I found that some prominent complaints about those guidelines were simply false, and that the most vocal critic among educators appears to have a financial interest in preventing the College Board from instituting the new test.
That controversy made more national news when it became part of an already-brewing dispute over education in Jefferson County, Colorado. One member of the new far-right majority on the county education board, Julie Williams, proposed a special “Curriculum Review Committee” with the A.P. course guidelines one of its first targets. Her proposal (P.D.F. download) also stated:
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. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.Those phrases “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law” and “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage” come from Texas’s education guidelines.
The county Parent-Teacher Association “voted unanimously” to oppose the move. The Jefferson County Education Association voted “no confidence” in the new head of the education board, and teachers called in sick in large numbers. Students staged a long and boisterous walkout.
The South JeffCo Tea Party is a big supporter of Williams’s approach—despite taking its name from an episode of “civil disorder, social strife [and] disregard of the law.” That sort of ignorant double standard produced ridicule across the country.
Williams agreed to withdraw the language quoted above. However, she also issued a statement claiming that she was advocating balance and accuracy, not censorship, despite how her proposal demanded what curriculum materials “should promote” and “should not encourage.” More convincingly, she concluded:
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 [sic] the Constitution.Parallel structure aside, Williams thus admitted the ideological point of her protest, which matches the real reason for many other people’s protests about the A.P. guidelines: they want students to be taught that the U.S. of A. is special.
That’s a form of indoctrination, not just education. I prefer to think that if schools teach students about U.S. and world history accurately, they’ll be able to decide if and how the U.S. of A. is special. They’ll be able to reach their own conclusions about what parts of our national history are admirable, what parts should spur us to do better, and how best to reach collective decisions.
Last week, after fierce public debate, the Jefferson County school board’s conservative majority adopted a version of Williams’s proposal that requires her review committee to include teachers and students and to have open meetings. Since school curricula were already reviewed at two levels, the board’s new conservative majority thus managed to add a layer of bureaucracy. The underlying conflict has in no way been resolved.
TOMORROW: Exceptionalist thinking in action.