught in public schools. That's misleading, since it implies a far more extensive change in the curriculum than is proposed.

You won't find the words "gay history" anywhere in the bill. What you will find is a requirement to choose instructional materials that "accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society." It would add the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to the current list, which includes ethnic groups, men, women, and persons with disabilities.

Driven by fear it will turn their kids gay, opponents of SB 38 are trumpeting a fictionalized account of what the new law would require.

FICTION: Teachers will be forced to promote gay "lifestyles."
FACT: Either promoting, or adversely reflecting upon, sexual orientation is prohibited.

FICTION: Kindergartners will be indoctrinated to admire homosexuality.
FACT: Schools will continue to decide what's taught and at what grade level.

FICTION: Schools will be forced to spend millions on new textbooks.
FACT: Current textbooks don't have to be tossed out; new ones must be more inclusive.

Those of us of a certain age know that textbooks evolve. Women and persons of color were largely absent in the white male history we studied in our social studies and literature classes.

North County's LGBT Coalition is currently seeking donations to create a Resource Center in Oceanside. Police and city officials have been cooperative. They recognize the city's obligation to serve all the people, just as schools must recognize their obligation to serve all students.

That's why passing SB 48 is important ---- not just to teach gay history, but to include the contributions of all who played a role in building our state and nation.

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