Sunday, September 28, 2014

"If they don't teach us civil disobedience, we will teach ourselves"

Not many words of protestors find their way into the Denver Post. For instance, strikers, anti-war demonstrators and even black folks in Ferguson confronting the cold-blooded murder of Michael Brown, not so much....

But the "red white and blue" Jeff CO School Board - wishing to instruct historians on how American history must be taught by command from on high - "positive", "free market" and a masterpiece of stupidity - has driven the Post, the Times, Fox News and even the College Board to respond...(h/t Hilary Putnam)


"I don't think my education should be censored. We should be able to know what happened in our past," said Tori Leu, a 17-year-old student who protested at Ralston Valley High School in Arvada.

Freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom to learn without state censors is a sometime American value (often abridged about non-white people especially, and for ages, but still...). It is good that Tori Leu recalls the Bill of Rights since the 3 tyrants don't...


"If they don't teach us civil disobedience, we will teach ourselves." said Savanna Barron, a senior at Lakewood High School.


Henry David Thoreau founded the practice and study of American civil disobedience, which is one of our greatest democratic innovations. For it fights against great injustices, maintained in normal times - aside from mass protest from below - by both parties dominated by a wealthy (today military-industrial-financial) elite, by standing up peacefully, often breaking minor laws and accepting the penalty. It seeks to challenge injustice - aggression, murder, discrimination - without killing. It challenges undemocracy while striving to preserve democracy. Alice Paul is an American. Martin King is an American., Barbara Deming (see Revolution and Equilibrium here) is an American. This noble American tradition goes back to Socrates (cf. Gandhi's translation of Socrates here) and Jesus's Sermon on the Mount (to turn the other cheek required a master to strike a "disobedient" with the hand he wiped himself with. It was initially an act of resistance, even contempt, on the part of the person who was struck. The same is true for the instruction to lug the Roman warrior's armor twice as far as normal (since the ordinary command tired a person out, it was just to say: you think you're tough...). It seeks to challenge injustice without killing. It challenges undemocracy while striving to preserve democracy.

"WNW" (Williams Newkirk Witt) love "Jesus," just like they do the "Bill of Rights"...


I taught a course on Socrates, Gandhi and mass nonviolent resistance this week and another on comparative nonviolence and the Dalai Lama in preparation for 15 students to do service learning this winter in Dharamsala. It was good to learn that in Jefferson County, these courses would be outlawed...

It is better to learn, however, that students get this really deeply (the horror at the "the 3 tyrants" is, among the young, pretty well universal...), and are standing up to reactionary and false authority (that you have a job does not mean that you do well at it, in this case, does not mean that the jobholders do not startlingly betray their responsibility.)


Tea Party people are sometimes anti-war and often against "Big Government." Except when they are Big Government...

The artisans and sailors in the Boston Tea Party, black and white, painted their faces as Native Americans and threw the tea - legally owned by the British ship master and those who sent him - into Boston Harbor. Modern "Tea Party" Forces of Order, perhaps WNW do not recall, the Americans made a...Revolution.


Mr. Witt also blamed the union for inspiring students (as the Crown that "traitor George Washington who inspired those damned Boston tea...").

They don't believe students can think or act for themselves. This is a pretty serious violation of the most minimal qualification to be a decent member of a school board (or public official in a democracy society).

The role of a school board is not to impose its own prejudices or echoed, widespread prejudices on students. It is to stay out of the process of education, leaving that to diverse teachers, parents and students, except to bar racism, sexism, homophobia and other bigotries. Unless each student has an equal freedom to pursue it, education will not go well and is undemocratic.

The job is also to encourage the buses to run on time (though I should warn WNW without Mussolini's authority), to negotiate contracts for reasonable pay for district workers and teachers, to plan the creating of new schools or updating of buildings, and the like.


Now it is true of Mr. "Witt" that he has neither the wit nor the education to think for himself - and is advocating "Order" without knowing anything of the subject matter of history (see Mike Littwin below).

