A textbook case of meddling in California

EditorialsOpinionLaws and LegislationHistoryBarack Obama
California, the nation's capital of legislative interference in textbooks
Think Texas is wacky on textbooks? Check out California

For all the criticism that's (justifiably) leveled at Texas over its right-wing rewrite of its history textbooks, California is surely the nation's capital of legislative interference with what should be the job of academics.

The latest effort comes from Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena). His AB 1912 would pressure the state Board of Education to add the election of Barack Obama to the public school curriculum.

Indeed, only a very weak U.S. history curriculum would omit such a momentous event as the election of the nation's first African American president. But that's not Holden's judgment to make. High-level political interference in the making of curriculum and textbooks is inappropriate, and it has a long and troubled history. This is no less of an interference, though certainly more academically defensible, than if Republican legislators in Texas passed a bill saying that the Obama election should be left out of textbooks there.

Texas already requires textbooks to diminish the role of Thomas Jefferson as a Founding Father for advocating the separation of church and state, and must lend Jefferson Davis' inaugural speech as much significance as that of Abraham Lincoln.

Wow, those wacky Texans. Until you consider that California textbooks — also by order of politicians rather than academics — may not show senior citizens as anything other than fit and active, no matter what the medical and financial realities of aging are. People in poor countries shouldn't be shown as poor, and instruction on AIDS in Africa isn't supposed to reflect poorly on that continent. That's just the beginning of a long list of legislatively imposed rules for what our children should learn, whether the material is accurate or not.

Years ago, California adopted a widely admired history curriculum by having historians develop it, without interference from various interests — ethnic, religious and political — that might have legitimate concerns but that lacked perspective on the long and broad sweep of history. The state recognized that experts, uninfluenced by political ideology, were best suited to make sound academic decisions about which material should be taught and what should be excluded. But politicians appear to have been bent on monkeying with it ever since.

Some of the legislation, including Holden's, has called for the addition of legitimate material. Some, less so. But all of it fails to recognize that decisions about coherent, well-structured curriculum and textbooks should be made by educators and academic experts, not by politicians.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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