GOLDEN, Colo. - Censorship is in the eye of the beholder.
Pardon the adulterated aphorism, but both sides of the controversy in Jeffco Public Schools seem to be concerned that the other wants to censor history.
The argument that has now caused disruptions over four consecutive school days, including massive walkouts involving hundreds of students, is centered on a proposed review of the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum -- abbreviated APUSH.
Newly elected school board member Julie Williams proposed forming a committee to review the content of the APUSH curriculum. One day after that proposal and another about teacher compensation appeared on a board meeting agenda, two high schools were forced to close because of a high number of teacher absences. The teachers returned to work Monday, but students have continued the protests.
The proposal submitted to the board suggested the committee would make sure that U.S. history materials "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 U.S. history should present balanced and factual treatments of the positions."
Conifer High School teachers took to the "Support Jeffco Kids" Facebook page on Monday, alleging that the proposal would "require teachers to completely ignore certain aspects of American history rather than teach the entirety of American history."
APUSH is administered by the College Board, the same group that runs the SAT test. The new curriculum, summarized in a framework document, became effective in fall of 2014. Hundreds of other documents posted by the College Board delve deeper into each area of the curriculum.
Williams links the changes in APUSH to the Common Core -- a set of academic standards supported by President Barack Obama's administration but rejected by some states. Williams noted in a letter that she had also previously proposed opting out of the Common Core.
-- CONSERVATIVES WORK TO REVIEW APUSH --
Texas has notably rejected both APUSH and the Common Core. Their decision on APUSH came last week, amid uproar in conservative circles about perceived anti-American bias in the new curriculum and exam.
The Associated Press in Texas wrote on Sept. 17: "Conservative activists, though, have decried the new course, the teachers' framework and even the exam itself as rife with liberal themes and focusing on the negative aspects of U.S. history. Some have even likened it to 'mind control' engineered by the federal government."
Two state senators in Tennessee are also working to have their state school board look at the curriculum, calling it revisionist history "ideologically slanted in favor of progressive interpretations of American history."
Conservatives say the curriculum was written and reviewed by committees dominated by individuals hostile to traditional American history and fails to gives serious attention to American exceptionalism.
The Republican National Committee last month came out against the new APUSH framework, saying it "reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation's history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects."
The RNC said in the framework, there is "little or no discussion of the founding fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation's history and many other critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course ... the framework excludes discussion of the U.S. military, (no battles, commanders, or heroes), and omits many other individuals and events that greatly shaped our nation's history (for example Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen and the Holocaust)."
In a resolution adopted by the RNC in August, the RNC requested the College Board delay the implementation of the new APUSH curriculum for at least a year and that Congress investigate the matter further and withhold any federal funding to the College Board until the APUSH course has been rewritten.
-- WILLIAMS SAYS SHE'S ANTI-CENSORSHIP --
Williams said in her letter to the public, that she believed she was fighting against censorship of history.
"I must not have explained myself clearly," she wrote. "I thought everyone, or at least everyone involved in education understood the huge debate and controversy surrounding the new APUSH. To be accused of censorship? 'Seriously?' That is just ridiculous. I am advocating for just the opposite."
Williams accurately states in her letter that Martin Luther King Jr. is not mentioned in the 142-page APUSH curriculum outline. However, the civil rights movement is mentioned frequently.
She incorrectly states that Thomas Jefferson is not mentioned. In fact, his name appears in the framework document precisely once -- as an example of a former colonist who "continued to possess wealth, power and influence" after the American Revolution.
The document's only mention of John Adams appears in the same paragraph.
"(The APUSH curriculum) has an emphasis on 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," Williams wrote.
-- CONTROVERSY SHADOWS SCHOOL BOARD --
Controversy has shadowed the board since Williams and two others -- Ken Witt and John Newkirk -- were elected in November 2013. The three banded together as conservatives during their run for office, and the previous superintendent abruptly retired after their election.
Superintendent Daniel McMinimee, whose hiring was also controversial for the district, spoke to students Wednesday. While he spoke out against censorship in general, he did not accuse either side of trying to censor the curriculum. He also reminded the audience, repeatedly, that nothing was decided about the proposal during the board meeting.
"I do understand there was some frustration from some of the kids around feeling like I was trying to not answer their questions, but that's because we're not there in the process yet -- haven't had the discussion about how this committee might affect AP US History," he said. "The discussion was about the formation of the committee."
McMinimee went on to express his suspicion that some of the recent protests are fueled, at least in part, by competitiveness between the district's high schools. He pointed out that different schools have protested each day, and so far no student body has held a walkout on consecutive days.
"I do wonder how many students actually fully understand what it is the board is talking about right now," he told 7NEWS.
After McMinimee's visit, students at Alameda International High School walked out in protest.
In truth both sides of the dispute seem to be using very similar arguments to justify opposing views.
"Balance and respect for traditional scholarship is NOT censorship," Williams wrote Monday, in a statement that might be true for both sides.
Whichever side wins the dispute may be able to live out this aphorism: History is written by the victors.
- What is in the AP History curriculum that is so controversial?
- Superintendent Dan McMinimee sends letter to parents
- Controversy shadows Jeffco School Board
- Jeffco School Board lampooned on Twitter
- Jeffco student walkouts continued Wednesday
- Hundreds of student walk out at 5 schools Tuesday
- Teachers explain their sickout
- Classes canceled over teacher absences