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Politically correct history

May 09, 2006

IT IS, FORGIVE US, A TEXTBOOK LESSON in political meddling. State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) has introduced a bill, SB 1437, that would require California textbooks to tell the stories of the contributions made to history by gays and lesbians. If we didn't know any better, we'd say that Kuehl, a talented legislator who was the first openly gay member of the Legislature, was trying to write herself into the history books.

Under her proposal, textbooks would have to "accurately portray in an age-appropriate manner the cultural, racial, gender and sexual orientation diversity of our society." They also would have to include "the contributions of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to the total development of California and the United States."

It's a twisting of what history textbooks are supposed to do: tell about the most important contributions, and misdeeds, of people in history, regardless of their beliefs and orientations.

Instead, under Kuehl's proposal, books would recount history in part through a gay and lesbian prism. This is as misguided in its way as the state Board of Education in Texas two years ago insisting that middle-school textbooks define marriage as the "lifelong union between a husband and wife," which, aside from its anti-gay slant, chose to ignore the existence of divorce.

California already has among the strongest social studies curriculums in the nation and is considered a model for its balanced and comprehensive approach to history lessons. The state also has an 18-member curriculum commission -- made up of educators, subject experts and even a couple of politicians -- that sets standards for textbooks and reviews them before they're adopted by the state school board. The commission makes mistakes, but the process it follows is thoughtful and deliberate

The commission should be allowed to do its job without interference from legislators. And Kuehl should return to the kind of worthwhile legislation, on such issues as family leave, for which she is justly known.

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