For three straight days, high school students from multiple schools in Jefferson County, Colorado, have staged walkouts in protest of an ongoing attempt by the JeffCo school board to change the curriculum of American history courses, removing political dissent and instead promoting patriotism and respect for authority.
First of all, I would like to take a moment to laugh out loud at the ridiculous idea of "teaching" teenagers to respect authority. LOL. Alright, let's continue.
The students have taken to the streets with signs and chants, simply asking for a quality education. See, the Jefferson County School Board (with three of the five members being conservative) has proposed instating a committee to review how certain subjects are taught and to make some pretty restrictive changes to the curriculum. Like teachers are really going to love being completely undermined, ignored, and stripped of their power while their classrooms become political battlefields.
The proposed committee intends to start with Advanced Placement US History and elementary health (because it's never too early to teach children that their "no-no parts" are actually God's padlock and key for heaven and can only be unlocked through marriage). The goal of the nine-person panel states, via Westword:
Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.
For those of you who are alarmed by this almost comically criminal attempt to silence the voices of dissent in this country's history, you should be. (As a note, Jefferson County is almost 80% white, 14.3% Hispanic or Latino, and just over 5% any and everything else.) The action taken on the AP US History course is a direct result of the course's inclusion of women and minority history, something that set conservatives across the country completely ablaze. The Republican National Committee deemed the changes:
"radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation's history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects."
Julie Williams, a conservative school board member who proposed this atrocity of a panel, defended herself, telling Chalkbeat Colorado:
"There are things we may not be proud of as Americans," she said. "But we shouldn't be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place. When [the course questions] our American values and leaves out so many of our founding fathers, that's concerning to me."
Aha. Ahahaha. AHAHAHAHAHA WHAT? I am soooo sorry that you're soooo heartbroken that your beautiful innocent children might think that America is not what our national anthem and imperialist military action make it out to be. I'm sorry the reality of history makes you question your values because I have been questioning my values as an American since my family was refused service at a restaurant when I was about 8 (stay, classy Durango restaurant). And on the terrible scale of people being shit-asses to minorities because of that reverence for the greatness of America, that's really not that bad.
Aside from the fact that intentional misinformation, imposed patriotism, and the indoctrination of an economic structure are the three highest merits of a dictatorship that effectively wields propaganda (h/t Jacques Ellul), the obvious attempt to preclude critical theory and apparently critical thinking in general, is just plain foolish. Distinguishing "theories" from "fact," my ass. The fact is, that to delete dissent from American history is to delete American history, particularly the history of minorities and marginalized populations who have had to fight tooth and fucking nail for everything they have in this country.
Forget for a minute that the conception of the US itself was based in dissent, which means theoretically (dammit, there's that pesky theory again) that the revised course would have to somehow skip over the American Goddamn Revolution; let's just suspend that inanity in a bowl of idiot jello.
Dissent in America is largely characterized by an oppressed population standing up for itself. So I guess the school board thinks they need to save their children from defining moments in minority struggles like Nat Turner's rebellion, the Baltimore bank riot, uh the Civil War, the Colorado Labor Wars, (the Columbine Mine Massacre), the Harlem Riot, the Civil Rights Movement, the Occupation of Alcatraz, the Kent State Riots, the Greensboro Massacre, the Rodney King riot, the Occupy Movement, and the riots in Ferguson, TO SAY THE ABSOLUTE LEAST.
So what does that leave us? Well the lovely folks on Twitter have some hilarious answers, imagining how the county intends to rework such important moments in American History with the #JeffCoSchoolBoard History.
Seriously, they may as well rename AP US History "The Koch Brothers Presents America the Beautiful: How White People Made Yesterday's Resources into Tomorrow's Multinational Corporations or: How Minorities Should Just Fucking Learn to Settle For Scraps Already Jeez, Brought to You By Miss USA and THE CONSTITUTION, HAVE U EVEN READ IT BRO, ADAM AND EVE NOT ADAM AND STEVE."
Meanwhile, the College Board, the private company that created Advanced Placement courses, insists the revised curriculum with more in depth analysis of gender, ethnicity, and class identity issues, offers a balanced take on American history and will be sending out some instructions for teachers by the end of the month to help clarify any issues.
Listen, I'm not going to lie. I am pretty invested in this School Board History-Deleting Extravaganza because I attended elementary, middle, and high school in Jefferson County (BEARS EAT TIGERS). I have been reading Facebook updates from friends and former classmates who have returned to JeffCo as teachers, completely exasperated at the vaudevillian production that is the Jefferson County School Board. And as someone who took AP US History, granted way before these awesome changes, it is equal parts heartbreaking and ass backwards that I should consider myself lucky to have had teachers that validated my existence as a minority and a woman while promoting critical thinking.
The mission statement of the panel quoted above looks awfully similar to the language used by the Texas Education Agency in a description of the Texas State Board of Education's operating rules regarding the proposal of resolutions. (By the way, Texas just moved to veto the College Board's changes to the AP US History curriculum and has gone rogue—deciding that their students should simply be taught to state standards.) Anyway, the only primary source of Jefferson County's quote (that I have found) appears to be this BoardDocs PDF—the TEA's version reads:
(4) The board may adopt a resolution expressing an opinion related to instructional materials based on the following criteria:
(A) Instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively without editorial opinion or bias by the authors. Theories should be clearly distinguished from fact and presented in an objective educational manner.
(B) Instructional materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, understanding of the essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for recognized authority, and respect for individual rights. The materials should not include selections or works that encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law. Violence, if it appears, should be treated in the context of its cause and consequence. It should not appear for reasons of unwholesome excitement or sensationalism.
(i) Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.
(ii) When significant political or social movements in history generate no clear consensus, instructional materials should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.
And that language was based on another provision regarding textbook requirements that appears to have been dropped back in 1995. Either way, Jefferson County intends to change the AP US History curriculum according to these guidelines.
Image via Getty.