Capitol Alert

First-grade textbook hails Democrat as ‘champion’ of gay rights. Some say it goes too far

California voters are about to decide whether to keep Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento — in the Governor’s Office.

But just a short distance away, Newsom is appearing in a first grade textbook that critics call propaganda.

The textbook, being tested in the Elk Grove Unified School District, refers to then-San Francisco mayor Newsom’s 2004 decision to order the city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“Gavin said that people could marry who they choose. Sometimes, Gavin helped marry people. Some marriages were not between a man and a woman. He made sure that people’s rights were respected,” the textbook reads in part.

Gavin Newsom textbook
A first grade textbook currently being tested at the Elk Grove Unified School District is drawing criticism from some for hailing Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom as a “champion of people’s rights. Greg Burt

The book labels Newsom a “champion for people’s rights.”

“It looked like the text had been written by the (Newsom) campaign,” said Greg Burt, a parent of a child in the school district and spokesman for the conservative, Fresno-based California Family Council

Burt said he saw the textbook during one of six planned preview sessions being held by the school district between August and December. Parents are invited to visit the school and inspect the materials for themselves.

Burt said he was surprised to see Newsom listed “along with Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King,” whom he said were “universally recognized American figures … (and) not particularly controversial.”

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Newsom’s selection among other figures for inclusion in the textbook stems from California’s FAIR Education Act, which state lawmakers approved and 2011 and went into effect in 2012.

The act called for school textbooks and curricula to be more inclusive of historically underrepresented demographics.

“As a result, California became the first state to specifically mandate study of 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, with emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society,” California Department of Education spokesman Scott Roark wrote in an email statement.

He wrote that part of that process included updating the curriculum to “recognize individuals who were advocates for these groups, including Gavin Newsom’s role in LGBT rights when he served as mayor of San Francisco.”

Roark wrote that the materials mention Newsom’s activism “were developed in late 2016 or early 2017, prior to the gubernatorial race.”

Scott Overland, spokesman for the textbook’s publisher Pearson Press, wrote in an email statement that “Pearson takes many steps to ensure our courseware is accurate, unbiased, and presents a balanced view of the subject matter.”

That includes, he wrote, a review process by a team of expert authors, academics and teachers to ensure that the book is age appropriate and compliant with state law and standards.

“Pearson’s response to these requirements was to offer a wide array of biographies, across the grades, of people who have exemplified the qualities of good citizenship,” Overland wrote.

Gavin Newsom textbook
This is a teacher’s handbook for a proposed first grade textbook that praises Gavin Newsom as a “champion of people’s rights” currently being tested at the Elk Grove Unified School District. Greg Burt

The textbook is currently part of a pilot program at the Elk Grove district, which is testing new materials for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Xanthi Pinkerton, spokeswoman for the school district, said there have been two preview sessions so far. The first one, on Aug. 14, was attended by seven people, the second, on Sept. 10, by 28 people.

“They give us feedback, and then we take that feedback into consideration,” Pinkerton said. “I really don’t have information on the feedback.”

She added that district is still collecting comments, and has until Dec. 14 to compile it and send it to the state. However, Pinkerton said her office hasn’t received many calls about the books, apart from some media calls.

Burt said the textbook “lionizes” Newsom in an inappropriate way, and said that same-sex marriage is not a universally supported institution.

“If you can find me another example where a current candidate is treated like Gavin Newsom in first grade curriculum, I’d like to see it,” he said.

He asked why the book included Newsom but not outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown or former governor and president Ronald Reagan.

“At least Ronald Reagan’s dead,” Burt said.

Pinkerton said “our teachers are well-equipped when it comes to teaching any kind of controversial issues.”

She said that the textbook in question was written with historical context and “through a lens of historical accuracy.”

“In terms of our perspective, it’s something that’s historically factual,” she said.

Pinkerton said the purpose of the curriculum is to expose children to often-neglected perspectives.

“The most important thing is that everybody realizes the big change here is the representation of several groups that have formerly not been included in our history or social science material,” she said.

A representative from Newsom’s campaign declined to comment on this story.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler
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