As paradigms of authoritarianism, willed ignorance, "anti-Americanism" (I detest this common slur for it is usually a projection of censors who have nothing to say for themselves in order to silence others, but here it fits), they are, in this one way, educating people in what not to do if you are ever asked to lead anyone else...


"WNW" will have to break all the mirrors in every house they walk into. They would not like to see themselves...


They will have to duck hurriedly out of crowds. People will shout at them now and whisper later. For they have made JEFFCO nationally famous in the way of foolishness and evil. They are now like the Texas School Board that banned Tom Jefferson from American History textbooks in a big market - guess Barnes and Noble textbooks won't be naming the author of the Declaration of Independence in at least this part of the country anytime soon...

But the members of such a School Board could doubtfully pass the early grades...


Two of our children went to the JeffCo Open School (an experimental school) which does read books, i.e. does not use textbooks. Open School students, too, walked out to protest.


To go out of school to protest is educational...


Teachers at two JEFFCO schools rightly had a sick-out last week. But what the students are doing may teach them (us), too.


Their protests fight for learning against pathetic and awful government bureaucrats (Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco, Arizona two years ago which banned Chicano studies and had "officials" seize novels from the students...). This is not happening in a distant country, but right here and needs to be fought...


The students have taken an important step out of doors; as with the Hobbit, they have begun a journey and really understood for themselves a central feature of, even seen beyond - "we are the ones we have been waiting for" - the AP curriculum.


Students, through their movements about civil rights or against the Vietnam war, in fact, always do educate ourselves, often at great cost, against existing narrow-mindedness and oppression; we also sometimes reach (as on a mountaintop) for the fresh air of...freedom to seek the truth.


Massive protest near Columbine High marks fourth day of walkouts
By Jesse Paul and John Aguilar
The Denver Post

Josh Schroeder 10th grader holds Laura Studley, 10th grader on his shoulders as she holds up her sign during Bear Creek High School students walk out September 25, 2014 to protest proposed AP History changes as they lined Kipling St. in Lakewood. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)

Dakota Ridge High students hold up signs on the corner of South Wadsworth Blvd and West Bowles Ave. during their walk out Thursday morning, September 25, 2014 to protest proposed AP History curriculum changes. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

JEFFERSON COUNTY — While teachers and the Jefferson County school board are busy blaming each other for this week's student walkouts and protests, the teens are happy to take credit.

"People think because we are teenagers, we don't know things, but we are going home and looking things up," said Savanna Barron, a senior at Lakewood High School, as she waved a sign on Kipling Street on Thursday morning. "If they don't teach us civil disobedience, we will teach ourselves."

By Thursday, the fourth straight day of protests, students had improved their organization, message and size, rallying a group of roughly 1,000 at a combined Columbine and Dakota Ridge high school walkout that saw kids crowd onto a pedestrian bridge over South Wadsworth Boulevard.

A movement that started with cardboard signs and random chants has moved to bullhorns and even a slogan: "It's our history, don't make it mystery."

Facing criticism about skipped classes — including from passing motorists at Lakewood High who shouted at the demonstrators — some students opted to use their lunch or free periods to protest.

Others said they didn't mind skipping class.

"It's an unexcused absence, but I don't care," Tayler Lopez, a sophomore at Columbine and a protest organizer, said Thursday. "This is more important than truancy."

Hundreds of high schoolers across the county have hit the streets protesting a proposed curriculum committee that would call for promoting "positive aspects" of U.S. history and avoiding or condoning "civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law." They're also upset about an evaluation-based system for awarding raises to educators.

Controversy has swirled around the Jefferson County school board after the election of a conservative majority to run the 85,000-student district. Action began last week when two schools closed because 50 teachers either called in sick or took a personal day.

The issue has become so heated that Thursday the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said deputies were investigating threats against school board members' children. Sheriff's officials declined to elaborate.

The school board defended the proposed committee Wednesday, although they suggested the most controversial aspects could be cut. Also, the proposal has been tabled.

