Keep ideology out of the classroom

Jefferson County Colorado has its hands full with a student and teacher protest that could have been easily averted without any disruption in the classroom.  Instead, there are hundreds of students walking out of class, and based on what I’ve read so far, I would completely support them if I were there myself.

It seems as though a trio of conservatives got elected to the school board there and have decided that history needs to be taught differently.  They’ve picked Advanced Placement History as their battleground to try to change how and what’s taught in history there, even though the College Board sets the standards for AP history test that gives students college credit for passing the test and class.  Here’s a rundown on their proposal for curriculum review courtesy of JeffcoPols.com.

Board Committee for Curriculum Review.

The committee shall be seated by the Board. Each director may nominated up to three candidates for the committee and the entire board then will vote to select the nine (9) members of the committee. The charge to the committee is to review curricular choices for conformity to JeffCo academic standards, accuracy and omissions, and to inform the board of any objectionable materials. The committee shall regularly review texts and curriculum according to priorities that it establishes, however, at any time, the Board may add items to the list for review. The committee shall report all comments (majority and minority) to the board in writing on a weekly basis as items are reviewed. Board members may move for discussion or action on items reported when matters warrant public discussion or action. The committee’s initial projects will be a review of the AP US History curriculum and elementary health curriculum.

Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. 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. [Pols emphasis] Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.

– See more at: http://coloradopols.com/diary/62806/right-wing-jeffco-school-board-seeks-review-of-history#sthash.yEoLYWVN.dpuf

I am a history nut in that I love studying history because there is so much that’s not taught or touched upon in school.  You could spend years studying a single time period and not cover everything.  That said, how in the hell can you teach American history with those guidelines highlighted above?

America was founded on civil disorder and disregard of the law.  Our founders got pissed off about taxation without represnetation, or at least that’s what we’ve been taught all these years.  Civil disobedience gave us the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and pretty much any other advancement as a society.  Without disregard for the law, neither women nor Blacks would be able to vote today.

Reading further into this whole fiasco, I came across a Newsweek article, What’s Driving Conservatives Mad About The New AP History Course, and things all began to make sense so to speak.  This article speaks to the perceived liberalization of American History, and some conservatives feel that we need to teach patriotism and free market enterprise.  The problem with that is patriotism died out long ago and was replaced by partisanship while the free market now turns tricks as the “Invisible Hand” now gives “Invisible Hand Jobs and Prostate Exams” to America.

One passage in particular that sticks out to me in this Newsweek article follows here.

Conservative activists fear losing local control over what is taught in schools, particularly when it comes to the meaning of American history. In interviews, they expressed an uneasiness with a view of history that examines groups rather than focusing on heroic individuals. While they decried the fact that civil rights figures like Dr. King were not explicitly named in the framework, they could have done without the mention of leftist groups that defined the 1960s like the Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers. They also disagreed with the College Board over how children should learn, with [Larry] Krieger and his allies preferring a curriculum based on memorizing facts to one based on critical thinking.

Now, I learned multiplication, addition, and subtraction by memorization, but who’s going to memorize American History?  There’s far too much to memorize to even attempt such a thing.  I understand the idea behind teaching the stories of those who factor the most in American History, but who makes the determination of who matters most?  One person that may be important to me and my American story might not even make the radar of someone else, and likewise.  That last emphasized statement makes me wonder why would anyone not want people to have critical thinking skills?  Do we really want a bunch of Matrix-Pod People simply just to provide energy to the machine?

I loathe ideologues because of BS like this.  Ideology and partisanship is why our educational system is fractured as it is.  There is no liberalism or conservatism in learning and education.  There’s only fact and fiction, truth and false, and right and wrong.  These kids have it right where the grown ups are failing them.

By trying to change things to reflect conservative ideology, the board members there are violating their own proposal by encouraging civil disorder and disobediecne.  At the same time, they are giving the students the opportunity to show them what true patriotism looks and feels like, unlike one of those canned response, confetti-spewing, circle-jerk gatherings we call political conventions.

Students of Jefferson County Colorado…  I support you in spirit, and I wish I could be there to offer you physical support as well.  Stick to your views and ensure your education is grounded in knowledge and not ideological BS masquerading as knowledge.

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8 thoughts on “Keep ideology out of the classroom

  1. Even back when I was going to school, I was as much indoctrinated as I was educated. This ain’t nothing new it just depends on which side’s ox is getting gored. (And I went to school in the 60’s and very early 70’s).

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    • It was no different when I came through the school system. I didn’t care for it then, and I definitely don’t care for it now. I doubt that my objections will change what’s been going on for decades though. I’ll ensure that my kids know how to research things and think for themselves though. It’s hard to take knowledge from someone.

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  2. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and at this point I’ve decided there may not be a good way to teach American history.

    I love my country. I feel privileged to live here. I get annoyed with people like LeninTime who apparently can’t see how amazing it is that we grew from scattered bands of Indians and a couple of shiploads of malcontents to become the most powerful nation on the planet, and how we did it through a cooperative form of government rather than a might-makes-right hierarchy.

    At the same time, I see terrible things we’ve done, sometimes through carelessness, sometimes through deliberate evil. The way we treated the Indians. Slavery. The rape of natural resources through bad practices in farming, hunting, mining, water management, etc. (Much of which continues today.) Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our arrogant and ignorant foreign policy. We have a lot to be humble about or to take lessons from.

    It’s hard for me to keep these things in balance in my own mind. Teaching them to someone else in a balanced way seems impossible.

    It’s nice to call for facts, but we don’t agree about what the facts are. Hank, who claims to teach history and social sciences, often takes my breath away with “facts” that sound like pure fiction to me.

    As with religion, this is an area where parents should take a major role in helping children interpret what they learn.

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    • Granny, one of the nicest presents I ever received was a copy of “Don’t Know Much About History” by Kenneth C. Davis. His “Don’t Know Much” series of books takes different chunks of history (American, Civil War, Presidential) as well as other broad topics like the the states, the Bible, Geography and Astronomy and provides not only a broad outline of the topic, but also a passel of obscure facts you probably never heard in school. What’s even better is that IMO, Davis avoids even a hint of partisan leanings, so far as I can tell.

      If you’re a lifelong learner, as I am, then I think you’ll find these books a joy to have at hand when you’re idle and don’t want to turn on the teevee box. 🙂

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    • I’d disagree on there being a good way to teach history. Initially, I didn’t like the College Board approach of fostering critical thinking as I thought it was too vague.

      After digging deeper and thinking about it, I think that is exactly the approach we need. Critical thinking involves having to actually research things for yourself in order to form an opinion. Instead of simply reciting a fact or two for kids to remember, we should be teaching them to research things to find the truths that are out there. It’s like the giving a man a fish vs teaching a man to fish kind of thing.

      Teaching the kids to research and think for themselves can be applied across all disciplines. I think we need thinkers more than we need people who can simply regurgitate something they’ve been told. Look at where the latter has us now.

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