By Elliot Owen
Bay Area Reporter
The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, a California law that requires K-12 history and social science classes to include historical contributions of LGBT and disabled people, is still undergoing implementation, but some California teachers are already working to apply the mandate inside the classroom.
Alison Waterman, an Orinda middle school teacher, is one of them. On July 15, Waterman presented a preliminary sixth grade world history lesson plan that integrates FAIR Act requirements, to other California teachers participating in the UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project, or UCBHSSP, a program that bridges K-12 educators with the academy.
When Waterman, a teacher of 20 years, was asked in January to participate in a four-month FAIR Act focus group organized by the Orinda Union School District, she hadn’t yet heard of the act. But over the subsequent months, she developed a lesson plan to be taught under sixth grade’s required ancient Greece unit. Her lesson, titled “Struggles for Justice: Love, War, and Honor in Ancient Greece,” centers the relationship between Achilles, a Greek warrior, and his companion, Patroclus, in Homer’s The Iliad.
Waterman began her presentation at Cal by handing out her lesson plan to UCBHSSP participants. Using excerpts from The Iliad that highlight the dynamic between Achilles and Patrocles, Waterman asked the other teachers to identify how war, love, and honor are exemplified within the specified wartime context, and how those elements illuminate cultural norms around same-sex intimacy.
“Having studied ancient Greece in college,” Waterman told the Bay Area Reporter, “it was obvious to me that the relationship between these two men was not just a friendship. Prior to being involved in the FAIR Act focus group, I felt inhibited in thinking about how to present it to students because I didn’t want to get in trouble.
“During the focus group, it became clear that hiding the fact that these two men loved each other was limiting to the students’ ability to see the realities of life,” she added. “For me, it’s become important to make the students’ first encounter with The Iliad one that opens them up to seeing the values of Greek culture reflected, and also those that we have today.”
Present during Waterman’s lesson was Don Romesburg, gay-identified, and department chair and associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Sonoma State University. Romesburg, who also curates for San Francisco’s GLBT History Museum, led a talk prior to Waterman’s presentation on a report called “Making the Framework FAIR,” where he discussed the report’s proposed revisions to the current California K-12 History-Social Science Framework. The report, sponsored by the Committee on LGBT History, identifies problematic ways the law might be applied, and suggests ways of integrating the new required material into curriculum. In formulating her lesson plan, Waterman applied the suggestions made in the report.
“I appreciate the ways she encourages students to think about how male intimacy works,” Romesburg told the B.A.R., “and the ways in which war, honor, and love open that up. She invites ways to explore those things without sidestepping the possibility that this same-sex relationship could have a powerful romantic tie that superseded that with women. It’s not to say, ‘let’s talk about sex between men in ancient Greece’ but rather ‘how might we think about the idea of love operating between two men in this context?'”
Waterman’s lesson doesn’t “out” Achilles or Patrocles, or depict either as a hero due to their sexual orientation. Instead, the lesson equips students with a new lens through which to more accurately view history – which the report suggests be the framework’s impact.
“The revisions encourages us to think about sexual and gender diversity as culturally-specific,” Romesburg told the UCBHSSP participants. “They aren’t static, but manifest in different ways in relation to other forces. [The report] pushes the framework toward a more nuanced understanding of sexuality and gender, a way to think about sexual and gender identity as fields of power and meaning-making, and asks how they change over time in context, and what their relationship is to today.”
Although the FAIR Act was signed into law July 14, 2011 and went into effect in January 2012, the state did not allocate funds toward its implementation, which meant educators were without direction for compliance. In spring 2013, Romesburg, then co-chair of the Committee on LGBT History, and Carolyn Laub, then executive director of GSA Network, came up with the idea to formulate a strategy to ensure the best implementation possible. Academics in partnership with LGBT advocacy groups produced a finalized report suggesting comprehensive grade-by-grade revisions.
Currently, the California State Board of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission is addressing suggestions that came out of a public comment series on the framework’s revision late last year. In December 2015, the IQC will release a new framework that will undergo another public comment series. The final version is slated for completion March 2016.
Waterman, who plans to apply her new lesson plan by spring 2016 regardless of possible delays in the framework’s process, said she appreciates her school district being proactive about FAIR Act implementation.
“Although it’s a mandate,” she told the B.A.R., “there’s really no enforcement in place. Once the new framework is adopted and textbooks change to come in-line, I think we’ll see more and more classrooms doing things like this, but that’ll take a long time. I appreciate my district being ahead of the curve.”