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California approves first textbooks under fair representation law

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File: School desks.
Photo by Jonathan/Night Owl City via Flickr Creative Commons
File: School desks.

The State Board of Education has accepted new materials with updated depictions of underrepresented groups, including the LGBT community and religious minorities.

California is the first state in the nation to require that K through 12 students learn about the historical contributions of underrepresented groups, including the LGBT community, the disabled, and religious minorities. These new standards were set forth by the FAIR Education Act passed in 2011. 

Last week, the State Board of Education approved the first textbooks to meet this new criteria, but it wasn't without some controversy.

For the details on the lengthy approval process, Take Two's Josie Huang spoke with Theresa Harrington. She reports on California Education Policy for EdSource

The FAIR Education Act of 2011

People from the LGBT community and other ethnic and religious groups felt that their communities were not being fairly and accurately represented. And also, there was a concern about bullying because people in the LGBT community especially go through a lot of bullying in schools…

So they felt that these kinds of non-heterosexual families are portrayed in textbooks, and if we find out that people like Sally Ride, the first woman in space, was a lesbian, suddenly, these kids will see themselves in these textbooks and other kids in their classes will say, hey, wow, I didn’t know there were all these different contributions being made to our society by people who are LGBT.

South Asian representation

There was a large contingent from the Hindu American Foundation, and they were concerned about some of the depictions of Hinduism and Indian culture. Some of the things that were in the textbooks that were rejected had pictures of cows eating trash, which many people said was very offensive to them. They had depictions of Indian people riding elephants and things that they just felt were somewhat disrespectful.

But then at the last minute, other Southeast Asian people were saying that the Hindus were trying to whitewash the caste system. There were people on both sides of that argument.    

From publisher to classroom

As it comes into California classrooms, it’s going to be very new for school districts. School districts will go through their own adoption processed, and then teachers will have to be trained in how to have these sorts of discussions with their kids. And so I think a lot of people will be watching California to see how that implementation works out.

Quotes edited for clarity and brevity. 

To hear the full interview, click on the media player above. 

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