A Brief Introduction to the FAIR Education Act for Social Studies Educators

By Huss, Damon; Folsoi, Tascha | Social Studies Review, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

A Brief Introduction to the FAIR Education Act for Social Studies Educators


Huss, Damon, Folsoi, Tascha, Social Studies Review


California stands alone as the only U.S. state, so far, to mandate instruction inclusive of LGBT content. The mechanism for this inclusivity is the FAIR Education Act ("FAIR Act"), which stands for fair, accurate, inclusive, and respectful education. The law puts California social studies teaching at the forefront of a broad educational movement toward tolerance and anti-bullying on K-12 campuses

In contrast to the eight U.S. states with laws that restrict teachers and staff from even discussing LGBT issues at school,1 California's FAIR Act affords teachers in the state the latitude to teach about LGBT history; LGBT civil rights and legal issues; and the contributions of LGBT people to American society and politics. The term "latitude" is used here specifically because the plain language of the law does not enumerate specific grade levels, pedagogies, or texts to be used. However, many scholars, nonprofits, advocates, publishers, and the state itself have stepped in over the past six years to offer helpful resources to teachers and school authorities. In this article, we present teachers with a primer on the FAIR Education Act, including an overview of

what the law says and how it influences instruction. We also provide a short list of nonfiction books for young readers to help them increase their own LGBT content knowledge and awareness (though teachers could benefit from reading them, too). Please note that we use the term LGBT, and not the oft-used and even more inclusive initialism LGBTQ,2 as "LGBT" is the term used in the FAIR Act itself.

The Language of the FAIR Act

The FAIR Act amended the California Education Code to secure fairness in the treatment of different groups, including LGBT persons, in social studies instruction (Cal. Ed. Code 51204.5). At the time of its initial passing in the California State Senate as SB 48, then-Interim Executive Director of Equality California Jim Carroll said, "This legislation will ensure all students understand the diversity of our state and its history, and it will foster greater awareness, respect and safer schools for all students" (as cited in Raja, 2011).

It is worth reading the entire amended section in full to get the objectives of the law's approach to social terms): were included in the Framework.

Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.

The FAIR Act also amended the Education Code to broaden anti-discrimination provisions by prohibiting teachers from instructing or school districts from sponsoring activities that "promote a discriminatory bias" against persons based on sexual orientation, as well as race or ethnicity, gender, and other protected classes of people (Cal. Ed. Code 51500). State and governing boards are also prohibited from adopting textbooks and materials that "reflect adversely" upon persons based on sexual orientation (Cal. Ed. Code 51501). In November 2017, the California State Department of Education approved 10 textbooks at the elementary and middle school levels that aim to give fair portrayals of people with disabilities (also covered under the FAIR Act) and LGBT people.

The anti-discrimination clauses also protect all students based on gender identity and gender expression, and not just sexual orientation (Cal. Ed. Code 220). This includes those who are transgender (identifying as the "opposite gender," in binary malefemale terms, of the sex they were assigned at birth) and those who identify in some other way along a "gender spectrum. …

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