Last week a busy intersection rang with the shouts of students from many Colorado high schools who felt that their education had been compromised. They toted signs that read; “There is nothing more patriotic than protest” or “Don’t Make History A Mystery” and “I don’t think my education should be censored!” The students were protesting the contentious discussion brewing in the Jefferson County Education Board regarding the recently adopted Advanced Placement United States History curriculum published by the College Board.
The Jefferson County Education Board that oversees over 85,000 students in the Denver area began discussion regarding the newly introduced AP U.S. History curriculum in August and has since spurred a national debate about what should be taught in our high schools. The Jefferson County board members are arguing that history curricula should emphasize patriotism, respect for authority and show the benefits of the free enterprise in America. They argue that curricula should not encourage civil disorder, emphasize political unrest or show people who do not exemplify the American spirit.
The students of Columbine, Lakewood, Dakota Ridge and Bear Creek High School, along with others, decided to utilize the very idea that they think board members are proposing to downplay: civil disobedience.
These large protests that peaked on Thursday the 25th of September showed the strife that many students and teachers are facing throughout the country as liberal and conservative ideas clash in education. What should be taught in our schools, what attributes should be emphasized and what events should be valued?
A recent study done by the Pew Research Center examined the different education priorities of a range of conservative and liberal people. The study showed that there were differences on whether or not people placed importance in obedience or tolerance depending on their political affiliation. Conservatives were slightly more likely to place emphasis on obedience where as liberals were much more likely to highlight tolerance as an important education point. Despite these differences a majority say that teaching responsibility is the number one priority, whether in the classroom or at home. Despite political affiliation all people seem to agree that learning responsibility is a key aspect of growing up in America. So if all find common ground in this attribute, is it important to teach children to be responsible for their own education?
It seems that a reasonable answer would be yes. Yes, children should be interested and aware of their education and its’ importance. But who gets to decide what children are learning? This fight seems to be a growing battlefield and will most likely continue to be a litigious topic.
Everyone wants their children to have a solid education in history that highlights the important achievements, events and people in American history. We can agree on that. What we fail to agree on is what these important achievements, events and people are. Everyone has differing opinions about what and who exemplifies our true history and therefore has different thoughts about what should be included in textbooks.
The new Advanced Placement United States History Curriculum states that it “uses historical facts and evidence to achieve deeper conceptual understandings of major developments in U.S. History.” The new curriculum highlights seven themes that are to be addressed throughout nine time periods in our history. They hope that this approach will allow for flexibility on the teachers part. They can now focus on certain topics and ideas in greater focus throughout the time periods, allowing for the students to have a deeper understanding of specific ideas from that time period.
Many conservatives believe that this new approach is allowing teachers to focus on aspects of American history that are highlighting negative actions and oppressors rather than the benefits of Americas free-enterprise society, our wide range of rights and patriotism. Many are saying this portrays a negative perspective of American history and are voicing their dislike for the large emphasis on influential groups and the effects they have on society rather than impressive individuals.
This dispute raises the questions of what do we value in our history, but more importantly what must be included. If we are to learn from our history should there not be a wide range of events, positive and negative, testing and triumphant, in order to exemplify the true growth, perils and pursuits of American history. We cannot hide history from our students, but we should not have to push America into a darker perspective to do so. There are awful and cruel aspects of our history but there are also amazing and proud moments as well, we must find a way to compromise these two aspects of our history and translate this one history into textbooks across America. They are not separate ideas or splintering factions nor are they mutually exclusive; they are the whole history and that whole story together is what should be taught in a history class.