Dictating the right history is still wrong.

July 17, 2011

The California legislature gets an A+ for intentions. They decided gays, lesbians and transgender individuals are under-represented if not completely ignored by their history textbooks and they were going to do something about. For what its worth I agree the struggle for gay rights and individuals who’ve been part of that struggle is worthy of historical examination and is probably not given the due it should be in history texts (I say probably because its been awhile since I’ve read one).

That being said I vehemently oppose the idea of legislatures mandating curriculum even when the intentions are as noble as they are in this case.

You think its good to protect gay people’s rights? sure, so do i but this has nothing to do with their rights.

You think its good for the legislature to advance this great cause? well then you’re also OK when the conservatives decide to do the same thing and dictate the teaching of intelligent design or banning the teaching of anything to do with gays, gay culture etc. One need only look to the texas school board who had no historians, teachers, etc on it, and decided Thomas Jefferson wasn’t that important, capitalism doesn’t sound as good as “free-market system”, Jefferson Davis should be studied right alongside Lincoln, and hip hop is not culturally relevant.
The legislatures job is to ensure its citizens have equal rights, its to ensure students have the opportunity for education, it is NOT to dictate what is part of that education it is NOT to tell people what they should think or believe. They should absolutely make laws to ensure those rights are protected and if it takes the national guard to enforce those rights like was needed to protect african-american school childrens access to education then call them out. However then its time for them to rely on the experts to make the judgement about how to teach and what is important to teach in the math, science and history classroom.

So how should these important accomplishments find their way into the history books, who should decide whats taught?

Ideally these accomplishments should find their way into history books the same way Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr did — historians who write the books eventually decide their accomplishments were significant enough to warrant inclusion. Just like we trust mathematicians to set the math curriculum why wouldn’t we allow historians to do the same for history class?

Historians are biased and historians certainly aren’t always right but wouldn’t you take their judgment over that of a politician? You know, historians, the ones that have degrees in the subject, who have studied and devoted their lives to it, ones who have collaborated with other colleagues to further their understanding of a subject; well I’m going to take their consensus of whats historically important over yours or a legislatures any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I have to believe a historian is going to look at the inclusion of ballot initiatives in states across the country against gay marriage, look at Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being a major issue in the 2010 lame duck session and are going to include them in future text books. Thus making the California law somewhat irrelevant anyway.  I have to believe a diligent historian is going to read the writings of gay people, anti-gay people and others to get a more complete picture of how the issues of the day were seen. They will NOT simply find a gay person to write the chapter unless that gay person was also a fellow historian who they are collaborating with. Otherwise it would not only be biased but not uninformed and being well informed is most important.

Will this make it perfect? Nope. As i said historians are biased and aren’t always right. Even when they try to be unbiased and work as hard as possible to get it right there’s always going to be a different part of the story that goes untold.

However even a cursory examination of history will show when legislatures, politicians, churches and other non-historians are left to tell the story it is one that is exclusive, MORE biased and MORE inaccurate. It is one that likely to suppress facts rather then work to get as close to the true story as possible.

So while this decision may be a rare instance of moving towards inclusion I’d rather the legislature just stay out the history making altogether… that is to say unless they do something significant enough for the historians to put them in it.

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