Sunday, July 17, 2011

Interest Group Flattery vs. History

Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill making California the first state in the U.S. to require lessons about gays and lesbians in public schools. The Democratic-majority Legislature recently passed the bill requiring public schools to include the contributions of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in social studies curriculum.

"History should be honest," the governor said in a statement Thursday. "This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books."

California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.

Revisionist history certainly has a rightful place in correcting the distortions imposed by orthodox historians. Here, for example, is an excerpt from widely accepted U.S. history about half a century back, before "political correctness" forced its dogma of racial equality upon us:

"God wanted the white people to live alone. And He wanted colored people to live alone. . . . The white man has always been kind to the Negro . . . Negro people like to live by themselves. Negroes use their own bathrooms. They do not use white people's bathrooms."

No sane person would want to see racist narratives like this restored to a respected place in U.S. history textbooks, which is not to say that the problem of racial bias has been completely overcome in our nation's public school curriculum. Far from it.

So Governor Brown is right, history SHOULD BE honest. But when will the state approve curriculum depicting the U.S. role in overthrowing democratically elected governments, assassinating foreign leaders, and supporting the bloodiest forms of authoritarian rule - all in the name of "democracy"? If the word "never" is on the tip of your tongue, ask yourself how committed the state can ever really be to honest history. Not very.

Still, slightly less dishonest history is better than nothing, IF that's what we end up with.

Heterosexists are already asking why sexual orientation needs to be brought into school in any subject other than sex education. They keep their sex lives private, or so they claim, and they don't care to watch others "flaunt" what they do or don't like in the sack, and certainly don't have any interest in knowing what various historical figures did in bed. In short, sex is as private as anything can be, and should be kept that way.

Of course, this is perfect nonsense. Heterosexuality is the only sexuality considered "normal," and it is constantly glorified, especially in advertising and marketing, which consumes trillions of dollars a year in the United States. A woman's value is relentlessly portrayed as residing exclusively in her physical attractiveness and her willingness to go to bed with men. Sexuality private? You've got to be kidding.

Furthermore, sexuality is hardly confined just to the bedroom, nor does the new law call for discussing what people do in bed. It calls for recognizing the contributions of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered, presumably OUTSIDE of the bedroom.

One could, of course, argue that sexual orientation is a purely personal characteristic of no more significance than hair or eye color, and therefore undeserving of a place in the curriculum. But that stance is difficult to square with the longstanding denigration and hatred of sexual minorities. If it's simply a personal matter, why does it engender such frenzied insecurity?

It is the oppression of minorities that makes their history far more than merely personal. But if gays and other sexual minorities are never explicitly mentioned, how can students learn about the SOCIAL issue of sexual stigmatization?

Any member of a sexual minority has to deal with the widespread presumption of their deviance in the bedroom, so it's not true to say that one's sexual identity has nothing to do with what one does or doesn't do elsewhere. In the case of demonized minorities, it has everything to do with their behavior everywhere, because the dominant society's rejection of them always calls for a reaction. If the full range of consensual human sexuality were warmly embraced, it might be possible to treat sexual identity as a merely personal matter, but we're obviously a long way from realizing this ideal, so we should get used to the LGBT community "flaunting" its differentness. There is no other way for them to survive.

Should historical treatments extend beyond the issue of stigmatization? This is more problematic, and is likely to usher in an absurdly kaleidoscopic chaos of identity group flattery. This might be marginally better than what is being taught now, but it will still be a long way from the honest history Governor Brown says should be the rule.

Until we can honestly depict the NEGATIVE contributions we have made to history - war, propaganda, exploitation, robbery, etc. - our school textbooks will be more mythological than historical.


"Marin educators offer mixed reaction to landmark gay education law," Marin Independent Journal, July 14, 2011

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