School Curriculum Changes

In Colorado recently an AP curriculum change was proposed to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” (story).

How can “individual rights” be respected if an individual fails to respect an “authority” or statute they don’t agree with…like a potential curriculum change? According to the Jefferson County School Board, by removing a curriculum that tends to “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” So much for the free-market of ideas. To me an AP course would present, for students to grapple and debate, not indoctrinate. Apparently this potential change to the curriculum has done just what the board didn’t want, and civil disobedience has ensued. Besides the curriculum they miss this year due to protests and walk-outs, I suppose the real life events of civil disobedience unfolding before them will teach them more than they would being stuck in a class without the unrest. I’m sure the people protesting in Hong Kong now would sympathize with the students and teachers, and I’m guessing the power elite in Hong Kong would sympathize with the school board trying to mold model citizens.

It’s not that being a model citizen is bad, but just who decides what type of model is up for debate. Apparently, not a model that considers “race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American History for generations.” Just what they mean by “the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential,” I’m not sure, but apparently the current curriculum was not liked by some on the Board. Perhaps they could get former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill on the Board and/or in the classroom, as I think he’s still looking for a job.

Speaking of essential, this story brings us to another state, Indiana, where Governor Mitch Daniels tried to nix Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” from state classrooms. For the record, Zinn was an anarchist, and perhaps a model citizen…imagine that.

As a former teacher in California I saw the State Standards/curriculum as generally good…because they were designed by professionals and teachers in those respective fields. Every discipline covered important/essential material. However, what I didn’t like was having so much minutia to cover as to make it difficult to provide an environment where an open-ended Socratic or project-based method of seeing the big picture was valued. The students in Colorado are getting this first hand. As sad as their plight is, as said above it’s a great teachable moment.

Providing the tools to allow students to think (or how to) and ask questions is a hard task while having to simultaneously tell students “this is what you will think” and “I’ll ask the questions.” Only the most experienced and creative teachers were able to cover the ground required by the state and at the same time help students build their own ship to see them off into the sunset, occasionally providing some wind for their sails, but not steering the boat for them. It was much easier to follow a factory model, unscrew their skulls, and dump shit in teaching to the test, rather than going about it as a facilitator, someone to trying to inspire them to go outside the box of the curriculum…at least in my experience, but damn it I tried. The arm of the state didn’t stop in public schools, as private schools had to cover the same state standards/curriculum. I wish these communities luck, and again, in a way the lessons learned by these incidents are actually a good thing as they’ll experience real change and inspiration first hand.

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