Don’t Know Much about History (with apologies to Sam Cooke)

Julia Williams, one of the 3 conservatives on the Jefferson County, CO school board that has proposed reviewing the high school history curriculum, wants to set the record straight: she’s “not suggesting altering, omitting or censoring anything” from the AP US History curriculum, citing the what the Texas Board of Education has done as her example of curricular reform. Yes, the same Texas Board of Education which has been widely condemned for its revisionist censorship of history, science, and other subjects.

For the past week more than a thousand students have walked out of their classes at several schools in Jefferson County, protesting that curricular changes Ms. Williams has proposed, an wonderful irony since Ms. Williams’ proposed changes are designed to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” Her proposal also advocates that [m]aterials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

In response to these protests, Ms. Williams believes her proposal has been misunderstood: she claims she “must not have explained [herself] clearly. To be accused of censorship? Seriously? That is just ridiculous. I am advocating for just the opposite.”

tudents across Jefferson County protest a school board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest. Photo courtesy Colorado Public Radio

tudents across Jefferson County protest a school board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest. Photo courtesy Colorado Public Radio

As Jenny Brundin, Mike Lamp and Nathaniel Minor of Colorado Public Radio report, Ms. Williams is concerned that the AP US History standards put “an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American History for generations.” For example, left out of the curriculum she claims are ”Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin with not even a mention of Martin Luther King, Jr. who was on the forefront of the civil rights movement.” She claims as well that curriculum “ignores lessons on the Boston Tea Party, Lexington, Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the list continues…”

I find it interesting that Ms. Williams fails to understand that it’s impossible to discuss the Revolutionary War without naming Thomas Jefferson or George Washington;  that the Revolutionary War, and yes, the Boston Tea Party are (gasp) examples of fighting against government edicts and laws; and that Martin Luther King, Jr. eventually came to engaged in and encourage others to engage in civil disobedience. But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt when she claims she’s not trying to eliminate the facts of U.S. history, it’s just that she’s concerned, like so many other conservatives, that AP History casts some parts of our nation’s past in a negative light, such as slavery, the internment of Japanese Americans, the bombing of Hiroshima, trickle down economics and stuff.

I could say more, but I think the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado’s statement of support for the students who have taken to the street, says it best:

It’s ironic that an attempt to downplay examples of social change being accomplished through civil disobedience has spurred a community-wide crash course in just how important it is to be able to speak out and question authority in a just and democratic society.

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