A Currency Campaign

March 06, 1991 1 min read

An 8th-grade class in Plantation, Fla., would like to change the face of one of our most familiar forms of currency--literally.

The 10 students in Dennis Yuzenas’ “Dig In” class at Seminole Middle School have begun a campaign to replace Andrew Jackson’s face on the $20 bill with a likeness of Frederick Douglass, the 19th- century abolitionist and author.

Last fall, American-history lessons and Ken Burns’s public-television series “The Civil War” led these unmotivated, disinterested, gifted students--most of whom are from homes with divorced parents--to relate to Douglass as a model of someone who “didn’t let things beat him down,” Mr. Yuzenas says.

At about the same time, the students learned that Andrew Jackson, who was the first territorial governor of Florida and the President of the United States from 1829 to 1837, was also a slave-trader, a cock-fighter, and a major influence in forcing the Seminole Indians out of Florida. He also killed a man during a duel.

One day, a student questioned why the former President should be honored on the $20 bill when, as Mr. Yuzenas puts it, “Andrew Jackson, without mincing words, was a racist.”

“That’s like going to someone who does drugs and saying, ‘Here’s a medal,”’ says Billy Fischer, a student in the class.

The students found out that either the Congress or the Secretary of the Treasury can order changes in the appearance of currency, and undertook a class project to gain support for such an effort. They wrote more than 50 letters to major corporations as well as to Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas F. Brady and Florida senators and representatives to the Congress.

As of last week, no one had responded.

“It makes you think no one cares,” Billy says. “People are saying they’re not racist, then they go home and do what they want. That’s their right to be like that, but it’s discouraging.”

Mr. Yuzenas says his class wants to be more militant, but he has used the campaign to discuss with students the efforts of reform movements throughout history and to demonstrate that “change is slow.” According to the students, they are not going to give up on the campaign. “It isn’t just a school project ... it’s more than that,” Billy says.--WM

A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 1991 edition of Education Week as A Currency Campaign