California Educator

April 2016

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California's first gay rights high school class By SHERRY POSNICK- GOODWIN In Lyndsey's words: I love teaching this class because… I'm learning about things I didn't know before. I'm getting to talk about things that haven't traditionally been taught in schools before. I like the fact that for some of my students, it's an opportunity to learn their own history and see themselves reflected in their education. It makes school much more relevant. My students learn… that being LGBT doesn't prevent you from being a writer, scientist, or an important member of the community. I invite LGBT role models and activists to visit our class or Skype with them, and students are very engaged and attentive. I hope to see… more schools offering this class. I recently met with someone from the South Bay who's going to start teaching this class. I have talked with teachers and stu- dents from San Francisco, the East Bay, Southern California, Georgia, New York and Texas who want to bring the class to their schools. It's exciting to know that this will be happening in more schools one day, because it will definitely help to make the world a more inclusive place. L Y N D S E Y S C H L A X teaches histor y — but sh e's also making it. She teaches the first public high school course in California on the history of the gay rights movement. Students enrolled in the elective LGBTQ+ studies course learn about the gay rights movement, the AIDS crisis, the lives of les- bian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning activists, the path to legalizing gay marriage, and other historical events — many of which occurred right in their hometown of San Francisco. Schlax, a member of United Educators of San Francisco, began teaching the course at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts just this year. It's been a wonderful experience, she says. e course has received strong support from her district — and lots of media attention. Her course may be optional, but teaching California students about gay his- tory is not. In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making California the first state in the nation to add lessons about gays and lesbians to social studies classes in public school. e goal, says Brown, is to "prohibit discrimination in education and ensure that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books." California public schools do an inadequate job of teaching students about gay and lesbian history, according to a 2014 report from a national panel of LGBTQ+ history scholars led by a Sonoma State University professor. Students enrolled in Schlax's groundbreaking course give it rave reviews. "It's amazing," says one. "I live in the city where so much history happened, and it's insane that I didn't know about things that took place. It's been really eye-opening. e highlight for me was a field trip to the Castro district." A student who identifies as gender neutral was deeply moved to learn about the "lavender scare" — the fear and persecution of gays and lesbians in the 1950s. e student had no idea that such things happened in the past. Some of the students in the class are straight (as is Schlax) and enrolled to deepen their understanding and support of LGBTQ+ friends, their community and family members. ey enjoy Schlax's fresh approach to teaching this topic. Students are issued MP3 players instead of textbooks, and much of the subject matter is presented via podcasts. Schlax encourages students to use primary documents for research about events ranging from World War II discrimina- tion against soldiers (looking at actual discharge papers) to the life of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. It also helps that history is constantly in the making, which makes for lively discussions on current events. Photo by Scott Buschman 16

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