For the past few weeks, hundreds of high school students in Denver suburbs have been protesting a proposal for an anti-protest curriculum. The new conservative school board majority in the Jefferson County school district has created a curriculum-review committee to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” According to the proposal, “materials 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.”
If students had spent years learning this curriculum – one that discourages civil disorder – they probably would not be protesting. And that’s exactly what the school board wants. Though not advertised, the long-term goal of the proposed curriculum is to squash dissent. After years of being brainwashed about “respect for authority” and the “positive aspects” of our history, students would turn into fear-mongering robots of conservative patriotism and empty black holes for any critical thinking. Essentially, they would be the same people who are on the majority of the school board now, fearful of any “social strife” in America today.
Even the teachers are supporting the students. According to the Denver Post, 52 of 65 teachers at one school called in sick for Monday’s classes. A few weeks ago, two high schools had to close because of teacher absence. In response, the school district superintendent has threatened to bring disciplinary action against the protesting teachers. In this case, the teachers aren’t demanding higher salaries or better benefits or collective bargaining rights; they are protesting in solidarity with the students – which shows just how appalling the proposed curriculum is.
Not surprisingly, the new school board has won the praise of American for Prosperity-Colorado, the local organization affiliated with the national group run by Charles and David Koch. The Koch brothers, who have inherited their father’s oil and gas fortune, are known for opposing government regulation and defending economic freedom. It’s quite fitting that their local affiliate would support and push for an academic curriculum that promotes the “benefits of the free enterprise system” and discourages civil disobedience – a common tactic of anti-oil climate change activists.
History is not about learning the “positive aspects.” We study history to better understand why things are they way they are today. If your country was founded on and continues to thrive on what bell hooks calls imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, then you probably shouldn’t focus on the “positive aspects.” And if you don’t think that our country was founded on imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, then I suggest you study our history more closely. It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate their oppressors.
What else was this country founded on? Revolution. Protest. Civil disobedience. A lack of respect for authority. Some history scholars like Gerald Horne even think that the Revolutionary War was actually a counter-revolution by conservative colonists to protect and expand slavery. It seems that the only type of dissent that the all-white Jefferson County school board supports is the type that mainly benefits white people. They want to put down all other dissent, using a history curriculum that lauds the achievements of white people and minimizes the struggle of the oppressed.
So, to the protesting students, keep it up. You are embodying everything you’ve learned about history. You are making your history teachers proud. Maybe you’ll make it into a history textbook someday – as long as it’s not written by someone like the people on your school board. You are the real “patriots.” And I just vomited because I used the word “patriots.