Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Golden students and teachers stand up



Rachel Hilbrecht, a senior at Golden High School, was out protesting on Monday with about five other students. She said she's been out protesting at 6:30 a.m. and during her lunch breaks every school day since last Monday.

"Instead of seeing it as a day off school, we decided it would be better to come out here and voice our opinion to the public," Hilbrecht said.

***

Manuel Wilson, a junior who helped organize protests at Jefferson High School, was out at Wadsworth Boulevard and West 20th Avenue on Monday, where a group of students were waving signs and chanting "Jeffco stand up." Several parents were also on hand supporting their children.

"We want to make this national," Wilson said, adding that Jefferson students had planned a walk-out for Monday and then adapted once school was closed.

***

"This is our own time. This was all students. No teachers are here, look around," Angelica Dole, a sophomore, said.

***

Responding to my "If they don't teach us about civil disobedience, we'll teach ourselves" here, Bill Tremblay, a fine poet, see here - sends an interesting comment on the self-satisfied and simple minded managerial "order" represented by the censoring Jefferson County School Board.

***

"Alan

Yes, I've run into this a lot.

This is very deep in our middle-management class--who are also middle-aged and well-established people who belong to the Rotary Club and give blood and support a lot of activities and causes in the community. To them the idea of "education" in the sense you mean it is destructive. Better the kids should learn to take a positive lesson from "America's successes." Get themselves ready for "the real world."

They think not only that they are right but that they are the good guys. America's one small contribution to philosophy is Pragmatism. The slogan is: "If it works it's right." The atom bomb worked. But was it right? The obsession with profits is what pragmatism comes down to in daily life. It is a narrowing of human valuation and judgment. Actually it's a kind of colonization of human subjectivity because we are taught only to use money as the tool of evaluation. It's so deep it's invisible. And it corrodes our humanity.

I have a different view because when I do poetry workshops I see people who are trying to use language as a means of reclaiming their subjectivity. They know what they're supposed to feel and think. They suspect that isn't what they really feel and think. It comes in a lot of degrees of extension on out to America and the world.

B
bill tremblay"

***

Many of the protestors are trying for poetry, finding their own voices.

And many of us from such backgrounds look for what is alive and do not identify with money, power, privilege, vanity...

***

Board member Julie Williams speaks censorship from on high, mandated by some powerful, deluded people in the Republican Party:

"Julie Williams, the school board member pushing for the change, has said that the proposal was meant to start a discussion about what she believes is an excessive emphasis on 'race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing' in the course.

Large portions of U.S. history could conceivably fall under that umbrella, from the Boston Tea Party to protests for women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, and protests against the Vietnam War. Discussions of slavery and the Native American genocide might also be marked as “American-bashing,” although the board has not offered an explicit list of what parts of the curriculum were not framed correctly.

Williams told local news station KUSA, 'All I am asking for is for a committee to tell us what is in [the course], and then it’s up to the board to decide what is appropriate for our kids.'"

***

Perhaps she would like to say this about climate change, too (Koch brothers, take note!). Or echo the one time suppression of teaching of evolution. Recall the Scopes trial (more history...).

Unlike the Tories in England and conservatives in many other places, there is a battle for sanity on the American Right. Contra the commercial media, conservatives are often scientific and believe, unsurprisingly, in serious education - see Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. That is part of, not an enemy of, attachment to small government and upholding a rule of decent laws (laws that permit bondage are not such laws). It is distinguished from reactionary or Imperial authoritarianism, which would be a more accurate description of what is called "conservatism" around here by the media.

***

What other things might ignorant School Boards remove?

***

Contra Williams, there is no right for central authority to legislate/censor education, and students are rightly taking the lead in opposing this, seeing that education is not to be set aside by decree...

***

As Melissa Harris-Perry strikingly suggests, to dissent is to be an American patriot. See here. In part, she invokes Patrick Henry's memorable dissent: "Give me liberty or give me death!" Unfortunately that is not the whole story as I trace in Black Patriots and Loyalists. Henry was a slaveowner, who swore: "slavery is morally abhorrent, but I can't live without it." In 1775, Henry called for the Virginia militia to hunt blacks who had escaped to the Crown and fought, in exchange for freedom (as many as 20,000 may have escaped in Virginia; one slaveowner mourned the lack of anyone to "cut me a stick of wood"; the owners, everyone having fled, were left to their own inexperienced and parasitic devices...).

