UPDATE #2: Chalkbeat Colorado's Nicholas Garcia reports, the largest protest yet today in Jefferson County:
Stretching on for a fourth school day, students from some of Jefferson County’s largest high schools gathered at a busy intersection here to echo concerns about a proposed curriculum committee they believe could lead to censorship and show solidarity with their teachers.
The rally appeared to be the largest thus far. More than half of the 1,900 students at Chatfield High School, coupled with hundreds of students from Dakota Ridge walked, ran, and drove up and down a stretch of Simms Street shortly after classes were supposed to start at the two schools.
According to the Denver Post, students at Bear Creek High School also walked out this morning. And according to sources, students at Alameda High School [walked out] this afternoon after meeting with a representative from Jeffco Public Schools.
— ColPhacts (@ColPhacts) September 24, 2014
Yesterday's student walkout at at least five Jefferson County high schools, in protest of the new conservative Jeffco school board majority's proposed "curriculum review committee" to undertake a politically suspect review of revised AP history materials, has exploded into national headlines. The New York Times, along with major online sources like Talking Points Memo and Raw Story, have elevated this controversy and linked it to the larger right-wing struggle against updating education standards throughout the country. Jefferson County, like most school districts, has always had some form of ongoing curriculum review, but carried out by people with educational experience–with specific goals of ensuring the material is comprehensive and conformal to standards set by national bodies like the College Board.
The conservative board majority's proposal, to select members of this new "curriculum review committee" by majority vote of the board with no qualifications required–and especially the committee's proposed mission to ensure the district's history courses promote "citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority," and "presents positive aspects of the United States and its heritage"–is not the same process at all, and poses a direct threat to the academic integrity of Jefferson County's AP history courses. A second proposed target of investigation by this new committee, the district's sex ed courses, hasn't even been explored yet by the media, though we expect that would become every bit as controversial should it be enacted by the board.
The author of the proposal, board member Julie Williams, is a member of the Neville family of arch-conservative activists in Jefferson County. Williams' brother-in-law, for Sen. Tim Neville, is running again for Colorado Senate District 16, and her in-law nephew Joe Neville is the hard-charging principal lobbyist for the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners organization. These are people with a very broad political agenda, of which education policy is merely one piece–albeit an important one. On Monday, as protests ramped up, Williams responded to her critics.
I was truly surprised by the reaction of so many people regarding the AP U.S. History curriculum (APUSH). I must not have explained myself clearly. I thought everyone, or at least everyone involved in education understood the huge debate and controversy surrounding the new APUSH. To be accused of censorship? “Seriously?” That is just ridiculous. I am advocating for just the opposite. So, please let me start at the beginning…
APUSH rejects the history that has been taught in the country for ￼generations. It has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing [Pols emphasis] while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American History for generations….parents who have reviewed APUSH have been very unhappy with what their children will be taught and have lost trust in the “experts”. Please note: This is NOT a committee to review teachers, this is NOT about teachers, it is about curriculum review, which is a board’s responsibility.
Balance and respect for traditional scholarship is NOT censorship. Again we believe that exposure to the curriculum itself, not inflammatory rhetoric; will convince most parents that a review committee is a very good idea. I humbly ask our Jeffco history teachers to review their philosophical position on the APUSH. I think the majority will be surprised to find they agree. I invite them to join us while we investigate this curriculum, together…
Last, when it comes to history I believe all children graduating from an American school should know 3 things: American Exceptionalism, an understanding of US History, and know the Constitution.
The most obvious problem with this response is how Williams says she doesn't want censorship, but then launches immediately into a reactionary diatribe about the AP history curriculum's "emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing." Williams clearly doesn't like that, and we can infer pretty easily from her description of it that she would like the new AP history curriculum in Jefferson County to change.
Which is an awful lot like censoring it.
For us, the sophomoric and badly-written language of this "press release" is itself an embarrassment to the Jefferson County School District. We can't speak for everyone, of course, but placing the word "experts" in scare quotes inspires the opposite of confidence in this person's viewpoint–especially as an education administrator. It would be one thing to have a debate about a history text's "emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing" with a person who is qualified to debate these subjects, but Williams simply is not. Her sole purpose on this school board appears to be to inject the Neville's far-right agenda into their process at every step, and spew AM radio talking points that have no place in a discussion about education in one of Colorado's best and largest public school districts. Certainly not in the closely divided political bellwether of Jefferson County.
The exposure of Williams' agenda, now underway in the form of massive protests and national news coverage, could be very bad for her fellow Republicans this election season. By provoking such controversy with a political review of history, Williams has touched a nerve that crosses party lines–and could bring out angry independent voters in Jeffco who might otherwise have stayed home.
For Republicans, this could be a most unfortunate consequence–even if they can't say it was unintended.