Colorado Students Protest School Board’s History Proposal

By Kristie Chua — September 25, 2014 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Cross-posted from Teaching Now.

A proposal by a Colorado district school board to review the new Advanced Placement U.S. History standards and promote patriotism in the curriculum caused hundreds of students to walk out of schools in protest this week, according to the Denver Post.

The Jefferson County school board proposal would establish a committee to regularly review AP history texts and course plans. The move comes after the Texas board of education approved a measure requiring its students to learn a state-mandated curriculum instead of the new AP U.S. History framework.

The new AP U.S. History framework has been criticized by conservatives for reflecting a revisionist version of history. A letter addressed to College Board President David Coleman started by conservative groups American Principles in Action and Concerned Women for America states that the new framework portrays U.S. colonists as “oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country.”

In the words of Jerrson County school board member Julie Williams, the review committee would ensure that materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority” and do not encourage “civil disorder or disregard of the law.” Essentially, the board wants students to learn more about the “positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

The proposal has met with resistance from both teachers and students, who worry that U.S. history classes will highlight the good things the nation has done while downplaying its historical mistakes and problems.

According to CBS Denver, 500 students walked out at Arvada West High School and 400 walked at Arvada High School on Tuesday. Students at several other high schools around Denver also staged walk outs. The protests continued on Wednesday, when they reached their largest number.

“I don’t think my education should be censored,” Tori Leu, a student at Ralston Valley High School, told CBS Denver. “We should be able to know what happened in our past.”

Students waved American flags and chanted, “Education without limitation!” Another slogan adopted this week was “Don’t make history a mystery,” according to the Denver Post.

Leighanne Grey, a student at Arvada High School, told the New York Times that learning about the negative events in America’s history has deepened her understanding of the country.

“As we grow up, you always hear that America’s the greatest, the land of the free and the home of the brave,” she said. “For all the good things we’ve done, we’ve done some terrible things. It’s important to learn about those things, or we’re doomed to repeat the past.”

In response to criticism, Colorado school board member Williams told Chalkbeat Colorado that she realizes some negative events in U.S. history should 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.”

The school board decided to put off voting on the history curriculum review committee until October.

The Jefferson County school district, the second largest district in Colorado, elected three new conservative members last November. This new conservative majority has clashed with teachers over a number of policies.

This past week, teachers initiated a “sick out” in protest of the board approving a proposal to tie raises to teacher evaluations. Two high schools had to cancel classes after 50 teachers did not come to school.

Opposition to the Jefferson County school board’s proposal to review the AP History standards has sparked a slew of sarcastic tweets using the hashtag #JeffCoSchoolBoardHistory, poking fun at what people see as the school board’s attempt to rewrite history.

Pamona High School student Tori Suyak holds a sign up to a passing motorist in an intersection near her school, during a multi-school protest against a Jefferson County School Board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history, in Arvada, Colo., on Sept. 23, 2014. Students from several high schools walked out of class Tuesday in the second straight day of protests in Jefferson County. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.