Thursday, September 25, 2014

Of Crap Curriculums, Banned Books, and the Dumbing Down of America

by Pa Rock
Reader and Licensed History Teacher

This week students, and a few faculty members, have been walking out of high school classes in Jefferson County, Colorado, to protest the school board's attempt to curtail the curriculum currently being taught in the high school's advanced placement history classes.  The current standards meet the framework set forth by the College Board.  That framework has been challenged by conservative groups such as the Republican National Committee for emphasizing some of the negatives in American history and not stressing enough of the standard patriotic canards of our nation's past.

In particular the school board does not want any materials used in the classrooms that would "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law."  That would leave one to wonder whether those tea-baggers on the board have any notion of what the Boston Tea Party was really all about.

The Jefferson County School Board desires to realign it's high school history curriculum for college bound students to better fit the recommendations of that august body of soaring intellectualism:  the Republican National Committee.  The board wants their students to see history through some sort of carnival mirror which only highlights the flag-waving aspects of our nation's past and only interprets events to the board's way of thinking.

Jefferson County, Colorado, is not alone in its mistrust and condemnation of the College Board's framework for history curriculum.  Texas has a state created history curriculum that is uses instead of the national standards of the College Board, and Tennessee and South Carolina also appear to be following the lead of Texas.

But students in Jefferson County, at least, are not taking the assault on their learning opportunities lying down.  They are out in the school's parking lots and on its sidewalks protesting for their right to learn without censorship.   Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry would have all been proud!

Coincidentally, this also happens to be the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, a seven-day observance of books whose ideas were so out-of-sync with somebody's views on life, that they have been pulled from library shelves or the classrooms of America.

There are several good lists of books that have been frequently banned in America, including a couple that were put together by the American Library Association.  When I read through those titles, I am always so disappointed that I have personally read so few of them.  I threaten every year to post a list of regularly banned books and then commence reading my way down the list.  Perhaps this year I will get it done.

I did read one very good book this past year that is near the top of many banned book lists:  John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, the gripping story of a family of destitute Oklahomans traveling to California during the Great Depression.  It is a sobering look at the rot that was, and often still is, pervasive in American capitalism.  The Grapes of Wrath made America's moneyed classes uncomfortable, especially at a time in history when large scale revolutions were being successfully carried out in other parts of the world.

A couple of years ago I reread Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter-House Five which raises doubts about war based on his personal experiences in World War II.  It is often banned.  Another favorite banned book on my list is Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried which examines war from the perspective of his military service in Vietnam.    Books that question the need for war and highlight its ugly underbelly are generally not popular with the people who own corporations and industries that make their money off of armaments and conflict - moneyed interests that control vocal gaggles of dumbasses - like the Republican National Committee.

So, it's the twenty-first century and people are still struggling to limit what their friends and neighbors and children may learn.    The war on ideas rages on.    It will be interesting to see what impact ever-expanding access to the internet will have on the future of education and the direction of our lives.  Banning Catcher in the Rye from cyberspace would be a challenge way beyond the capability of the average tea-bagger or the RNC.

Godspeed to those kids in Colorado who are demanding their right to an education free of censorship.  As one of their protest signs said, "Disobedience is the foundation of liberty!"  Henry David Thoreau would have liked that, in fact, he said it - and Thoreau added "Obedience makes us slaves."  (Of course, there is a countervailing viewpoint floating around out there in conservative America that slavery may have not been such a bad thing after all.   Look for it in a history book coming soon to a small-minded school near you!)

Rage on, young ones, rage on!

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