Law requires gay history, but …

California law requires teachers to “provide fair, accurate, inclusive and respectful representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in K-12 history and social studies,” reports Jennifer Modenessi for Bay Area News Group. And the contributions of people with disabilities also must be taught. What does that mean? Nobody’s quite sure.

1860s: Women who fought as men in the Civil War There are over 400 documented cases or women fighting as men in the U.S. Civil War. These are photos of a few of them ©Exclusivepix

Frances Clalin, a mother of three from Illinois, served as Union cavalryman Jack Williams.

When Elizabeth Aracic teaches Civil War history at Orinda’s Miramonte High School, she tells students that some women dressed in men’s clothing to join the fight. A few continued to dress as men after the war was over.

I have to wonder: Is Walt Whitman chopped liver just because he was a gay male with no transgender points. He nursed the war wounded, wrote the easy-to-parse O Captain! My Captain! and was . . . not a factoid.

The state Department of Education is considering updates to its history and social studies framework suggested by a Committee on LGBT History.


“Jack Williams” fought in 18 battles, was wounded three times and taken prisoner.

“Proposals include discussing how frontier conditions during the Gold Rush led men to take on women’s roles, or women to live as men,” writes Modenessi. “Another suggestion is to look at how the Industrial Revolution allowed transplants from farms and small towns to form same-sex relationships in the anonymity of large cities.”

In the Moraga School District, teachers discuss Native American attitudes toward “two-spirit” people — those said to be born with both male and female spirits — in eighth-grade history, says Superintendent Bruce Burns. It’s a two-fer! And mildly interesting.

Seventh-grade students learn about Renaissance artists. Some of the really good ones were gay! (John L’Heureux’s The Medici Boy is all about homosexuality and art in Renaissance Florence, but no teacher will assign it to middle-school kids.)

Is it possible to teach subgroup-inclusive history without trivializing?

Schools must teach gay, disabled history

California’s new law adding gay history to the curriculum also requires teaching the history of disability rights activists, reports Sign On San Diego.

Helen Keller is an icon in the blind and deaf community and, thanks to “The Miracle Worker,” hers is one of the most recognizable names in American history.

But few social studies courses relate the role activist Justin Dart played in passing the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act that has changed the lives of millions of those who are blind, use wheelchairs or cannot hear.

It’s only the gay part that’s controversial, but what I can’t stand are the mentioning mandates. Mention disabled heroes, mention noble gays (“Frank Kameny . . . fired from the Army Map Service because he was gay”),  mention labor leaders (also specified by California law), mention business leaders (added to balance labor), mention women and listed minorities . . . And after all this hagio-trivia, be sure to teach critical thinking.