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Op-Ed: Civics or censorship? CO student protests reveal need for answers

By Calvin Wolf     Sep 24, 2014 in Politics
Denver - School boards in Colorado and Texas are coming under scrutiny for wanting to increase the prevalence of civics and patriotism in high school social studies. Students in Colorado are protesting, raising the debate over when civics becomes censorship.
Freedom of expression and academic freedom often contradict the traditional values of civics and patriotism. Though most of us want our children to grow up well-versed in the skills of good citizenship and feeling proud of their country, most of us also do not want our public schools to be propaganda factories spewing simplistic, skewed versions of past events. According to Fox News, the line between civics and censorship has been tested in Colorado, where high school teachers and students are protesting a school board proposal to increase the emphasis on patriotism in social studies.
A main complaint appears to be the emphasis on "respect for authority" and a conscious effort to not "condone civil disorder, social strike, or disregard of the law." Students who walked out of class argue that there is nothing more American than protesting and that they do not want their history censored. Similar debates have cropped in Texas and South Carolina, where liberals and conservatives have begun jousting over high school history curricula and allegations of bias.
We need a comprehensive answer regarding the role of civics and patriotism in high school history curricula. More specifically, we need to address the importance of respect for authority and the value of protest and civil disobedience. Many of the protesters, I fear, do not understand the true importance of either concept. Protesting for the sake of protesting, or for getting out of class, is not what civil disobedience is intended to accomplish.
As a high school social studies teacher, I see the constant struggle between authority and protest on a regular basis. We teachers struggle for academic freedom and professional respect, frequently protesting the trend of decreasing teacher autonomy. Simultaneously, we value the importance of authority, hierarchy, and chain-of-command. We criticize and respect in equal measure. These days, too many people seem obsessed with rants and using volume as a substitute for "civil disobedience."
High school students should be taught the importance of authority and how to engage, if need be, in meaningful protest. Volume and violence accomplish little but to create resentment. Students need to learn critical writing skills, public speaking, and how to craft persuasive arguments. They need to learn how to do research to find evidence supporting their arguments. Students need to learn the basics of psychology, sociology, and interpersonal skills to be able to communicate with those in authority to vocalize their disagreements and seek change.
We should help students learn the skills of non-violent protest while simultaneously teaching them the benefits of interacting effectively, and respectfully, with those in authority. Protest based on pop culture rebellion and teenage hormones is a poor homage to the real, meaningful civil disobedience of generations past.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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