The Jefferson County Board of Education, located in the suburbs of Denver, has received both praise and dissent for its plans to make their school district’s curriculum “more patriotic”. Many teachers and students alike have left classes in droves on the school’s reaction to the AP US History test changes, comparing the school’s actions to the dystopian novel “1984” by George Orwell while others stick to their guns and argue that it’s beneficial to their community to ignore the changes made by the College Board, which they feel undervalues the country’s heritage (The Washington Post). Most recently, a vote was held on Thursday night resulting in a 3–2 vote “to expand the membership on two existing curriculum review committees to include students, parents and administrators” which many fear will overpower the board with strong conservative views (Fox News). This has heightened the tensions in the Colorado community, with even more protest sparking over the weekend, bringing this situation to the national stage, with the whole country voicing their opinions on the issue. And with that, I am coming out and saying that forcing this new curriculum on students and teachers is ironically unpatriotic.
As someone who loves the country and would consider myself a patriot this may sound odd, especially considering I have an American flag hanging arm’s length away from me as I type this. But this new curriculum would only force feed the values and beliefs that we want to see our citizens hold. So many countries have history classes that ignore many facts that hurt their nation’s prestige and reputation but the United States is one of the few that looks at their past and instead of ignoring it, we bring it to attention, we analyze it, learn from it, in order to continue to grow as a diverse nation of immense opportunities for all.
And the most shocking part, I went through the California public school system, arguably one of the more liberal ones in the nation. And yes, I ran into quite a few teachers, mostly in my American History and Government classes, who held views that many would consider unpatriotic. In fact, my pasts 3 years of social sciences are were probably the most “unpatriotic” according to the Denver school board’s standards. But it was those classes that made me want to get involved in public service for this great nation.
I remember specifically in my sophomore year History class, we had a teacher who often talked about the dark areas of American history, specifically in the slavery and civil rights era, where many minorities we crushed by the land of opportunity. When I was in this class, quite frankly I hated this teacher. In fact, I got my lowest grade of my high school career in this, that’s how much I disliked it. I couldn't believe someone so adamantly against America could be teaching a class on its entire history.
But after growing up a bit, I look back and realize he was the kind of teacher that we need teaching US history. He wasn't satisfied with the status quo, with blind patriotism. Instead, he challenged are views and while I was frustrated while in the class, I see exactly why he did it and it is now why I esteem him as a phenomenal orator of our history. If parents called for him to be fired, it would be harmful to the integrity of the teaching profession. It is problematic when parents and administrators with little to no background with studying US history can decide the curriculum for that area of study, it ensures that you will be focusing less on facts and more of just what people want you to hear. After all, this is historically what the communist and fascist, the greatest enemies to American values and democracy, did.
A lot of this story also focuses on how the AP US History class has become anti-American and makes it difficult for people who love this country to pass. After receiving an A in the class and a 5 on the AP test, I can assure you that I am not a godless communist or planning to join ISIS and declare war on the morally corrupt Western nations. Compared to my sophomore year history class, this one was much tamer. The teacher still discussed the darker times in American history but instead of straight criticizing the actions, he had us analyze it. And to my surprise, I found myself reading non-biased information on our past and thinking how could we have done this? How could the nation I grew up loving unconditionally do so many horrible things throughout the years. And I think that this is what most people are scared of and why they support a more patriotic curriculum.
I understand that the whole foundation of this country is based on great love and respect for our nation’s history and that it is necessary in order for motivated people to keep governing it. The argument against the “anti-American” curriculum does hold some weight. We absolutely need Americans to be patriotic in order to continue the growth of the nation. But there is no way we can force that on people. Real patriotism comes from accepting the country with all of its faults, not only emphasizing its strengths. And even with this curriculum that many see issues with, we still see many if not a record number of young Americans men and women answering the call of duty and serving their country. My brother, who went to the same school as me, is currently at boot camp for the US Marine Corps where even after receiving the same education, he still wants to put his life on the line in order to defend the freedom of the United States.
Now back into my last year of high school I decided to take AP US Government, as I truly found my calling in being a part of the integral process of representing the great citizens of this country. The first thing I noticed when I walked into my class room for that year was that there was only one small little American flag near the front of the class while it seemed like every other wall had flags from notable advisories throughout history such as Germany , the USSR, and others. I turned out that my teacher grew up in communist Russia and immigrated here near the height of the Cold War. Needless to say I was a little taken a back and it reminded me of the eerie felling I had in my class 2 years ago that I had initially not enjoyed. But this man was extremely knowledgeable of a country he wasn't even born in. I ended up enjoying his class a lot and I still respect him so much, not only as a teacher but as person who had the courage to leave for a completely foreign country from their own, be welcomed into it and end up making his whole profession surrounding it. Oh, and if you were wondering, I also got a 5 on the AP test for this class as well…still love this country though.
I tell this story not to ridicule the people who want a more patriotic education; I tell it to show them that we already have one. People need to understand that we are a uniquely diverse nation in the sense that almost everyone from the country is not native to it. We all come from different backgrounds and beliefs but still over the years, we have developed into a nation that I would say is more welcoming than others. Sure we have our issues but so does every other country. If we stooped down to their level and ignored it, we would not prosper. An education that only focuses on our triumphs leaves people with the impression that our country is already perfect when in reality it’s not. We need people who understand our shortcomings and have the motivation to overcome them and make this country an even better place.
The Jefferson County school board needs to realize that they are not making education more patriotic, they are making it quite the opposite. They need to understand that we all have different stories and roles in the history of the United States. To ignore the parts of our history that we feel make us look bad would be to ignore the hardships that many Americans had to endure. As the famous philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (Santayana). But learning about our mistakes doesn't mean that we have to hate ourselves for them. People need to understand that all countries have done things in the past that were absolutely horrible. We need to be more open about our histories to show that it is ok to have done wrong as long as we learn from it and make things better. Finally, we need to understand that it does not make you bigoted to love your country. I certainly still do and I owe that to the “unpatriotic” education that I received.