In October, high school students in Jefferson County, Colorado, shocked administrators and the school board by protesting proposed changes to the AP US history curriculum, as well as other decisions by the school board. Plans were to take out episodes of civil unrest in American History textbooks in order to promote a more patriotic view of the United States. The protests began in just a few schools, the protests spread to 17 high schools across the county. Both students and teachers participated and voiced their concerns with the plans to change. Mostly, the teachers were concerned with pay cut proposals, while students were concerned with the AP history lessons. Overall, they felt that the majority voice of the school board was not accurately reflecting their viewpoint. Despite being a quiet, sleepy, suburban area, students across Jefferson County were able to create a grassroots movement with plenty of substance.
The movement sparked national attention. The story was picked up by national media outlets and response from outside the community was proliferate. The National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter to the Jefferson County School Board, saying, “Decisions about instructional materials should be based on sound educational grounds, not because some people do or do not agree with the message, ideas, or content of a particular book or lesson. We strongly urge you to adopt policies and procedures that focus, not on molding patriots or citizens in a particular image, but on educating students to be informed, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and engaged participants in their communities”. The Washington Post even interviewed a student leader of the protests, Kyle Ferris.
One of the schools participating in the protests is Columbine High School, the school tragically affected by the 1999 massacre. The school is now getting mostly positive mentions in the media. As someone who lives in the same community that Columbine High School serves, I felt it refreshing to see that the students were standing up and having a voice. The students felt comfortable having identities as leaders of their community. I asked a current Columbine High School senior, Olivia Greenwood, on her view of the protests.
Did you participate in the protests in any way, directly or indirectly?
I did participate in these protests indirectly by wearing a button that says Stand up for Students, which is the slogan for this protest and I have supported the walkouts and the students participating in them. I would have walked out but at the time I didn’t have a full understanding of what the protests were and I didn’t walk out. But now that I have gained more information, I plan to participate in other walkouts and other demonstrations.
How did the protests affect your everyday life or school experience?
The protests have affected my everyday school life because nearly every teacher wears a Stand up for Students button or T-shirt, and there is a student lead group that spreads the word by fliers and T-shirts. Just recently students went to the school board meeting and took turns reading from their history books in demonstration. This issue is now widely known by all of the students and more students are taking a stand for our education and teachers.
What do you think of the protests and of the arguments being made?
I think that the arguments that the history books should be censored are not what the education system needs. I have been raised on learning from my mistakes and not making the same mistakes again so for us to learn how America was created and has evolved to today without including slavery or the civil rights movement seems absurd because this is part of our history. It is what makes America, America and without these events we wouldn’t be where we are today. My argument back to the school board is just because you take the teaching of these events out of the curriculum doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen.
Even though I came to Fordham University and no longer have strong ties to my home neighborhood, my interest in these protests was strong because it was groundbreaking to see such direct action being taken. Too many times, concerns are voiced in small communities but no action is taken because people are too afraid to stand out in their neighborhoods. They simply analyze the consequences of the matter but they do not take any sort of direct action. I found it quite bohemian of the high school students to stand up and demonstrate their opposition to a new curriculum. They were breaking the norms of sleepy suburban life and opposing the majority opinion to make their voices heard.The students were faced with a majority opinion they did not agree with, and instead of simply submitting they stood up for themselves and protested. This spirited behavior makes me proud of my home neighborhood. The spirit of the protests continues today. Students now offer silent support with buttons and are no longer doing walkouts, but the movement has remained in the center of their minds. The school board may not listen to the protesters in the end, but the efforts are impressive for such a small community.