How student activists win: Update on APUSH in Colorado

Remember when high school students walked out of the public schools in Jefferson County Colorado earlier this year? They were protesting a number of administrative and curricular changes underway that threatened their educations. (We discussed it here.) A newly elected school board had hired a new superintendent who was determined to make a difference.

I was most interested in the students’ concern with the Advanced Placement Course in United States History (APUSH). They were riled up about a proposed focus on promoting patriotism, rather than telling a fuller, sometimes critical, story of American history.

But the story drifted out of the national news when the student walk-out ended. The action didn’t. Students and their allies (including many parents and the teachers union) spent the ensuing months organizing.  Voters recalled three conservative members of the school board; in conjunction with two members choosing not to seek reelection, Jefferson County will see a completely new school board. Grassroots mobilization at the polls meant engaging citizens in an election that’s normally not very visible, and it also meant fighting Americans for Prosperity, which invested time and money in keeping the conservative board in power.

The point, again, is that effective movement work starts before the cameras turn on, and continues long after attention passes. We’d also note that there isn’t such a sharp distinction between protest and electoral politics.

I suspect the students will learn that.

And I won’t count on Colorado’s high school students to line up reliably with the College Board in the future.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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