California teachers have a rough road ahead. Mandated by new laws to teach about LGBT people in history classes, teachers are uncertain about how to plug the new information into tight curriculum. And they have to do it by January. I sympathize with them. From a gay teacher perspective, let me tell you what I would do.
The problems at the outset:
1. Teach the teachers. Just as teachers were taught history, literature, math, etc., asking them suddenly to know things they were never taught in schools is asking a lot. My first step if I were a principal of a school is to have a Teacher-Training day where you bring in an expert on LGBT history or LGBT information in general. Even us gays don’t know our history well–because it’s been hidden. But teaching the teachers about our history is the most important first step. Until THEY see how prominent gay and lesbians have been in history, they won’t be able to teach it.
A good start is Michael Bronski’s A Queer History of the United States, which addresses everything from pre-first contact with North America, on through the history of the US. It just gives a few brushstrokes of color to a queer history that had been erased.
2. Awkward to talk about heterosexual and homosexual people in history class. I rarely had a history course where ANYTHING was known about sexual orientation. No one talked about historical figures dating, or marrying. Most of the founding fathers, as far as we knew, were single and devoted to politics… no one bothered talking about who they slept with, because, frankly, it didn’t matter. Will teachers be required to emphasize that George Washington was “straight” or that he had a wife? I don’t know, but it’s awkward to just label people’s sexual orientation.
3. Time. I can’t imagine that a comprehensive curriculum will be developed for you that will include all of California and US history with its gay members polished up and shiny by January. Don’t worry right now about having to plug a litte bit of gay in every history lesson. No gay person expects that all will be suddenly be apparent–that every gay will be uncovered.
4. The importance of teaching it. The best quote I ever read about the importance of teaching LGBT history in schools was this one:
“Within the typical secondary school curriculum, homosexuals do not exist. They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations. The lesson to the heterosexual student is abundantly clear: homosexuals do nothing of consequence. To the homosexual student, the message has even greater power: no one who has ever felt as you do has done anything worth mentioning.” -Gerald Unks, editor, The Gay Teen, p. 5.
It’s for this reason, that I think just putting a little LGBT into your curriculum is worth so much.
Because it’s an easy framework, and not a heavy re-writing of current curriculum, I’m going to suggest Hidden Histories as a way to bridge the interim until you get more curriculum.