San Francisco school board to change its reading list Curriculum to include racial, sexual minorities

March 21, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SAN FRANCISCO -- Confronted by hundreds of angry students, teachers and parents demanding that the school curriculum be diversified, the school board voted unanimously to require that nonwhite authors be taught in the city's high schools.

"We are now the first district in the nation to require the reading of nonwhite authors," said school board member Jill Wynns. "We also voted for a requirement that writers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender be identified."

The compromise decision -- crafted during the raucous five-hour meeting Thursday night -- watered down a controversial proposal to require that more than 50 percent of the books read by high school students be written by nonwhite authors.

The book quota, described by its detractors as "literary apartheid," was proposed by the board's two black members a month ago, catapulting the city's schools into the national spotlight. But after weeks of controversy, the board softened the original proposal and adopted a resolution requiring that authors of diverse race, ethnicity and sexual orientation be taught in ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade classrooms. The requirement fell short of setting a quota.

Currently, such authors are included in recommended reading lists, but until this week the only three required works were "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer, and "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare. The district no longer requires specific titles.

Twelfth-graders are exempt from the requirement -- for now -- because they study British and European literature in their senior year. But the district staff was ordered to investigate ways to diversify the senior reading list and told to report back in two months.

Of the district's 19,823 high school students, 29 percent are of Chinese descent, 19 percent are Latino, 15 percent are black, 13 percent are white, 8 percent are Filipino and the remainder are of ethnicities that range from Arabic and Korean to American Indian and Samoan.

The only special interest left out of the new reading requirement was "gender equity," Wynns said. And she would have pushed to include a mandate for female writers, she said, but "it seems to me that as the curriculum becomes more contemporary, it becomes more filled with women."

Opponents of the proposal called it blatant racism, charging that it valued ethnicity over excellence and denigrated the expertise and judgment of San Francisco's teachers. It was likened to the Oakland schools' short-lived but controversial flirtation with Ebonics, the idea that many black students spoke a unique dialect and should be instructed in that dialect.

Its proponents argued the need to open up the literary canon to women and men of color, because minority children are left cold by the words, as many said Thursday, "of dead white men."

Pub Date: 3/21/98

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