Hundreds of students throughout suburban Denver protested a conservative school policy proposal by walking out of classrooms Tuesday. Following a policy trend that’s gaining traction nationwide, the Jefferson County School Board in Colorado plan would restrict history education to subject matter that “promote[s] citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.”
According to the curricula proposal, students would only be taught lessons depicting American heritage in a positive light, and effectively ban any material that could lead to dissent. Under the proposed policy, a review committee would regularly read instructional text and course syllabi to ensure that educational materials do not stray from subject matter that complies with the policy.
But students involved in the walkout contend that censored coursework actually contradicts American history and ideals. Many of them brought signs about the patriotic nature of protest, and waved American flags as they walked.
Arvada High School senior Tyrone G. Parks disagreed with the school board, and argued that protest is a crucial aspect of American history, “and everything that we’ve done is what allowed us to be at this point today. And if you take that from us, you take away everything that America was built off of.” Tori Leu, a Ralston Valley High School student, shared a similar sentiment. “I don’t think my education should be censored. We should be able to know what happened in our past.”
Students learned about the walkout via social media and word of mouth. And the overwhelming response to the school proposal introduced by Julie Williams makes sense given the area’s diversity. The district also has a history of civil disobedience, as teachers staged a successful “sick-out” that closed two high schools.
The proposal will be voted on next week. Three conservatives on the five-person school board make up the majority of the school board. Speaking to the school news website Chalkbeat Colorado, Williams explained that American history is not entirely positive, and acknowledged that certain events should be taught. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place,” she said.
Similar rhetoric is used to justify comparable school policies around the U.S. In 2010, Arizona passed a bill that banned ethnic studies and prevented teachers with thick accents from instructing students. More recently, South Carolina conservatives asked the College Board, which is responsible for Advanced Placement curricula, to exclude any material with a perceived ideological bias, such as lessons about evolution. Schools in Texas are trying to incorporate textbooks that distort climate science.
But students like the ones in Denver are pushing back on conservative or discriminatory education policies. In Pennsylvania, a student newspaper editor refused to print the word ‘Redskins,’ the nickname of his school’s athletic teams. A group of middle school students protested a dress code that discriminated against female students, in March. And several students have protested abstinence-only curricula and slut-shaming from school administrators.