We live in Jefferson County, Colorado. You might have heard about us in the news lately.
Recently, one of our newly elected school board members, Julie Williams, initiated a call for a review of the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, with which she takes issue because she feels “it has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing.” I am not a history teacher and have no experience writing college-level curriculum so I can’t imagine championing a revision of a course created by college professors and AP teachers. Ms. Williams, however, whose extensive knowledge of U.S. history must come from her previous position in the health industry running an orthodontic office, feels qualified to suggest such a revision. And in making this suggestion, she inadvertently sparked an uprising.
In a press release distributed last week to defend her position, she seemed shocked that anyone would be upset, noting that rewriting the curriculum is not unprecedented because “the Texas State Board of Education has voted to set aside the new AP U.S. History Framework in favor of its own state-mandated U.S. history curriculum.” What she failed to mention about Texas in her press release is that a sample revision to the history books in that state includes the mention of Moses. Yes. THE Moses. Now, I’ve got nothing against Moses, but I’m fairly sure that he had nothing to do with the founding of this nation, given that he had been dead for thousands of years before colonists settled these shores. I’m not sure what happened to the notion of separation of Church and State, but the idea that a textbook in a public school could contain the names of persons mentioned in the Bible seems to play against it. It was around this point in her argument that I determined that there might be a political motive at work in her rewriting the history curriculum. Turns out that Williams and her fellow, conservative cohorts on the board would like to see history courses promote “citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority.” While there is nothing wrong with those topics in and of themselves, if we include them while eliminating discussions about race, gender, ethnicity, and grievances against government, we’re creating a very one-sided discussion. That doesn’t seem accidental to me, and it doesn’t make me comfortable. We’re not the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We’re both.
Recently, students at local high schools have made national news by walking off campus to stage demonstrations against Williams’ suggestion that the APUSH curriculum is not appropriate and should be replaced by curriculum that reduces discussion around grievance and civil disobedience. By doing so, the students have shown exactly why our country is great. We are free to express grievance and perform acts of peaceful, civil disobedience. Students at several area high schools left class last week by the thousands and, with their parents’ permission, stood along busy intersections to voice their dissent about the proposed review, which they feel will limit their education. (It is possible, perhaps, that some of them were simply excited to ditch class. But I like to think that somewhere along the line even those kids gained some insight into the importance of citizens’ rights, free speech, and freedom of assembly.) In any case, I’m sure these protests were the very thing Julie Williams was hoping to quell by changing the curriculum. So much for not raising little rebels. Lesson learned.
My husband and I have been talking a lot over the past year or two about how we can broaden our sons’ experiences to prepare them for the world they will enter as adults. We inhabit a complex, continually changing planet, and we believe our sons need to be ready to accept that nothing is forever and that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, from all people, on all continents. There is no one “right” way of doing things but, instead, a myriad of options for every situation. We want for our sons a truly liberal education in the sense that they should become well-rounded citizens of Earth, open-minded, deeply thoughtful, generous of spirit, and globally aware. We would like them to know that there are good people in every nation and that a few mean-spirited, misguided bullies (hello, ISIS) do not represent the whole of the world’s people. We want for them hope for their future, knowledge that we are united in our common humanity, and the belief that together we can change the fate of this planet. Cue “It’s a Small World After All” and you will get the gist of our dream. None of this means that we do not love our country or are not patriotic. We are. We just don’t happen to believe that the “American Exceptionalism” Julie Williams would push necessarily equals patriotism. Our sons don’t need didactic, closed-minded, pro-America speeches to turn them into patriots. They need exposure to the world at large so they can value and appreciate what we have here.
I don’t love the idea of teaching our children to respect authority without acknowledging that sometimes authority is messed up (ala Hitler). I hope my children learn to question things, to dig deeper, to bravely consider all viewpoints. Call me crazy, but I honestly believe that is what our forefathers imagined when they dreamed about this great nation they were creating…a place where people could think, share their opinions, and compromise successfully when necessary for the betterment of all. I think our nation is facing a political crisis now due to a lack of critical thought and the non-stop, mindless repetition of talking points and sound bytes. We aren’t doing our due diligence as citizens to understand what is going on or what is at stake. We’re watching our 10-minute blurbs of cable news and allowing them to be our Truth. It’s the type of information cleansing that Ms. Williams is espousing that leads nations to ill-guided notions of supremacy. Taking the ugly out of American history is a mistake. It’s only when we are willing to bear witness to the ugly, the confusing, and the difficult that we learn and grow.