This week students in Jefferson County, Colorado, staged protests over changes to the United States History Curriculum proposed by the School Board. According to The Denver Post, the recently elected board is seeking to promote the “positive aspects” of the nation’s history while deemphasizing “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
Here is the stipulation causing the outrage, which calls for a review committee to oversee and report on the United States History Curriculum:
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.
Protesting students and teachers are criticizing the proposal as an attempt to whitewash history. They have also taken to Twitter, using #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory to poke fun at the implications of the new proposal (my personal favorite: “Roe vs. Wade was about the best way to cross a river”). Instead, the students are demanding a more complete story of American history, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Of course, concerns about political influences in education are nothing new. Last year I particularly liked the frantic claims that Common Core was indoctrinating a generation of Communists or Nazis.
But events like the protests in Colorado raise important questions about the nature of history education and the role political ideologies should play in school curricula. The United States isn’t perfect (I’m Cherokee, I should know), and in an ideal world, why shouldn’t students be exposed to the complete story of American History (or world, European, etc.)?
I understand the desire of the School Board to emphasize what makes America great, and I think it is important to encourage patriotism and national pride. But is it not just as important, if not more so, to promote civic responsibility? Rather than telling their students that America is the best, or America is the devil, shouldn’t we be able to count on teachers to lay the cards on the table and teach their students to form their own opinions based on facts and informed interpretation?
In middle school history I remember having to debate from the Southern perspective on why slavery was a good thing; in high school I had to write an essay on why George Washington was a lousy military commander. At Notre Dame I attended a heated discussion by two scholars (both priests, adding an extra element of intrigue) who debated whether dropping the atomic bombs on Japan was the right decision. All three were valuable exercises in considering alternative arguments and respecting historical viewpoints in context. Not everyone is going to grow up to study history, but shouldn’t everyone be able to consider both sides of an argument and form an informed opinion on their own?
Am I being too idealistic? Is it possible for educators and administrators to leave politics at the door? The Denver Post recently reported that the School Board is revisiting their proposed changes, so while perhaps there is hope, this remains an ongoing issue that cannot be ignored.
This might be a divisive issue. But to conclude, can we all agree that it is a pleasant surprise that there are high school students who actually care about history?