Denver Students Protest Over US History Course Focus

Suburban Denver high schools experienced a walkout this week when students protested against a proposal to focus history education on citizenship, patriotism, and respect for authority. In their own act of civil disobedience, hundreds of students left their classrooms in the state’s second largest district, where a sick-out of teachers had closed two high schools earlier in the week.  The Associated Press says this area around this district is politically and economically diverse and has become a key political battleground.

Sparked by word of mouth and social media, the protest had students carrying American flags, and signs, some of which read, “There is nothing more patriotic than protest”.

The school board proposal will begin with a review of the Advanced Placement US History course.  The board feels that the new course outline and any other curricula that would result from it should ” promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and should not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

Although the board’s conservative majority has not yet voted on the proposal, board member Julie Williams says she understands that there are negative events that have occurred that are part of our country’s history, and that these events need to be taught.

“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place.”

A student demonstrator, Tyrone G. Parks, a senior at Arvada High School, said that the US was built on civil protests, ” and everything that we’ve done is what allowed us to be at this point today. And if you take that from us, you take away everything that America was built off of”.

Superintendent Dan McMinimee has met with some of the students and renewed his offer to continue discussions on the issue. “I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner,” he said. “I do, however, prefer that our students stay in class.”

There is tension in Texas also, as conservative school boards face criticism over new textbook choices, writes Colleen Slevin and P. Soloman Banda, reporting for the Associated Press.  In South Carolina, conservatives have called for the College Board, which oversees AP courses, to rewrite the framework so that no ideological bias is present.

The walkout of students in Denver followed a similar protest this week by about 100 Evergreen High School who left their classrooms to voice their opinions.  In fact, tensions have been increasing as students and teachers continue to disagree with leaders in the district, according to Jesse Paul, reporter for The Denver Post.  Two of the main issues in question are linking teacher evaluation to teachers’ raises, and the curriculum committee which will probably be instituted and would promote “positive aspects” of US history.

“We want the Jeffco [Jefferson County] board to listen and pay attention to the community,” said senior Jack Shefrin, who was involved with organizing the event, which he professed was led by students alone. “Most people feel their needs are not being met by the board.”

Superintendent McMinimee reminded students and the community that a decision on the curriculum committee has not yet been made.

Eliot Hannon, writing for Slate, quotes a school board member who is opposed to the changes who told the Denver Post:

“It’s chilling. Does it mean [the district’s students] will no longer study the civil rights movement, the Boston Tea Party or women’s suffrage?”