Massaging history

True, it’s just one school board in one city. Still, a recent edict handed down by the Jefferson County School Board in Denver has to be more than a little unsettling to those of us who believe that history should adhere to that current popular saying: “It is what it is.”

And not what we would like it to be.

Apparently, the Jefferson County board wants to edit history, and a lot of parents in the community aren’t happy about it. Even the Guardian weighed in on the story, after providing a little background on widespread community discontent with some recently elected members of the board.

“The spark which ignited the tinderbox,” the article continued, “was a proposal written by one of the conservative majority on the school board, Julie Williams. In it, she calls for a review of the Advanced Placement history curriculum using the following set of criteria: ‘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.’

“Williams gave an interview with Colorado’s Channel 9 News in which she made a statement that has since become a rallying cry for the students, parents and teachers protesting against the proposal: ‘I don’t think we should encourage our kids to be little rebels.’”

So a group of nonconforming students decided to come to school “dressed as famous historical rebels; figures who were responsible for just the sort of ‘civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law’ that Williams’ proposal seemingly aimed to banish from the classroom.”

Cute. Meanwhile, most of the teachers called in sick. I don’t blame them.

For if there’s anything America isn’t, it’s passive. Just ask any politician, anywhere. Respect for authority goes only as far as agreement with that authority — otherwise, it’s every American for himself.

Absent “civil disorder,” slavery would continue to be practiced here (or at least segregation), women would not be allowed to vote, and we’d still have troops in Vietnam.

Moreover, how can you promote any “ideals” through history, which is generally fluid, unpredictable and uncooperative?

We already serve up a sanitized, glorified version of past events to our school-age children. Eventually, if they haven’t been turned off for life from the subject, they learn that our Founding Fathers weren’t perfect, the men who wrote the Constitution didn’t all agree, some of our foreign policy since 1776 was just wrong, and the Civil War is a lot more complicated than most people realize.

I wonder if Julie Williams stopped to think that “respect for authority” and “respect for individual rights” often collide. Maybe she should listen to the students.


One thought on “Massaging history

  1. Jim Martin says:

    History is always written by the winners and I suppose that even applies to the winners of elections. The interesting part is how oblivious these people are to the irony of their statements. My gut reaction is to merely write them off as morons but in reality they have just been assimilated into the group-think of those on the right where you must espouse and be in favor of all of the positions of the right and totally disagree with any liberal position. I will never understand how that works or why everything must be political.


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