Colorado students planned to renew protests Friday after a suburban Denver school board rejected their calls to back off from reviewing an Advanced Placement U.S. history course and potentially replacing it with a more patriotic version that critics say would whitewash American history.
The school-age demonstrators have expressed concern over how history is being taught, blasting a mplanned curriculum focusing on patriotism and downplaying civil disobedience. Hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms last month, with some holding signs that read, “There is nothing more patriotic than protest.”
The Jefferson County School Board voted 3-2 on Thursday to expand the membership on two existing curriculum review committees to include students, parents and administrators, but it didn't promise to listen to their criticisms.
Two women on the board who oppose the panel's conservative majority held their heads in their hands after losing a bid to delay the vote so they could have more time to study the plan.
"What's the rush?" board member Lesley Dahlkemper asked. Her repeated challenges to board president Ken Witt drew applause from the crowd.
Conservative board member Julie Williams refused a call to withdraw her original proposal, which angered students and teachers. Williams said the course would be reviewed with an eye toward promoting patriotism and citizenship, while downplaying civil disorder.
The board proposal will select materials that “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” It will avoid materials that “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
Sarina Phu, 17, one of several students who spoke to about 300 opponents of the school board, said some of the nation's greatest achievements, including civil rights and equality for women, were achieved through protests and social unrest.
At issue among conservative board members is a new Advanced Placement History curriculum that focuses more on examining historical documents and discussing the nation's history, rather than memorizing facts. The course also gives more attention to the period before the arrival of Christopher Columbus as well as slavery and women's roles. Following a nationwide conservative outcry, the board promised a committee to review the course material.
Some conservatives say the course was influenced by a movement in academia to de-emphasize the United States' uniqueness and treat it as one nation among many. But protesting students and teachers are in favor of a more critical and accurate, versus patriotic, study of American history.
One parent, Robert Gleason, after pointing at the Colorado flag in the front of the room, told the board he didn't want the school district to follow in the path of Texas, where the state school board has told teachers to stick to state history standards, not the new course framework that some view as anti-American.
The protests involving students from over 17 high schools in Colorado's second-largest school district began more than a week ago, after the Jefferson County School Board first proposed the U.S. history review.
Both supporters and critics of the history review demonstrated outside the board meeting Thursday. Carole Morenz, holding a small American flag and a sign that said "History matters. Know the truth," traveled from Pueblo because she said she's worried the change in approach to teaching history could be the "biggest cultural shift of our lifetime."
"They will lose the knowledge of what made America great," said Morenz, adding that she has been concerned about problems in education since she began homeschooling her children in the 1980s.
Phu, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, praised the U.S. for being a nation where people from all backgrounds can thrive, but she said students need to learn about the negative sides of its story, including the mistreatment of Native Americans and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
"Would you like to sweep us under the rug, too, just like our histories?" she asked.
Al Jazeera and wire services