Students from Columbine, Lakewood, Bear Creek and Dakota Ridge high schools all walked out of school Thursday in the largest single-day protest so far.

Jefferson County school board president Ken Witt spoke near the Columbine protest to reporters from national media outlets, saying he thought the protests were a union tool and that students were being misled.

"I think it's unfortunate, presently, for our students being used as pawns," Witt said.

But John Ford, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, the teachers union, called Witt's assertion that it's behind the student protests "insulting."

"This is out of our control," he said. "The kids have taken this on and run with it. This is a pretty organic, grassroots thing."

Ford said one student told him she felt this was "the first time she was involved in something bigger than herself."

Superintendent Dan McMinimee said it's a positive that students feel empowered to have a voice in their education.

However, he said, "I have a hard time believing that a high school senior cares about the collective bargaining agreement or wants to understand how the superintendent was hired, and those are some of the questions we've been getting. I don't know where that is coming from, and I am not pointing fingers at anybody."

The protests, which have been organized on Facebook by a handful of students at each school, are staggered throughout the day to increase media presence."


"Jefferson County schools protest

Columbine High School students line the bridge at South Wadsworth Blvd. and West Bowles Ave. during their walk out September 25, 2014 to protest proposed AP History curriculum changes. Both Columbine and Dakota Ridge merged at the corner to protest as one. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

"It was students talking to students talking to more students," said student Red Domonovi at a protest outside Ralston Valley High on Tuesday.

Kelly Johnson, a former Jefferson County PTA staffer and a mother of two boys in the district, said the kids are organizing through various means.

"They're using social media, they're hearing from other kids at school and they're listening to the news media," Johnson said. "It's classically this generation."

She suspects there are "two layers" of students involved. Those who serve in student government or who have more awareness of the issues brewing around them are galvanizing the larger student body to go out and make their voices heard, Johnson said.

"There is definitely a more informed layer that feels like the community is being disrespected by this board," she said.

Several parents have said they've called in to excuse students from classes to prevent them from being reprimanded. Many who said they told their children they can protest only if they understand the facts were surprised to hear their kids knew more than they did.

"I'm really proud of the kids for standing up for what's right," said Kim Foley, whose son is a senior at Columbine. "They're really well-informed on the issues."

While parents say the momentum for the protests has come from students, an e-mail was circulating urging adults to protest at a county intersection Friday morning.

In addition, students Thursday said they are planning an all-district walkout next week.

Ford said what happens next largely will be determined by how much students feel they are being listened to.

"Are they being heard?" he asked. "And is the school district doing anything about it?"

Columbine High School Students walked out September 25, 2014 to protest proposed AP History curriculum changes as they marched to and stood up on a bridge."


Colorado Independent
Fair and Unbalanced
Mike Littwin

September 26, 2014

Don’t know much about history. — the late, great Sam Cooke
Don’t know much about AP history. — the not-quite-so-great Julie Williams

As you may have heard, Jefferson County School Board member Julie Williams is upset about the direction of the Advanced Placement U.S. History course curriculum. And so she has proposed that a committee be formed to review it to ensure that the curriculum — written by, you know, historians — is sufficiently patriotic and sufficiently respectful of authority.

As Williams puts it, she wants to make sure that the AP course emphasizes the “positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

So what exactly in the coursework has caused Williams such concern?

She has no idea.

I mean that — to quote Joe Biden — literally. She has no idea. After a fourth consecutive day of Jeffco student protests — the best example of student democracy in action you could ask for — 9News’ Whitney Wild got Williams on the phone and asked her about all the turmoil.

Not surprisingly, Williams said the students were “uninformed pawns” of the teachers’ union. It’s not surprising because Williams is one of the Jeffco 3, the recently elected, Koch-brothers-praised, ultra-conservative school board majority that has gone to war with Jeffco schools as we once knew them.

But when Wild asked Williams what the AP curriculum writers might have gotten wrong about U.S. history, it turned out that Williams was the one who was uninformed. Wild said that Williams couldn’t name a single example.

