Education Matters: What unites, rather than divides, us

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

I find myself for the second week in a row taking a position that departs, only slightly, from my basic political tendency.

I’m having some difficulty with a new state law, the FAIR Education Act, that will require textbooks created by the California Board of Education to introduce the issue of sexual orientation when teaching American culture.

Existing law currently requires adopting instructional materials by schools that include portrayal of Native American, African-American, Mexican-American, Asian-American, European-American and other ethnic and cultural groups that contributed to the development of California, as well as the United States. The legislation leaves it to local school boards to decide how to implement the added requirement. It does not specify a grade level for the instruction to begin.

Before I state my objection, let me tell you what doesn’t bother me about the new law. I do not consider it an attack on the family, our country’s moral fiber, our cherished beliefs, our religious doctrines, or the innocent minds of our children. I’ll leave those concerns to people who still believe that homosexuality is a disease.

The Traditional Values Coalition said that the measure “molested the minds of children.” Bill O’Reilly, applying his unique spin, claimed on his Fox News show that “if you are a teacher….you’re not going to be able to say bad things about (convicted murderer) Jeffrey Dahmer because he was a ‘gay cannibal.’” And then there is the paranoid hue and cry that fantasizes a “gay agenda,” looking to infiltrate the minds of teachers (like me) to promote a deviant lifestyle and recruit young children into it.

“Satan is at the gates,” wrote one blogger, contemplating the full horror of this development. “Jesus is coming,” wrote another.

How ironic to invoke the name of one whose preachings clearly transcended the earthly limitations that we have placed on “true love,” but I digress.

My objection to the new law is that it is contrary to an avowed, deeply felt and often expressed goal of gays in this country — that they be thought of as human beings first and foremost, with their sexual orientation being only a facet of their personhood, rather than an all-consuming definition of it.

In communities, in the workplace, in marriages and in the military, there has been a consistent plea of inclusion from the gay community (I wonder when we’ll drop the phrase “gay community” and relegate it to the same importance as left-handedness). What I have heard from that community is, “We’re just like you, with one slight difference. Can we get beyond that difference and relate to each other as human beings?”

Who, besides religious wing nuts, can argue with that? It’s really not a very demanding proposition. But still, I would ask, why should a person’s sexual orientation warrant special treatment in our history books — in a sense emphasizing that difference, recognizing a special category of human being, reinforcing the very kind of separateness that gives fuel to bigots and homophobes who stand ready to persecute all deviations from the “norm?”

Let’s do include in our children’s school lessons of tolerance the many struggles of various groups in our country’s history seeking only the guarantees enshrined in our Constitution. I want our children to discuss and debate and deliberate the issues that engage us as people.

I want them to celebrate and proudly hail our accomplishments and our core values. But I want them also to acknowledge our mistakes. Intolerance is as much a part of America’s history as it is of virtually every other country on the face of the earth.

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of trends come and go in the teaching of social studies. The general movement has been toward greater inclusion of all groups that have played a role in our country’s history, and that is how it should be. I just don’t see that a person’s sexual preference merits the kind of treatment prescribed in this new law.

By all means, let’s examine the roots of homophobia in our society and let’s do all that we can to erase prejudice, in all of its varieties and variations, from our children’s minds. I think we can best do that by teaching how we are the same and what unites us, rather than highlighting our differences, which inevitably ends up dividing us.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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