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Gaps in the lesson plan

This is what happens when school laws are passed for political reasons rather than educational ones. Starting in January, public school teachers from kindergarten on must include some sort of positive message about gay people in their lessons, but as The Times has reported, they have little idea how to comply with the law. What’s more, the state lacks the time or resources to develop lesson plans or a curriculum to help guide them.

It’s appropriate for state lawmakers to ban discrimination in public schools and to require that students not be harassed or tormented. It’s another matter when the Legislature interferes with issues that are properly the jurisdiction of educators and textbook authors.

There is nothing wrong with teaching about people of various sexual orientations and the issues that affect them. But the California curriculum already is rightly criticized for packing in too much information at the expense of delving into subjects more deeply. Decisions about adding new subjects should be made by educators with an overall grasp of how best to structure education in the coming years. For each new subject that enters the school day, legislators should realize, another one has to leave or be given shallower treatment. Politicians, driven in large part by their desire to please one constituency or another, are not the best arbiters of what students should learn.

Meanwhile, what’s a kindergarten teacher to do? The state Board of Education should step in swiftly with interim regulations that provide local school districts with significant flexibility, while also clarifying the minimum requirements so that schools are protected from legal claims that they’re flouting the law.

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During the first several years of school, those requirements should be truly minimal. Young children can learn that there are many different kinds of people and families and that all must be treated respectfully. But too much detail is not necessary at this age.

Beyond that, many schools will need suggestions about where instruction about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people or issues might best fit into the existing curriculum. Such information should be relevant to the subject under study. So where might this schooling be appropriate? In sex education, definitely. (The Los Angeles Unified School District already addresses the issue in its health classes.) In civics classes about the California initiative process, perhaps, where a discussion of Proposition 8 might be germane.

Public schools have been given a poorly crafted, politically motivated mandate. The state board will have to be thoughtful where legislators were not.


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