Freedom in the streets... of Lakewood

[Caveat lector: This post is about this month's theme of freedom, rather than the church board.]  I’ve been watching the action around the Jefferson County Board of Education, and things just don’t seem to be going very well for them. (Full disclosure: I worked for Jeffco Schools from 2007-2013, and I think Cindy Stevenson was a pretty amazing superintendent.) The releasing of Dr. Stevenson last year upset many of the parents and other adults in the community. But the Board’s latest action around curriculum and the AP history class has brought out the ire of the students. And as one student protester’s sign said, “It was a mistake to anger the nerds.”

High school students all over Jefferson County have been protesting what they see as an infringement on the rights of their teachers to teach the full range of history, and on their rights as students to be presented a truly balanced view of history (i.e., warts and all). The charge for the new Board Committee for Curriculum Review that the Board of Education wants to establish includes this statement:

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. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions. [from the Jeffco Board of Education agenda for Sept. 18]

It’s deliciously ironic that a committee whose purpose is to keep materials about civil disorder out of the classroom has in fact spawned a rash of civil (albeit orderly) protests. The meaning of this statement from the Board of Education and its implications for teaching could be endlessly debated, but that’s not what I want to do here. I want to highlight how the students are reacting. I think it shows they’ve already learned a lot in their history classes.

I was starting my work day this morning with some meditation, sitting quietly in my quiet office/studio in my normally quiet neighborhood. But my quiet kept being interrupted by cheering and occasional horn honking. I finally realized that the Lakewood High School students must be protesting on Kipling, less that half a mile from my house. So I walked over to see the action.

Police in cars and motorcycles were monitoring the scene, and dozens (hundreds? I’m terrible at estimating crowds) of students were standing along the street with signs. I talked with one of the officers, who said that the students had met with them beforehand to make sure they understood the laws around protesting. What a stellar example of civil disobedience! The officer said she thought 500 or 600 students had participated over the course of the morning. Some of them were serious about the protest, some just out for the fun of it (and a way to cut class, probably). They’re still at it as I write.

I’m heartened by these young people--what they’ve learned, what they’re learning, and their willingness to act to protect their rights. That they have the freedom to protest is essential to our country and to what I think of as patriotism.

One student held a sign with a quote from Dr. King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." I wonder if she learned that in a history class.

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