Theresa Harrington / EdSource
Hundreds of people lined up outside the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday to speak about new history social science textbooks.

After hours of testimony, the state Board of Education Thursday rejected two history textbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, but approved 10 others based on new history social sciences guidelines.

Following nearly eight hours of emotional pleas from Hindus and Indian American, as well as advocates for the LGBTQ community requesting fair historical representations in K-8 textbooks, the state Board of Education endorsed the recommendations of an advisory panel.

When Board President Mike Kirst declared the public hearing closed after about 500 people spoke, he said: “That was the longest in the history of the state Board of Education.”

But that wasn’t the only historical moment. The board also said it was making history by approving new textbooks they expect to be models for other states across the nation — for their new content related to diverse populations as well as for robust lessons in civic engagement.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is get more people engaged in civic participation — and we certainly had a lot today,” Kirst said, calling the meeting “in some ways a model” of the types of opportunities that they are encouraging for people’s voices to be heard.

The vote marked the first time textbooks were adopted in the state under the FAIR Education Act, passed in 2011, which required California’s history-social sciences texts to provide fair, accurate, inclusive and respectful representations of people with disabilities and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In addition, texts are also required to portray people from different backgrounds and religions fairly and accurately based on “social content” regulations.

The state board agreed with recommendations of its Instructional Quality Commission to reject the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt texts because the volume of corrections needed would amount to “rewrites,” which are not allowed in the state’s process. The board also agreed with the commission’s recommendations to approve K-8 texts by National Geographic, McGraw-Hill, Pearson and other publishers, saying they adhered to the new History-Social Sciences Framework adopted by the board last year.

Several speakers from the LGBTQ community, along with hundreds of speakers from the Hindu and Indian American communities expressed objections to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt texts for “adverse reflections.” But a spokesman for the publisher urged the board to recommend the middle school text, saying most corrections were minor. He did not address the K-6 text.

Ted Levine, CEO of  Kids Discover, which partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on the texts, asked the board to adopt the K-6 text, saying his company had worked tirelessly on the materials.

“The public commentary that has been voiced over the last several months forces a company like mine to look at itself in the mirror, to pay close and special attention to the sentences we have written, the images we have chosen, and the art we have created to promote inclusion and support communities across California,” he said. “I stand before you to say that you have been heard, and that adjustments have been made to the program, within the parameters and procedures that the state affords us, that ensures that our program is in full compliance with the California Education Code and state framework.”

Carolyn Laub of the FAIR Act Implementation Coalition that reviewed the books praised the process.

“We are now poised to make history” by approving the first textbooks highlighting LGBT contributions in the nation,” she said, adding that her group supported the commission’s recommendation to reject the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt texts. “Your historic decision today will ensure that only adopted materials ensure a full and accurate account of LGBT people in history.”

No one spoke against the LGBT references, but several people submitted written comments opposing the inclusion of the sexual orientation of historical figures.

Districts are free to choose their own materials, but they must also ensure they teach history and social science according to the new guidelines. Some speakers said they would next approach their local school district boards to ensure that materials meet the needs of their children.

Several speakers expressed reservations about National Geographic and McGraw-Hill texts, but said that if recent corrections submitted were included in the final versions of the texts, they would support them. Many of these suggested edits were accepted by the publishers, who will have 60 days to make their revisions before finalizing the texts, said Stephanie Gregson, executive director Instructional Quality Commission, adding that the corrected versions should be done by January or February.

Although many members of the Hindu community have participated in the instructional review process for months, some Indian Americans and academics from a group called South Asian Histories For All, or SAHFA spoke against some of the changes made to reflect Hindus in a more positive light, saying the caste system is “alive and well” and that many members of lower castes are still persecuted.

But other Hindu speakers disputed that and criticized the SAHFA group for not getting involved in the process sooner. Some lawyers in the SAHFA group threatened litigation if the board didn’t postpone its vote, saying the state was not adhering as closely to its framework as it should.

Before adopting the texts, board members acknowledged that differences of opinion about history remain, but said it’s up to teachers to allow students to debate their types of issues.

“This adoption is different because it’s a personal history — it’s her story, his story, our story,” said board member Patricia Rucker. “This does not resolve the conflicts that many people feel are inherent in our history or history-social science. The purpose of our adoption is not to solve all family problems.”

She and other board members thanked the members of the public and advocacy groups for their input, which they said improved the final texts.

“I feel the California Department of Education and thousands of members of the public have really made a profound and positive difference in the materials,” said  board member Nicki Sandoval, who was liaison to the review process, along with Rucker. “Stakeholders, thank you for using your strong and loud voices, which informed the process, and your agile minds” to ensure “we’re fulfilling our responsibility to provide materials that are inclusive, accurate and respectful” and that will “help to build key understandings for young people” and ultimately to improve school climate and “foster a stronger sense of social responsibility.”

Board member Ilene Straus said this was only the first step in improving classroom history social science instruction.

“We have a commitment that teachers will get the training they need to understand these issues and that districts will,” she said. “So, this process is not over at all.”

