Brennan Linsley/AP
Students are protesting a proposal by the Jefferson County School Board to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history. Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School in Arvada, Colo. on Tuesday, Sept. 23.

Patriots? Colorado student walkout offers real-life lesson in civil disobedience

In Arvada, Colo., kids walked out of the classroom to protest a new curriculum that promotes patriotism but avoids civil disobedience. What US history lessons would have to be filled in by parents if banned from school?

This week some families in Arvada, Colo., are bringing one of nation’s founding principles, civil disobedience, back into vogue by supporting their kids in a district-wide student walkout in protest of a new school board curriculum policy that could keep teachers from sharing much of our nation’s history of acts of civil disobedience.

According to The New York Times reporting from Arvada, “A new conservative school board majority here in the Denver suburbs recently proposed a curriculum-review committee to promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that ‘encourage or condone civil disorder.’” 

In response, hundreds of students, teachers and parents from high schools across the Jefferson County school district, the second largest in Colorado walked out of school, the Times reported. “Sympathetic parents brought poster board, magic markers and bottles of water,” according to the Times.

My son Quin, 10, is a budding news hound who regularly hunts blog topics for me in the morning. He spotted the Arvada school walk-out and cued-up the New York Times story for me on the computer before I had my morning coffee in hand.

However, Quin took the story  literally, particularly a quote by Griffin Guttormsson, a junior at Arvada High School literally who said, “It’s gotten bad. The school board is insane. You can’t erase our history. It’s not patriotic. It’s stupid.”

Quin imagined the Jefferson County school board wanted to literally “erase history.”

“So, they want a time machine to go back and take out the history parts they think are bad, like protests,” Quin said. “First, tell them time machines don’t exist. Then all you need to tell them is to imagine what things would be like if those events had never happened.”

If Quin could spell better and didn’t hate to type, he’d be an immediate threat to my job.

It’s worth a look at what our nation would miss if the Arvada school board did get a chance to remove from the curriculum all events that inspired, what they describe as today’s “educational materials that encourage or condone civil disorder."

First to go might be the Boston Tea Party (the original one, not today’s national conservative political movement of the same name) leading to the War for Independence.

Changing that history would potentially leave the rest of this debate up to the UK parliament.

However, since The Tea Party was also an act of “free enterprise” it might make the cut. If the Tea Party was kept, the school board might instead choose to remove all the anti-war movements involving acts of civil disobedience.

In that case, they could stop teaching the works of Henry David Thoreau, who famously went to jail for refusing to participate in the US war against Mexico in 1849.

This thought makes me realize that the Arvada board is talking about “curriculum” which is not entirely limited to history books in schools, but could potentially include all the literature course books as well.

Since “civil disorder” is how women got the vote, the board could zap away all references to the US Women's Suffrage movement which lasted from 1848 to 1920, a time during which thousands of women marched in the streets and were arrested to gain the right to vote.

And one of the most important historical movements in recent history, the civil rights movement, most notably represented by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wouldn’t have a chance, because it was all about sit-ins and protests that chipped away at segregation.
In order to teach “patriotism” to Americans through the act of selectively omitting parts of American history taught to our children means you will have to get through well-educated parents and grandparents who might have lived through what you have cut out.

In its quest to push a curriculum change, the Jefferson County school district may find it has met its destiny on the road it took to avoid it. The school board has incited a district to repeat the history of civil disorder, passing it down to a new generation of young Americans in a way that is far more effective than any text book classroom experience they could have orchestrated.

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