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Santa Monica-Malibu School Board Wants More Focus on Ethnic,LGBT Issues
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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 24, 2016 -- Board of Education members say the proposed textbooks for grades nine through 11 in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s (SMMUSD) language arts program are lacking on the ethnic and sexual identity diversity front.

Because of this issue, board members suggested at the meeting last Thursday in Santa Monica that teachers should supplement lessons with additional written material that addresses what is left out of the textbooks from publisher Pearson’s myPerspectives curriculum.

“Kids are going to learn something [from Pearson’s textbooks],” Board member Oscar de la Torre said. “But they’re not learning more than we’ve been learning for the past 50 years. It’s not that engaging.”

He said that he “flipped through” the teacher’s edition of one of the textbooks, and “Latinos show up only once.”

“It’s a story about the Dominican Republic,” de la Torre said. “Mexicans probably don’t show up even once.”

De la Torre said he was disappointed that a section of the textbook on protest is mostly about the civil rights movement of the 1960s and focuses on African-Americans, while excluding LGBT and Latino movements.

Board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein also addressed the LGBT issue.

“In my initial perusal [of the textbooks], there are the narratives on identity, but based on race and ethnicity,” he said. “What I wasn’t able to see at first glance was whether or not there are narratives of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people.”

Ellen Edeburn, SMMUSD’s director of secondary curriculum and instruction, told the board that Pearson also provides an “enormous list of novels,” from which the District hasn’t selected titles yet.

“I would assume that’s where we are going to see recognition of our LGBTQ community, within the novels,” she said.

Pearson’s curriculum was selected by District staff after a process involving teachers and other staff, including the heads of the English departments at the three high schools, as well as surveys.

A description of the myPerspectives curriculum on Pearson’s website says the students will “read classic and contemporary texts that span time periods and cultures.”

It adds that students will “engage in meaningful activities that inspire thoughtful conversation, discussion, and debate.”

The board is expected to approve the adoption of the textbooks at the next meeting on June 2 despite the objections.

Board member Ralph Mechur said teachers should supplement the textbooks with material that could “cover LGBT, cultural ethnic studies, cultural relevancy -- things we feel should be highlighted possibly stronger than they are" in the text books.

Other board members agreed with Mechur’s suggestion.

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