Last month, the Jefferson County school board in suburban Denver backed away from a plan to examine the curricula of advanced placement courses in American history. The board had disapproved of tests that didn’t promote “respect for authority” and that condoned “civil disorder.” This prompted protests from teachers and students, who said the review amounted to censorship. Hundreds of students walked out of classes.
The Colorado controversy was the latest flare-up in the culture wars, which have often focused on what students should learn about American history. Some argue texts and teachers should focus on the benefits of the free enterprise system and individual rights, and should instill patriotic attitudes. Others emphasize critical thinking, including criticism of the founding fathers for talking about liberty while owning slaves.
Should history teach students that we are one nation? Or should the focus be on our diversity? Is there a way to teach both?
America’s Great Seal, which you can see on the back of any dollar bill, includes the Latin words E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one. The words appeared on the first design for the Great Seal, which came out of a committee whose members included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, three of the five men who had been on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. How to turn the words on the Seal (and the words in the Declaration) has been debated throughout American history.