California Democrats are advancing legislation that would require elementary schools to provide students access to books about radical gender ideology and other progressive causes, an effort to push against the "national Christian white supremacist movement," according to the bill's author.
California assemblyman Corey Jackson, a Democrat, said the legislation "intends to combat the national Christian white supremacist movement, which is aimed to ban books." His bill, which was pushed through committee and will now head to the full legislature, would put a state board in charge of classroom and school library books and texts.
Books about "people of all gender expressions" would be required in every public and charter school, according to the current text of the bill. To remove any potentially inappropriate materials, schools would first have to ask the state’s permission. But certain religious books could be ditched without government approval.
While California’s attempted push back on "book bans" has a ways to go in order to become law, it represents an escalation of Democrats’ nationwide efforts to advance teaching of progressive ideology in schools. In response to growing pushback against their agenda, driven by parents and championed mostly by Republicans, Democrats have tried to portray their opponents as bigoted authoritarians.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) has regularly derided "red state" policies against explicit materials as "book bans" as he has pivoted toward national politics. In late March, Newsom tweeted a photo of himself reading a pile of "banned books," including To Kill a Mocking Bird. The classic Harper Lee novel, about a white lawyer who defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman during the Great Depression, was in fact banned by a number of "blue cities," including Los Angeles.
More recently, President Joe Biden has made opposing "book bans" central to his reelection campaign, even as a majority of Americans back Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's law barring classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for young elementary children.
The California bill would require the state education board to set curriculum guides for school districts that emphasize diversity. The guides would need to include "people of all gender expressions in all types of roles, races, cultures, and religions," as well as representations of labor unions and "the entrepreneur."
In contrast to its push for books on race and gender, the measure would give districts the green light to ditch overtly religious materials, including anything the bill describes as "sectarian" or "denominational" in nature.
Jackson's bill heads for sign-off from the Assembly’s fiscal committee before going to a full floor vote for a hand-off to the Senate. September marks the deadline for passage.
In a sign that the Assembly is aware of the measure’s contentiousness, education committee staff suggested Friday that Jackson axe the provision that would make schools seek state approval before removing books. It is unclear what the measure will look like in its final form.
Jackson, however, framed his proposal in politically charged terms, telling the committee that he wants to address "the radicalization of the Christian faith," which he claimed uses anger and economic uncertainty "to achieve a political objective."
"We must meet this moment of history and make sure we are on the right side of it," he said.
Lance Christensen, the vice president of policy for the California Policy Center, who last year ran as a Republican for state superintendent of schools, spoke against Jackson’s bill and the Democratic lawmaker’s rhetoric.
"It’s shocking to have an author of a bill to make such inflammatory commentary on those who would oppose this bill in good faith," Christensen told the committee. He added that opposing "radical indoctrination does not mean we are all white Christian nationalists" and that Jackson and his fellow Democrats were confusing bookshelf curation with book-banning.
Assembly Education Committee chair Al Muratsuchi (D.) interrupted Christensen and told him to "focus on the merits of the bill."
In Democrat-dominated California, educators and policymakers have intensely focused on instructing children in progressive ideas of race and gender, even as students lag behind in academics. State superintendent Tony Thurmond co-authored a law to train teachers in helping students get sex changes. Thurmond, the California Teachers Association, and the influential LGBT group Equality California earlier this year proposed to make the training mandatory and regular. That bill, AB 5, was also advanced out of committee.
The Department of Education website refers kids to clinics where they can get cross-sex hormones and genital surgeries.
Meanwhile, fewer than half of all fourth graders could read at their grade level last year, and learning losses have been particularly severe among black and poor children after Newsom kept classrooms shuttered longer than any other governor. California has the lowest literacy rate of any state.