What a struggle over the school history curriculum reveals about California

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No fewer than seven bills that would alter how history is taught are currently before California's legislature. These bills would encourage or force more lessons about Filipino, African and Latin American cultures, American Indians, the "secret war" in Laos, the deportation of Hispanics in the 1930s, the desegregation of Mexican pupils and the Italian contribution to California. All of which would be added to a curriculum that is already a brisk 5,000-year trot from ancient Egypt to contemporary America.

The bills' chances are dim. Although the Democrats who control both houses of the state legislature almost invariably support such measures, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor, has tended to veto them. Yet the real target of this historical barrage may not be the statute book. Next month a group of academics and bureaucrats will begin holding public hearings on an overhaul of the curriculum framework — the first full one since 2001. California is America's biggest education market. Changes made there tend to find their way into classrooms across the country.

Diane Ravitch, who helped write California's curriculum in the 1980s, complains that every group supports every other group's plea for inclusion, resulting in a consensus for including a huge amount of new material. It all sounds like bad news for poor old Rameses II.

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