Williams said students protesting the curriculum changes she suggests are needed are ‘uninformed pawns’ of the teachers union. She also said she’s not ‘familiar enough’ with the current curriculum to say what’s wrong with it.
What Williams did say was this: “I’m not familiar enough with everything that is in AP history to make that judgment.”

So, she gets an incomplete? OK, that might be unfair. To her credit, Williams has inadvertently provided the inspiration for the best Jeffco-based hashtag of the year: #JeffCoSchoolBoardHistory, in which you name examples of history as the Jeffco school board would want it written. Sample that I read: If it wasn’t for a ban on high-capacity magazines, Davy Crockett would have held the Alamo.

We know where Williams got her inspiration. This AP course is the latest cause taken up by conservatives, sharing the educational spotlight with the Common Core drama. You know about Common Core, in which states would share, uh, common educational goals, which would lead to God knows what, but something apparently really, really bad.
The AP controversy hasn’t gotten the same kind of play, but you can go to National Review and Breitbart and the usual suspects to learn more about the AP’s so-called “left-leaning” and “subversive” and “blame-America-first” ideology. In these critics’ view, there is not enough said about the Founders and maybe too much said about people who found themselves on the wrong side of Manifest Destiny. The Texas board is all over this. And the Republican National Committee.

In Williams’ proposal for a review committee – which was tabled at the last school board meeting — she said she wanted a history course that would “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.”

And she wanted to eliminate any materials from the AP course’s playbook that would “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

She wanted “good citizens, not rebels.”

Teachers called it censorship and ahistorical and staged a sick-out at two schools last Friday. And then the
students joined in — first by the hundreds and now, according to the estimates, by the thousands — leaving school in walk-outs.

I talked to Ashlyn Maher, one of the walk-out leaders at Chatfield High. She resented being called a pawn and said that her teachers weren’t allowed to even bring up the topic in class, much less encourage rebellion.

Maher is a Chatfield senior who plans to someday major in either — get ready for this — astrobiology or planetary geology. Meanwhile, she got a call the other day from classmate Scott Romano, who asked her if she wanted to help organize an action. She did. They put together a Facebook page, which got more than 500 likes. They told students not to walk out unless they understood why they were doing it. They linked to articles explaining the situation. And on Wednesday, maybe half the school walked — many with their parents’ approval, many holding signs like “Don’t make history a mystery.”

“This is us,” said Maher, who said she took AP History in her sophomore year. “We’re not pawns being used by the teachers. We’re not pawns of anyone. We have a stake in the game the Board is playing.”

She said she got out her old AP history notebook and highlighted all the things the board said is missing from the curriculum.

“It was all in there,” she said. “Boston Tea Party? Washington’s Farewell Address? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Really? They said we focused too much on gender and ethnicity and classism. How can we learn about Martin Luther King if we don’t learn about racism?”

And now she’s learning about irony. It is ironic, for example, that so-called Tea Partiers would want to remove reading matter that would “encourage or condone civil disorder.”

It’s ironic that Williams doesn’t want “rebels” when the country was founded — she must know this — in rebellion.
I’m guessing the school board will try to pretend the proposal never happened. See: #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory. There are already signs of backtracking. But it may be too late. Otherwise the history of Jefferson County schools would have to include a chapter on a bunch of engaged high school students who forced an ill-informed school board to back down.
[ Photo of Jeffco School Board member Julie Williams via Westword. ]


The Guardian
US 'little rebels' protest against changes to history curriculum
After a conservative school board proposed dramatic changes to promote patriotism and downplay civil unrest in an advanced course, hundreds of students and teachers joined a growing protest against what they see as censorship of education

Jordan Gleason, of Columbine High school, participates in a protest against the school board proposal’s hardline conservative stance that condemns ‘civil disorder’. Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP
Nicky Woolf

On Friday, Egan Walker, a sophomore at Standley Lake high school in Jefferson County, Colorado, will go to school dressed as Martin Luther.

