Monday, May 29, 2006

We're Here, We're Queer, And We're Perfect

Kudos go to David Link for his column of the same name in Reason magazine where he points out some of the pitfalls of having politically correct legislation ruling the state-wide educational curriculum.

The column is about SB1437 which recently passed the California Senate (and which Governor Schwarzenegger has promised to veto). It adds "sexual orientation" to a long list of politically-protected classes—in this case an existing law prohibiting textbooks and other instructional material from containing "material adverse to persons" based on their race, color, creed, and etc, and etc. The measure, sponsored by "out" lesbian Senator Sheila Kuehl (D), has attracted national attention because California represents about 12 percent of the nation's textbook market.
more . . .

I am certainly supportive of textbooks in our monopoly public schools being relatively unbiased—an impossible task since bias is in the eyes of the beholder. However, there has to be something wrong with a law that prohibits history books from being just that: How can they be unbiased if "adverse material" is prohibited? As is often the case, we have the unintended consequences of a law passed with the best of intentions instead creating a whitewashed curriculum and a politically-correct version of history. I shudder to think of how the textbook authors might comply with this law; which gays and lesbians they would pick to shower with praise, just as the roles of minor figures in history that are black, women, or hispanic are sometimes blown out-of-proportion today. Won't we be able to say anything bad about Roy Cohn?

On the other hand, it does sting a bit that our governor doesn't think that we rank up there with blacks, hispanics, Jews, Quakers, foreigners, cripples, women, and the other dregs protected elements of society.

As Libertarians will point out, if we had real choice in schools, these curricula disputes—whether gay-inclusive in California or evolution-exclusive in Kansas—would not take on the monumental standing they do. This microscopic examination of every textbook by polarized political factions is amplified when decisions are made at the state level instead of by teachers and local school boards.

Even further de-centralization of these decisions would encourage a yet more civil society. If parents had realistic and economically feasible alternatives to the public schools, there needn't be such intense battles in our state capitols or even our local school boards. Unfortunately, most parents cannot pay for their children's education once via taxes and then pay again for tuition at alternative private schools with curricula more to the parents liking, a situation that must be addressed by any Libertarian solution to education.