California governor Gavin Newsom often rails against Republican "book bans" and touts his state as an alternative model of educational "freedom." But the Golden State forces students and parents to study the same far-left materials that some "red states" restrict.
Newsom claims his policies differentiate California from states like Florida and Texas, where "education is under assault in ways that I’ve never experienced in my lifetime." He urges residents of the conservative states to "join us in California, where we still believe in freedom."
Under Newsom, however, California requires schools to teach progressive takes on gender, sexuality, and race—sometimes in graphic ways. The governor this week warned school district officials not to remove materials they deem inappropriate no matter what parents say. Violators, he warned, face investigation by the state justice department.
Explained Lance Izumi, the senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute: "When you mandate something, you also ban other points of view, especially when schools adopt very radical types of curriculum."
Here are some of the K-12 school materials Newsom's California requires in the name of freedom.
In 2011, California became the first state to legally require schools to feature gay, bisexual, and transgender role models in history-social science courses. The state guidelines call for second-grade lessons on family to include LGBT parents and 11th-grade World War II studies to emphasize discrimination against gay soldiers. High schoolers should also learn about Gay Liberation Front activists, drag icon Jose Sarria and sexologist Alfred Kinsey, who conducted friendly research with pedophiles and dismissed the harms of rape, according to the state of California.
Since 2017, California must approve all kindergarten-through-eighth grade history-social sciences textbooks and materials to ensure they include mandated material.
One first-grade textbook that the state deems compliant features Newsom as an LGBT icon because he illegally issued same-sex marriage licenses as mayor of San Francisco. The Sacramento Bee reported in 2018 that local school children were studying Newsom, who was then running for governor, alongside the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and Martin Luther King Jr.
A 2016 California law requires the state's public middle and high schools to provide "comprehensive" sexual education, including instruction on gender identity and homosexuality.
"Students will explore and discover their identities, gender expression, and sexuality throughout their education and into and beyond their high school years," the state guidelines say.
In terms of gender and sexuality, using gender-neutral language and not promoting gender stereotypes can help in creating an inclusive classroom. Gender-neutral pronouns include the singular form of "they/them/theirs." When referring to relationships, use the term "partner" or "significant other." Using gender-neutral language helps avoid incorrect assumptions based on personal biases, student appearance, or possible lack of awareness.
Kindergarten teachers are instructed to "Discuss gender with kindergartners by exploring gender stereotypes and asking open-ended questions, such as what are preferred colors, toys, and activities for boys/girls, and then challenging stereotypes if presented."
The guidelines also advise kindergartens to bring in guest speakers who are transgender or otherwise defy "traditional stereotypes" to "serve as role models and myth busters" for the children. By third grade, "teachers can introduce the concept that gender does not always match the sexual and reproductive organs described," the state says.
Under a 2021 California law signed by Newsom, all public high school students must take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate. The six "values and principles" of the curriculum include: "Critique empire building in history and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, and other forms of power and oppression," and "build new possibilities for a post-racist, post-systemic-racism society."
Sample ethnic studies lessons provide instruction on Black Lives Matter activists, police brutality, and Latino studies focused on oppression. Early versions of the model curriculum were even more progressive, but under pressure from Jewish groups, characterizations of Zionism as repression were toned down before the model was adopted in 2021.
California's list of recommended books—which informs what ends up in libraries and classrooms—includes texts that tell children there are many genders they can choose from.
Julian Is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, is recommended for preschoolers and follows a boy named Julian who dreams of dressing up like a beautiful woman but worries about what his grandmother will think. It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, by Theresa Thorn, recommended starting in kindergarten, tells kids they may be gender "nonbinary" if they feel like neither a boy or a girl, or that they may be both boy and girl or transgender.
When it comes to the fraught issue of race in America, California recommends Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi for children kindergarten-aged and older. The picture books teach kids not to ignore race but instead to "use your words to talk about race" and to "confess to racist ideas."
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Kendi and Jason Reynolds, recommended for students as young as age 14, states, "From the beginning racist ideas have been stamped into the United States—into the Constitution, laws, policies, practices and beliefs of segregationists and assimilationists." "And you dear reader?" the authors ask. "Do you want to be a segregationist (a hater), an assimilationist (a coward), or an antiracist (someone who truly loves)?"
The book also cautions against using words like "blackmail" and "blacklist" because they "support the idea that black is negative."
Backlash to the requirements
While California is one of the nation's most liberal states, not everyone feels included by its far-left education policies.
As California rolled out its LGBT sex-ed program in 2019, hundreds of parents protested outside local education offices in 46 out of the state's 58 counties. The protesters held signs that read, "Educate, Not Indoctrinate," and, "It's 2019, do you know what your kids are learning?"
A group of students and teachers in 2020 settled a lawsuit against California for the state's failure to teach children how to read proficiently. Now, about half of third graders and about two-thirds of black and Latino third graders still can't read at grade level. The state agreed to pay $53 million to its lowest-performing elementary schools.
In 2021, Democratic legislators killed a Republican bill to require schools to post sex-ed course materials online so that parents could see what their kids are learning.
Last year, Newsom posed with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird and other novels, tweeting, "Reading some banned books to figure out what these states are so afraid of." Contrary to widespread claims, the classic novel was not banned in Florida. The book was, however, removed from several-Democrat dominated school districts, including one near Los Angeles.
Newsom's office did not respond to a request for comment.