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  1. Rachel Rich 1 week ago1 week ago

    At our Oregon State Board meeting, Chinese Americans pointed out that our textbooks carry no references to the Chinese role in building US railways. It’s also appalling that our state had Japanese internment camps, yet a popular textbook only devotes a paragraph to the subject. It’s about time we remedy this.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 week ago1 week ago

      Rachel, The California History and Social Studies Frameworks, which publishers should use as the basis for writing textbooks, delve into considerable detail both of the subjects you mention. This, for example, is in the frameworks for 4th grade framework for teaching about California history: Students analyze contributions of Chinese and Japanese laborers in the building of early California’s mining, agricultural and industrial economy and consider the impact of various anti-Asian exclusion movements. Hostilities toward the … Read More

      Rachel, The California History and Social Studies Frameworks, which publishers should use as the basis for writing textbooks, delve into considerable detail both of the subjects you mention. This, for example, is in the frameworks for 4th grade framework for teaching about California history:
      Students analyze contributions of Chinese and Japanese laborers in the building of early California’s mining, agricultural and industrial economy and consider the impact of various anti-Asian exclusion movements. Hostilities toward the large Chinese labor force in California grew during the 1870s leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and future laws to segregate Asian Americans and regulate and further restrict Asian immigration. The Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1907, singling out Japanese immigrants, further limited Asian admissions to the United States. Students examine the various ways that Asian Americans resisted segregation and exclusion while struggling to build a home and identity for themselves in California. In explaining a charged and sensitive topic like exclusion, teachers should emphasize the importance of perspective and historical context. Using multiple primary sources in which students investigate questions of historical significance can both engage students and deepen their understanding of a difficult and complex issue.

      The State Board does not vet high school textbooks, but this is from the 11th grade U.S. history framework:
      But wartime racial discrimination went beyond military segregation. Los Angeles Mexicans and Mexican Americans found themselves under violent attack during the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, when the police allowed white Angelenos and servicemen to rampage against them. In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the relocation and internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans and “resident aliens” living within 60 miles of the west coast, and stretching inland into Arizona, on grounds of national security. The order violated their constitutional and human rights, but the Supreme Court, in a decision heavily criticized today, upheld its implementation in Korematsu v. United States, arguing that, “… when under conditions of modern warfare our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger.”
      In addition, many persons of Italian and German origin who were in the United States when World War II began were classified as “enemy aliens” under the Enemy Alien Control Program and had their rights restricted, including thousands who were interned. The racial distinction in the application of these policies is clear in the fact that unlike the Italians and Germans who were interned, over 60 percent of those with Japanese ancestry were American citizens. Japanese Americans lost personal property, businesses, farms, and homes as a result of their forced removal. After many years of campaigning for redress, Congress in 1988 apologized for Japanese internment and allocated compensation funds for survivors. Only What We Could Carry, edited by Lawson Inada, is a particularly good source for firsthand accounts of the Japanese American experience during WWII, including oral histories of servicemen.

  2. FloydThursby 1 week ago1 week ago

    Considering the LGBTQ movement was virtually nonexistent before 1969 and Indian Americans were less than 1% of the U.S. before 2000, of course this should be our priority. Are we really trying to teach kids to understand history and society the way it really was at certain times in history, or is there a political agenda? Further villainization of the straight white male father figure? If we could go back to the … Read More

    Considering the LGBTQ movement was virtually nonexistent before 1969 and Indian Americans were less than 1% of the U.S. before 2000, of course this should be our priority. Are we really trying to teach kids to understand history and society the way it really was at certain times in history, or is there a political agenda? Further villainization of the straight white male father figure? If we could go back to the divorce rate we had when now maligned ‘Leave it to Beaver’ was on TV, the average test scores would be far higher for all groups.
    Let’s focus on test scores, not agendas.

  3. Mubeen 1 week ago1 week ago

    It is unfortunate that Americans think of Indians as nomads who worship cows, drink cow urine and worship shiva linga despite Hindus making great contributions to the American economy since last 25 plus years. These misconceptions should come to end.

  4. Ram Kesari 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Hiduism is about Spirituality. Far above Religion. Others don't understand. Gita tells you about how human beings should live. Hinduism is more than 10,000 years old. If some one refuses it, it's like refusing one's own great great great great grandmother. Hinduism never advocated or practiced terrorism as every one knows.Why Hinduphobic? What and why are these guys scared? About what? About its greatness obviously. It's like spitting on moon. It falls on them. Hindus don't hate anyone. … Read More

    Hiduism is about Spirituality.
    Far above Religion.
    Others don’t understand.
    Gita tells you about how human beings should live.

    Hinduism is more than 10,000 years old.
    If some one refuses it, it’s like refusing one’s own great great great great grandmother. Hinduism never advocated or practiced terrorism as every one knows.Why Hinduphobic? What and why are these guys scared? About what? About its greatness obviously. It’s like spitting on moon. It falls on them.
    Hindus don’t hate anyone. This wish every one should live in peace and happiness.

  5. Rangaesh gadasalli 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Congratulations to all who worked hard to educate the textbook authorities to make changes. India is no longer a colony of Britain, and let us follow what Indian text books write about Indian history. How do you like other nations projecting USA as a nation in most demeaning way? Let 1.3 billion people in a democracy decide what goes in books about India.