Students from the suburbs of Denver, Colo., took a move straight from the pages of American history last week when they walked out of class and picked up signs to protest a proposed change to their curriculum.
At a meeting this month, the Jefferson County School Board considered changes specifically to the Advanced Placement U.S. history course for high school students. Without mentioning specific events or characters in American history, the proposed change called for materials in class to no longer encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard for the law.
“Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage,” according to JeffCo’s school board documents.
It’s hard to think of America’s history without remembering wrong turns our leaders made and movements by the disenfranchised to have things changed. The story of America’s very birth would be hard to tell under these guidelines.
How can a positive perspective be applied to the taking of land from Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years before colonies were developed? And how can educators not condone civil disorder when the colonies rejected British rule and eventually became the United States? It seems that AP history lessons in the JeffCo public school system would have several gaps.
This idea of painting America in a positive light is supposed to promote patriotism, according to the board’s proposal. But in fact, this idea is as unpatriotic as they come.
The First Amendment states that citizens have the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government when they feel they have been wronged. Teaching U.S. history without detailing how this amendment was used in America’s past to charge acts of civil disorder is a disservice to the students.
It’s hard to believe anyone would have to recount for a school board the importance of civil disorder since U.S. history was a course each member should have taken in high school.
But instead of reminding them of the importance of civil disorder, perhaps it would be best to paint a picture of what America would look like today without it.
Without civil disobedience in America, segregation would still be a legal option for establishments. Beyond that, slavery would persist, after all there would have been no pesky Civil War. As for where women would be today, voting on any matter would be unfathomable. That is something Julie Williams, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Felman should especially keep in mind. They are three of the five voting members on the school board calling for these changes.
The fear of civil disobedience as a lesson in the classroom, especially when factoring in the impressionable minds listening, is understandable.
But fear is not reason alone to stop doing something. In fact, it is disrespectful to heroes of our history such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks who made it their mission to safeguard our liberties.
Young minds have a right to know these things and in the past, young people have acted with the knowledge of civil disorder to make changes for the better when it was necessary.
Students who participated in sit-ins at Nashville businesses in 1960 to fight segregation were verbally and physically abused because they refused to obey laws that said they were less than everyone else.
Their tenacity paved the way for critical changes and all that from the minds of young Americans.
The decision for the proposed changes to the curriculum will not be made until October, according to the New York Times. Ken Witt, the board president, already said he suspects most of the language in the proposal will change by then.
“A lot of those words were more specific and more pointed than they have to be,” Witt said.
While that may be the case, words that look to disregard America’s truth, no matter their degree of pointedness, demand immediate attention.
Perhaps instead of trying to remove pages of history from the classroom, the school board should suggest lessons on how to become more engaged with the government process so they can promote change from the inside before they have to resort to civil disobedience. However, they should make the students aware that civil disobedience is an option they have when all else has failed them.
Holding our government accountable is the most patriotic thing members of this society can do because it means they care enough to say something. The students in Colorado who are holding their school board accountable care, and thankfully our Constitution says they have a right to say something.
Hopefully people will listen.