LGBTQ+ school curricula bill needs to be handled responsibly (Opinion)
Effective at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, New Jersey will become the second state to require high school and middle school teachers to include historical contributions of notable LGBTQ+ people and disabled people throughout history in their curriculum. California was the first state to take on this initiative back in 2016.
On the surface this is incredible news. Public school students who may be closeted and apprehensive about coming out will no doubt feel the biggest impact of this bill. Perhaps giving these kids hope and confidence that they can live their lives the way they want and still leave quite an impression on this thing we call Earth. For students who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community, this offers an opportunity to have homosexuality or transgenderism normalized for them at an early age. This is an unbelievable step forward! As far as we have come with LGBTQ+ acceptance, there is still a "boogeyman" aspect to the concepts of gay and transgender people in certain households and various parts of the country, including right here in New Jersey.
This bill is not perfect, however, but not because of what is included in it. My biggest gripe is what is excluded. The bill is incredibly vague.
BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. A board of education shall include instruction on the, political, economic, and social contributions of persons with, disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, in an, appropriate place in the curriculum of middle school and high, school students as part of the district’s implementation of the, New Jersey Student Learning Standards [in Social Studies]
2. A board of education shall have policies and procedures in place pertaining to the selection of instructional materials to implement the requirements of section 1 of this act. When adopting instructional materials for use in the schools of the district, a board of education shall [only] adopt inclusive instructional materials [which, in its determination, accurately] that portray the cultural and economic diversity of society including the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, where appropriate.
3. This act shall take effect immediately and shall first apply to the 2020-2021 school year.
That's it. That's the whole bill. Section 2 alludes to policies and procedures that will be put in place pertaining to the selection of instructional materials. But these policies do not yet exist, nor do we know who will be responsible for putting these together. If you're a New Jersey parent, you probably understand when I say leaving this up to members of various NJ boards of education could be a disaster.
Who will monitor how responsible these people are in their quest to come up with LGBTQ-inclusive policies and procedures? Will they seek the guidance of LGBTQ advocates? Will they take this task seriously? And most of all, will they make sure to not put the identity of these notable LGBTQ+ people ahead of their actual accomplishments? For example, simply teaching students that Sally Ride was gay and harping on that fact does far less in terms of educating than discussing her accomplishments and contributions to the worlds of astronomy, physics, and engineering. The two need to go hand and hand. There has always been strong speculation about both Leonardo da Vinci and Alexander the Great being either homosexual or bisexual. Do their alleged sexual identities override teaching their incredible contributions to history? What about the disability aspect of the bill? Will educating students about FDR's disability be a higher priority than how he implemented the New Deal, and how it changed America?
It seems like there will be a lot of cooks in the kitchen, at least at the start of the bill's rollout. Could they be planning on smoothing over the details on the fly? I sure hope so. I believe Phil Murphy's heart is in the right place with this bill, but the administrators and teachers that will be imposing these policies and teaching these lessons will ultimately decide whether or not this initiative will be successful.
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