***

Henry's statement might more truthfully read: "Give me slaveowning or give me death!"

But Harris-Perry's general point is true: to go deeply into history, to see things decently is to take in the point of view of of forgotten blacks or Native Americans (see Billy Stratton's wonderful Buried in Shades of Night here). It is to ask, and continue to ask questions.

***

Henry was not like John Laurens, a great leader of the American Revolution from a slave-owning family in South Carolina who wanted to free and train 5,000 recruits and bring them into the field in South Carolina and Georgia. When the Continental Congress passed the Laurens proposal in 1779, it was the zenith of liberty in the American Revolution. Due to rank and file pressure from below (black and white sailors and artisans), many states passed gradual emancipation during and just after the American Revolution.

How there came to be a free North in the Civil War 80 years later, not said in most history textbooks up to 2012, would be something for JEFFCO students to think about...

***

Henry and much of the South, led by South Carolina and Virginia, rebelled to keep slavery. Their secession from Britain prefigured that of the South in the Civil War. Conflict and civil disobedience are not always admirable but they are always to be taught...(these tea partiers miss even the history of the racism they often affirm).

***

Our country would not be a decent place but for revolts from below, starting with the Revolution, continuing with the abolitionist movement, including a large role for women (see Daniel Carpenter and Colin Moore's article on women abolitionists "When Canvassers Became Activists: Antislavery Petitioning and the Political Mobilization of American Women" in the August, 2014 American Political Science Review here), and culminating on John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859, arguably the most significant event in American history; it triggered the Civil War and focused it on bondage.

Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" - see here - was linked to three speeches in praise of John Brown. Though Thoreau went to jail for a day for refusing to pay taxes, he admired Brown deeply and was not nonviolent. But later writers/activists, like Martin Luther King and Barbara Deming, have seen the limitations of violence, the enormous, potentially world saving (as an environment for 7 billion people) role of nonviolence.

***

Then in a second segment, Melissa Harris Perry interviews two of the students Ashley Maher and Kyle Ferris (Columbine High) who are participating in and helping organize the protest. Maher speaks of the importance of facts in history; forbidding learning history makes it possible for the fact-free floating world of Susan Williams and her School Board cohorts to exist. Consider the first 72 years of the Republic: the President was a slave-owner for 52 of them (I would be surprised if the AP text was that pointed...) But the facts make some political and moral conclusions justified, and rule out others. It is thus hard to teach American history without criticism of the oppression of black people, the murder across the Continent of Native Americans. See here.

***

Not every point of view will withstand the facts, i.e. the Witt-less claim that American history must only be taught on a "positive note." If we are to learn from our mistakes, as these students rightly emphasize, arrive at long effort at a decent place, one of mutual recognition of diverse voices and an equal rights-based democracy, then we need to foster serious education.

***

Ashley and Kyle are going to school board this Thursday to protest its wretched censorship and moving towerd a demonstration of high school students Saturday Oct. 4. Everyone should support them.

***

Harris-Perry is right. Dissent is patriotism. But pseudo-patriots give the latter a bad name. For peseudo-patriotism aimed to crush dissent - Meletus v. Socrates in the Apology - is also "the last refuge of a scoundrel." And that, Mr. "Witt," Ms. Williams and Mr. Newkirk, means you...

***

It is sad to see dishonest energy ads preceding the Melissa Harris-Perry interviews on MSNBC. If fact-free advertising, the School Board might say, why not fact-free history? It is worth taking in how powerful and corrupting money is. Perhaps that is to return to Bill Tremblay's point.

***

"Denver Post
Education

Colorado students prep for more protests
09/29/14

By Meredith Clark
Turmoil in Jefferson County, Colorado continues into another week, as two Colorado high schools are closed Monday and students plan a massive protest against a proposed history curriculum on October 1.

Students are planning to walk out of school on “count day,” when school administrators take attendance to help determine how much state funding they will receive. Students continue to organize their actions through social media. Two other Jefferson County schools closed last week because of teacher absences.

Eighty-one percent of teachers at Golden High School called in sick on Monday. Teachers are also concerned about a proposal that would tie pay increases to student test performance.

The hundreds of students who walked out of classes last week are also getting support from the College Board, which is in charge of the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum under fire by the county school board’s conservative majority."

