Almost 1,000 students from several schools in Denver, Colorado participated in the largest of a series of student demonstrations in opposition to new high school history standards.
Protestors were seen waving American flags and protest signs, and chanting “Education without limitation!” at a busy intersection near their school. The protest lasted nearly three hours.
The new standards, proposed by a conservative-led school board, would focus on patriotic topics and respect for authority while downplaying civil disorder.
Meanwhile, almost 75 students from another school walked out of a meeting to discuss the new standards with Jefferson County school Superintendent Dan McMinimee, who offered to meet with any students who had questions concerning the standards.
The new standards are a response to updates to the Advanced Placement history curriculum, placing more emphasis on Native American history and pre-Christopher Columbus American history.
Supporters say the focus on critical thinking in the new standards will offer classrooms the opportunity to discuss history rather than simply memorize it. Meanwhile, critics fear they will focus on the nation’s problems.
The College Board, who oversees the program, says they are offering a balanced view.
The Jefferson County school board plans on implementing a committee to review all coursework and ensure the materials used “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
In the meantime, the board has not tried to stop the current student protests. “We’re going to allow students to make their concerns heard,” district spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said.
Ken Witt, head of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said this is because teachers are using the students as “pawns” for their concerns over compensation plans.
“It’s never OK to use kids as pawns,” Witt said, adding that some students wrongly believe issues such as slavery will be eliminated from history classes under the disputed proposal.
The protests began after dozens of teachers called in sick last Friday, causing two schools to shut down for the day. Over the last week, students have walked out of classrooms in protests organized over social media.
The new standards were unveiled at the same school board meeting that also proposed linking pay raises for teachers to evaluations.
According to Witt, “The goal is an effective and broad review to make sure we have a fair and balanced curriculum.” He said completely withdrawing the new standards is not out of the question, if they are found to be inappropriate for the district.
“I don’t think my education should be censored. We should be able to know what happened in our past,” said Ralston Valley High School student Tori Leu.
The proposal will be voted on this week.