DENVER – Eight national and local organizations, including the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, wrote the Jefferson County School Board today in opposition to the board’s proposed review of the curriculum for Advanced Placement U.S. History.
School board members have proposed a new “board committee for curriculum review” with a stated mission to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” According to the original proposal, “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.” The committee would also be tasked with identifying materials that “may reasonably be deemed” to be “objectionable.”
The groups, which support academic freedom and oppose censorship in education, identified aspects of the proposal as “deeply problematic.” The term objectionable, for instance, is “inherently vague and subjective and would predictably result in complaints based on personal, political, moral, or religious grounds,” they observed. In addition, “terms like citizenship and patriotism are similarly subject to multiple interpretations, as evidenced, for example, by the public debate about whether civil disobedience can be an act of patriotism.”
The letter notes that “it would be nearly impossible to teach US history without reference to ‘civil disorder,’ which is appropriately discussed in connection with the American revolution, the labor movement, civil rights and gay rights activism, US entry into World War I, voting rights protests, and public demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, abortion rights, government surveillance, and countless other significant events in US history.”
Moreover, according to Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, which spearheaded the response, “it is well established that public school officials are not constitutionally permitted to suppress information and ideas on the ground that it is ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘objectionable.’ Students are in school to gain knowledge and learn to analyze facts and think for themselves, not to be indoctrinated into a particular view of patriotism.”
Several legal decisions are cited in the letter, including McCullom v. Board of Education, in which the U.S. Supreme Court warned in 1948 that efforts “to eliminate everything that is objectionable… will leave public education in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result.”
The curriculum review proposal, which will be considered at a public meeting on Thursday, Oct. 2, has spurred protests across the district by students, parents and teachers, who have publicly urged the board to reject censorship and to not “make history a mystery.”
“Decisions about instructional materials should be based on sound educational grounds, not because some people do or do not agree with the message, ideas, or content of a particular book or lesson,” the groups wrote. “We strongly urge you to adopt policies and procedures that focus, not on molding patriots or citizens in a particular image, but on educating students to be informed, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and engaged participants in their communities.”
Additional signers on the letter include National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, PEN American Center, the Comic Book Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.