The College Board released a statement Friday in support of the students, saying, “Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history – from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. And these events and ideas are essential within the study of a college-level, AP U.S. History course.”

The College Board also said that if the district does not abide by the course standards, it can’t offer the course.

The proposal is currently tabled and is not currently on the agenda for the next school board meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday.

A member of the Jefferson County school board submitted a proposal that would prevent students from studying parts of the AP U.S. History course that might “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

Julie Williams, the school board member pushing for the change, has said that the proposal was meant to start a discussion about what she believes is an excessive emphasis on “race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing” in the course.

Large portions of U.S. history could conceivably fall under that umbrella, from the Boston Tea Party to protests for women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, and protests against the Vietnam War. Discussions of slavery and the Native American genocide might also be marked as “American-bashing,” although the board has not offered an explicit list of what parts of the curriculum were not framed correctly.

Williams told local news station KUSA, 'All I am asking for is for a committee to tell us what is in [the course], and then it’s up to the board to decide what is appropriate for our kids.'

***

"Golden, Jefferson high schools closed due to teacher absences
By Jesse Paul
The Denver Post
POSTED: 09/29/2014 05:44:11

Jefferson County schools protest

Golden and Jefferson high schools are closed Monday after an overwhelming number of teachers called in absent, continuing unrest in the Jefferson County School District for the third straight week.

Lynn Setzer, a spokeswoman for Jeffco Public Schools, confirmed the closures, saying most teachers called in sick after 8 p.m. Sunday night.

Some 81 percent of teachers at Golden called in absent while the number of Jefferson educators who called in absent was not immediately available, Setzer said.

"I stand with my fellow teachers who are 'sick' of the board majority's actions," said Tammie Peters, an English teacher at Golden who was asked to speak to the media on the school's educators behalf. "While we need some reforms in Jefferson County, the board majority is not providing the reforms we need or want. The board majority continues to show disrespect to the voters, the taxpayers, the teachers, the parents and the students of Jefferson County."

Peters said Jeffco teachers feel the board is treating them unfairly and using a flawed evaluation system.

"I'm very disappointed that some of our instructors have chose not to turn up for work today," Ken Witt, board president, told The Denver Post. "It is not appropriate for adult matters to impact the education of our students."

Witt said the district worked "diligently" over the weekend to prepare for and prevent mass teacher absences.

"It wasn't until this morning that there were enough sick call-ins to force us to close the schools," Witt said.

Despite canceled classes, students at both closed high schools showed up to support their teachers and protest against the school board.

Rachel Hilbrecht, a senior at Golden High School, was out protesting on Monday with about five other students. She said she's been out protesting at 6:30 a.m. and during her lunch breaks every school day since last Monday.

"Instead of seeing it as a day off school, we decided it would be better to come out here and voice our opinion to the public," Hilbrecht said.

Hilbrecht says student leaders at high schools across the county are now talking to plan their next moves.

"I think Facebook is our friend on this issue," she said.

Manuel Wilson, a junior who helped organize protests at Jefferson High School, was out at Wadsworth Boulevard and West 20th Avenue on Monday, where a group of students were waving signs and chanting "Jeffco stand up." Several parents were also on hand supporting their children.

"We want to make this national," Wilson said, adding that Jefferson students had planned a walk-out for Monday and then adapted once school was closed.

Angelica Dole, a sophomore at Jefferson High School, said the students were 100 percent behind their teachers.

"This is our own time. This was all students. No teachers are here, look around," Dole said.

Monday's closure comes after a series of student walk-outs and protests last week at most of the county's high schools. District parents also protested Friday in support of their children.

Unrest in the county schools has circulated around a proposed committee that was going to review the AP U.S. history curriculum. As initially proposed by board member Julie Williams, instructional material should promote "positive aspects" of U.S. history and avoid encouraging "civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."

The board tabled the idea for the panel at its meeting last week, and significant cuts have been proposed by one of Williams' conservative board allies.

Teachers are also upset about an evaluation-based system for awarding raises.

Problems in the county's schools began after a conservative[sic] majority was voted into the board in November.

The College Board, which oversees the advanced placement curriculum, said Friday that it supports the student protests.

Jesse Paul: 303-954-1733, jpaul@denverpost.com or twitter.com/jesseapaul"

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