He is doing so not for homework or a class project, but as part of protest against what many see as a radical rightwing agenda of the newly elected school board in Jefferson County. Friday’s will be the latest in a rapidly escalating week of protests by teachers and pupils.

The unrest began last Friday, when more than 50 teachers staged a “sick-out” which closed two schools. By Monday, students across the county had taken up the cause, with 100 walking out of Evergreen high school, followed by 200 more from five different schools on Tuesday.

On Wednesday more than 700 more students walked out from Chatfield, Alameda International and Dakota Ridge high schools, gathering, according to CBS news, and chanting “education without limitation”. Thursday saw more than a thousand students leaving school and taking to the streets.

Jefferson County, in the suburbs of Denver, is one of Colorado’s most populous counties, and is the largest school district in the state, with 84,000 students. “In general, school board meetings are pretty mundane,” said Jim Earley, whose three children attend Jefferson County schools.

That changed, he said, last November, following the election of the new school board in Jefferson County – one with a conservative majority of three: Julie Williams, John Newkirk and the board’s chairman, Ken Witt.

The new majority swiftly set about making enemies. They appointed a new superintendent, Dan McMinimee, in a process that many criticised as opaque; and also allocated funds to bail out two ailing charter schools. They took a hardline stance on teacher evaluations, choosing to count the results from the test of a new evaluation regime that teachers had been previously told would not be included.

Students line a busy intersection to protest in the Denver suburb of Littleton. Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP
Earley and other parents followed the actions of the new school board with mounting alarm. “I’m worried,” he said. “I’m very worried.”

The spark which ignited the tinderbox was a proposal written by one of the conservative majority on the school board, Julie Williams. In it, she calls for a review of the Advanced Placement history curriculum using the following set of criteria:

“Materials should 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.”

Williams gave an interview with Colorado’s Channel 9 News in which she made a statement that has since become a rallying cry for the students, parents and teachers protesting against the proposal: “I don’t think we should encourage our kids to be little rebels.”

The plan hatched by Walker, along with his sister Emma, was that they – and others at schools across the county – would come into school on Friday dressed as famous historical rebels; figures who were responsible for just the sort of “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law” that Williams’ proposal seemingly aimed to banish from the classroom.

Jefferson County has found itself front and center in a national debate about what should and should not be taught in American schools – and who gets to decide. The AP course is an elective module which high school students can elect to take early. It is set by a national body, and is acceptable as college credit at more than 3,000 universities.

But the concept of any nationally-set curriculum raises the hackles of conservative activists, who are currently engaged in a vicious rear-guard action against the Common Core standards.

Students line a busy intersection and overpass protesting against the school board proposal to emphasise patriotism and downplay civil unrest.
Students line a busy intersection and overpass protesting against the school board proposal to emphasise patriotism and downplay civil unrest. Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP
In March, at a conference, the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution condemning the AP history course as a “radically revisionist” and anti-American view of history, and the Texas state board of education is moving ahead with plans which would effectively ban the AP history class outright, along with all other courses set above state level.

Rosemary Downs is a mother of four, two of whom are still in the Jefferson County public schools system. Her son Simon, a freshman at Lakewood high school, took part in a walkout on Thursday morning.

Rosemary told the Guardian that she was present at the meeting where the old superintendent was “forced out” by the new conservative majority, whom opponents refer to collectively by their last initials: “WNW”.

“It was a farce,” she said. “The disrespect that WNW showed to the other two board members was obvious.” She said she was fearful for her children’s education.

Jonna Levine, the co-founder of Support Jeffco Kids, a pressure group set up this year, told the Guardian she found the language in the proposal “scary to say the least”. She thinks there is a conservative agenda at play in the school board. “You can’t help but assume that.”

“I think you could call it extreme. Extreme conservatism,” she added.

Earley thinks something sinister is at play. “It’s no secret that there’s a very aggressive movement that appears to link back to the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity that is putting money into local political races.” He pointed to neighbouring Douglas county, where, according to a Politico report last November, Americans for Prosperity spent more than $350,000 on the school board elections.

