Colorado Rights Blog

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley By: Nathan Woodliff-Stanley 10.3.2014

JeffCo Students Give an Impressive Lesson in Patriotism. Too Bad their School Board wasn’t Listening

How disappointing that a majority of the Jefferson County School Board chose last night to disregard student protests and pass a curriculum review proposal designed to identify “objectionable materials” in high school curricula, starting with U.S. history, presumably to remove those materials if they do not meet the ideological criteria of the school board members.

Despite apparent changes to make the proposal seem less inflammatory, there is no reason to trust it. The Jeffco School Board members who pushed the proposal through fought tooth and nail to keep ultimate control of the curriculum review with the Board rather than the district administration. The same members had already tipped their hand with regard to their intentions in the original proposal, which contained language aiming to sanitize U.S. history by making it more “positive” and “patriotic.”

I have nothing against genuine patriotism, of course. There are few things more patriotic than fighting for the Bill of Rights as we do every day at the ACLU, but I somehow doubt that the role of the ACLU in American history is something the current Jeffco School Board would want to see taught.

Despite their desire not to condone civil disorder or social strife, the school board sparked a fine example of civil protest by students who walked out by the hundreds to object to school board plans. Rejecting insulting accusations that they were simply pawns of their teachers, these students made clear they were speaking for themselves and standing up for their own education. I’d say those students are pretty patriotic, too.

Protesters turned out in force last night as the school board went ahead with its plans. Meanwhile, among a handful of counter-protesters supporting the school board action, one woman complained to reporters that today’s history classes say too much about slavery and too many negative things about “the white man.” Sadly, her perspective echoed that of Colorado State Board of Education member Pam Mazanec, who argued on Facebook that children should be taught that America is “exceptional” because we “ended slavery voluntarily”!

To be sure, nothing has been altered, removed or added to the curriculum yet. But the ACLU of Colorado will be watching along with thousands of students, teachers and parents. School boards have a lot of power to shape school curricula, and while there is a valid place for curriculum review (and I’m not claiming that AP U.S. History or any other curriculum is above critique), it is irresponsible to use school board power to impose a political, religious or ideological agenda on students.

Make no mistake, the actions of the Jeffco School Board are part of a much larger movement and agenda. School boards have long been a political target of those who would like to undermine public education by diverting public funds to privileged charter schools or to private religious schools, as nearby Douglas County is attempting to do, to the detriment of other children. It is the same movement that seeks to downplay the reality of racism and economic inequality, roll back the clock on the rights of women and LGBT persons, deny separation of church and state, and insert creationism into science curricula.

It is hard to know how far this school board is planning to take this agenda, but there are already plenty of warning signs. Pay attention, for example, to the reference in the original Jeffco curriculum review proposal to distinguishing “theories” from fact. This language is almost certainly code for rejecting the “theory” of evolution and laying the groundwork for a “balanced” inclusion of creationism in science classes.

One of the most important lessons from last night is that elections, especially local ones, matter. The Jeffco School Board majority was elected in a low-turnout election, the kind that makes an ideological takeover of a school board possible. The ACLU promotes and defends voting rights for all Americans, and we encourage everyone to make use of those rights. Even students who can’t vote can encourage their parents and other adults to use their right to vote. In the meantime, we commend Jeffco students for making their voices heard in peaceful protest and patriotic social strife.



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