Students Persuade School To Reinstate History Course

By Debra Viadero — January 09, 1991 2 min read

At a time when many students are shunning classes in Western history in favor of social-studies courses emphasizing other cultures, 31 high-school students in Brookline, Mass., have concluded a successful campaign to persuade school officials there to bring back a European-history course that had been dropped from the curriculum.

At the urging of the students, the town’s school committee voted 8 to 1 last month to restore an Advanced Placement European-history course for seniors at Brookline High School. School officials had dropped the course last year in an effort to broaden the school’s social-studies curriculum to focus more on the contributions of blacks and other minority groups.

The committee also voted, however, to require students taking the European-history class to first take courses emphasizing “other world cultures,” according to James F. Walsh, superintendent of schools in the suburban-Boston community.

The new requirement does not apply to the students who waged the protest, most of whom are sophomores and juniors. They will be permitted to take the class next year without the prerequisite.

“To some extent, it’s a victory for us,” said Daniel Lazar, a junior at the high school. “But the freshmen who come after us are going to get shafted because, in your freshman year, you really don’t know what you’re going to want to take in your senior year.”

Mr. Lazar was part of a group of students that launched a petition drive last summer to restore the popular class, which had acquired a reputation at the school for academic rigor.

The students bolstered their demands by obtaining a legal ruling in their favor from the state education department. The department said the Brookline School Committee must vote on the students’ request under a state law that requires local school boards to take up such demands if 30 students or 5 percent of a school’s student enrollment--whichever is less--sign a petition asking for the change.

A lawyer for the department said that Brookline school officials had said the law did not apply in this case because a course in European history was also being offered at the 10th-grade level without dvanced Placement credit.

Mr. Lazar said the students’ protest did not reflect any particular political or educational ideology.

“The teacher was part of the reason for taking the course,” Mr. Lazar said. Students had come to know the teacher of the 12th-grade course because he also taught the 10th-grade European-history class at the school.

“He really made us work,” Mr. Lazar said.

School officials in September replaced the Advanced Placement European-history course with an Advanced Placement course in comparative government taught by another teacher.

“It was felt that that course would allow greater opportunities for some exposure to other areas of the world,” Mr. Walsh said.

He said the school committee’s decision effectively put an end to the debate on the issue.

“I think most people came away from the meeting feeling that there had been resolution on the key issues,” Mr. Walsh said.

The superintendent said the students’ tenacity in their battle to have the course reinstated and their familiarity with the legal processes required to accomplish that task were reflective of the community’s strong democratic traditions.

Brookline High has been noted nationally because it operates under an unusual system allowing teachers and students broad authority in deciding school policies. (See Education Week, March 20, 1990.)