Students protest changes to a history curriculum that would stress patriotism and discourage civil disobedience. Photograph: Rick Wilking/Reuters
There is no evidence that the Koch brothers put money into the Jefferson County election, but there were several well-funded groups supporting Williams, Witt and Newkirk.

Egan Walker knew his school board was having problems, but he didn’t engage with the issues that much until the proposed curriculum review. Then, he said, “I started talking about it at school. I think it’s an important issue.” An online petition to stop the school board’s proposed review has nearly 27,000 signatures.

“This is going to affect all of the students in Jefferson County and across America,” he continued. “If our history textbooks are censored, we won’t have the right information. It would affect everyone’s education.”

“I think the dress-up idea is a way to peacefully protest that doesn’t involve missing any school,” said Egan’s sister Emma, who is in the 8th grade at Wayne Carle Middle School. “It also shows that we care enough about our history and look up to these historical figures that meant so much to our world and us personally.”

Emma plans to dress as Eleanor Roosevelt for the protest.

Pictures on the Facebook event show other students, from a multitude of grades at a different schools, trying out costumes and sharing ideas. Suggestions include participants in the Boston Tea Party, members of the Green Mountain militia, anti-internment campaigner and governor of Colorado Ralph Carr, abolitionist and women’s rights campaigner Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony and activist Molly Brown.

“Dumbledore’s Army,” suggests one post. Another says: “My [nine-year-old] wants to dress up as Rosa Parks. My [seven-year-old] suggested Elsa from Frozen. Got some work to do!”

A Montgomery sheriff’s department booking photo of Rosa Parks from 1956, taken after Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Photograph: AP

Tempers are running high. When the mother of one fifth grader posted a picture of her daughter dressed as Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, someone posted underneath: “You have been controlled by union lies.”

In an unpleasant twist, the Denver Post reported Thursday that the sheriff’s office is investigating threats made against the children of school board members, though no further details were made public.

The school board has not pursued punishments for student protesters. New superintendent Dan McMinimee said in a statement Wednesday: “I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner.”

“It’s also important that our community understand that no decisions have been made regarding the curriculum committee,” he concluded. Despite repeated requests, no one from the board of education was available for comment.

Egan Walker said he was planning on dressing as Martin Luther because he believes the was “brave enough to stand up for what he believed in”.

“He started this whole movement – [but] was just this normal guy,” he said.

He believes Luther would be on board with his protest if he was alive today. “I think he’d be supportive that we’d be brave enough to stand up for what we believe in. We’re just normal students – it’s not like we have a huge amount of power – but we can still make a difference.”


College Board: We support the "actions," protests of Jeffco students
By Jesse Paul
The Denver Post
POSTED: 09/26/2014

Parents, residents, and teachers, wave signs in support of teachers at the corner of S. Kipling Parkway and Bowles Ave., September 26, 2014. They are protesting in support of teachers in Jefferson County Schools. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

Jeffco authorities investigating threats to school board members' kids
Massive protest near Columbine High marks fourth day of walkouts

The College Board's Advanced Placement Program, which oversees the AP U.S. History course at the center of the Jefferson County protests, said in a statement Friday it supports the teens and their actions.

"These students recognize that the social order can — and sometimes must — be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice," the statement said. "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."

The board also said if a school or district "censors essential concepts from an Advanced Placement course, that course can no longer bear the 'AP' designation."

Parents and students have been protesting 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.

Friday was the fifth consecutive day of student protests against the school board in the county, with about two dozen parents gathering at an intersection near Chatfield High School to speak their mind.

A spokeswoman for the school board on Friday said principals at Chatfield and Dakota Ridge high schools excused student absences from their Wednesday walk-out protest. The district said the students were offered the reprieve in exchange for returning to classes after about two hours.

The principals sent an e-mail to parents and students Wednesday night saying the reprieve was a one-time offer that would not be extended to further protests, the district said."

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