In Jefferson County, Colorado, hundreds of students walked out of class and teachers staged a sick out in protest over a new political tilt in the school curriculum. They're pissed off about a school board plan to emphasize patriotism, free markets, American exceptionalism, and the like—basically, a conservative view of U.S. history. That curriculum was developed as an alternative to a national history curriculum from the College Board that conservatives accuse of being leftward-tilting and excessively critical of America's traditions and role in the world.
That the two takes on U.S. history are very different and reflect divergent points of view is not in question. But the whole debate is an excellent illustration of why we shouldn't stick our kids in government schools to be spoon-fed whatever tickles the fancy of winners of school board elections.
According to CBS 4:
Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read "There is nothing more patriotic than protest."
The school board proposal that triggered the walkout calls of instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law."
How devoted to the College Board version of history the students are is an open question. At Chalkbeat Colorado, Nicholas Garcia notes, "some students who left school to rally along Wadsworth were treating themselves to nearby fast food, running through intersections, and loitering in parking lots. Others couldn't articulate why they were protesting."
At National Review, before the current fuss, Stanley Kurtz criticized the new College Board curriculum as an attempt to submerge the teaching of American history in a "transnationalist" point of view and "an attempt to hijack the teaching of U.S. history on behalf of a leftist political and ideological perspective."
At the College Board AP Central blog, George Mason Universty's Peter Stearns concedes, "Because world history necessarily reduces the space available to the West and treats the Western tradition as one among several major and valid civilizational experiences, it is inherently suspect."
So a conservative majority on the Jefferson County school board, newly ascendant after elections last November, set out to challenge what they saw as revisionist lessons and make sure classes "present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage." Which is to say, they wanted to insert their point of view into the lessons instead of their opponents' point of view.
And so the classroom culture wars continue.
The thing is…these wars will never end so long as control of curriculum means access to young minds—or denying access to the ideological enemy. When your kids are in the classroom, or your ideas are excluded from the curriculum, the stakes are too high to not try to seize control and make sure that public schools become friendly environments for versions of the world around us that you believe are right and true.
But public schools can never really satisfy every version of what's right and true, and so we're in for endless curriculum battles, texbook wars, and opportunities for kids to walk down the street for a burger while pretending to give a shit about what has the educrats so hot and bothered.
The solution is to abandon the public cafeteria model of education so that kids don't have to line up for the slop served by whoever seized control of the curricular kitchen. If you want to end the classroom culture wars, make sure that curriculum isn't a political prize for whoever wins an election. When families can pick the education approaches and ideas that suit them, there's nothing to fight about. Then the kids can grow up and debate their ideas in local bars, where these arguments belong.
Now, excuse me while I go teach my homeschooled kid that public school educrats are a bunch of contemptible control freaks.