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Told They Cannot Learn About Social Movements, Colorado Students Take To the Streets

Rightwing tries to ban history of "social strife" in the United States, so students teach them a lesson

Deirdre Fulton

Hundreds of students from high schools across Colorado's Jefferson County school district walked out of classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday this week, protesting attempts by rightwing members of the school board to amp up what they consider the "positive aspects of the United States and its heritage" within the district's history curriculum while minimizing focus on more progressive aspects of history such as people's movements, the history of struggle, and "social strife."

Carrying signs that read, "Don't make history a mystery;" "There is nothing more patriotic than protest;" and "It’s world history, not white history," students came out in opposition to a proposal—since put on hold—that would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans. For example, that plan would look at Advanced Placement history courses to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."

"These people, they’re not interested in balance or compromise. They have a political agenda that they’re intent on pushing through."
—Michael Patterson, JeffCo parent-teacher association

"It's chilling," school board member Lesley Dahlkemper, who has previously clashed with the conservative majority, told the Denver Post. "Does it mean [Jefferson County students] will no longer study the civil rights movement, the Boston Tea Party or women's suffrage?"

A new version of the College Board's AP History course places an increased focus on women and minorities, which some conservatives have charged is "revisionist."

"There are things we may not be proud of as Americans," Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams, who proposed the review committee, told Chalkbeat Colorado. "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."

The student walkouts this week followed "sick-outs" by more than 50 teachers that shut down two high schools last Friday. The teachers were protesting not only the proposed curriculum changes but also a recently approved evaluation-based system for awarding raises. 

According to the New York Times, the teachers’ union "has been in continual conflict with the new board; the board, in turn, has drawn praise from Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, a conservative group affiliated with the Koch family foundations. In April, Dustin Zvonek, the group’s director, wrote in an op-ed that the board’s election was an 'exciting and hopeful moment for the county and the school district.'"

The Times continues:

Almost from the outset, the three conservative newcomers to the five-person board clashed with the two others, and a steady stream of 3-to-2 votes came to represent the sharp divisions on the board and in the community. Critics of the new majority have assailed the board for hiring its own lawyer, calling it a needless expense, and accused them of conducting school business outside of public meetings. In February, the district’s superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, announced during a packed, emotional meeting that she was leaving after 12 years because the board did not trust or respect her. Her replacement, an assistant superintendent from Douglas County, prompted more accusations that the new majority in Jefferson County was trying to steer the district far to the right.

“We’ve had conservatives on our board before,” said Michele Patterson, the president of the district’s parent-teacher association. “They were wonderful. These people, they’re not interested in balance or compromise. They have a political agenda that they’re intent on pushing through.”

Just last week, Texas moved to require its high school students to learn only state-mandated curriculum—not be taught to the national Advanced Placement History test, due to a "perceived anti-American bias," the Associated Press reported.

The Denver Post reports that the Jefferson County School Board now is being ridiculed on Twitter with the hashtag #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory. The board is expected to take the matter back up in October. 


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