:: Article

The JeffCO School Board and the Pentagon’s “Vietnam”

By Alan Gilbert.

(Photo: Nick Ut]

“You can’t separate this effort to justify the terrible wars of 50 years ago from the terrible wars of today,” said Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East expert who has known Mr. Hayden since the early 1970s. “When I saw this (the Pentagon’s version of Vietnam, what the JeffCO School Board dreams of), I thought immediately, ‘We’ve got to stop this.’ ”

A week ago Thursday night, the infamous JeffCO School Board, isolated by a large group of determined students, teachers and parents – voted its censorship resolution (literally, a committee to make recommendations for “correcting” history courses to the School Board). They had to have lots of police and guards and monitors, polite but doing an awful job. For they kept hundreds of students and teachers outside, allowing only a handful of people to come up.

The Board had a fifth floor room for but 200 people (including – perhaps – 30 supporters of theirs) and kept more than a thousand outside. If you want to airbrush history, you have to exclude a lot of people… Given the protest, the Board allowed two hours of testimony – an extension from the 30 minutes promised – but only allowed most of us to speak for a minute with a timer, representatives of groups for 3 minutes (they had put on their website 3 minutes for each person if you signed up). Many students and parents – the teachers had had a march and were in a crowd outside but not admitted to speak – were eloquent. Paula Bard, my wife, testified and so did I. I was admitted to the main room through persistent effort (asking over and over…), and sat down front in a little group of what turned out to be mainly the Board’s supporters. They were disruptive (hooting at people who spoke when the 1 minute deadline was up or groups of students when 3 minutes were up) and motivated by hatred of the teacher’s union…

Given their loudly expressed terror, I asked: how come the only teacher who has spoken is a supporter of the School Board? They saw demons but provided no answer. That curriculum set by historians and not by McCarthys or nativists for anti-educational purposes was thrown aside by the School Board’s 3 to 2 vote. “American exceptionalism,” suggested by a disgruntled Pennsylvania teacher named Larry Krieger, echoed by the Republican National Committee, and bankrolled by reactionary money means: don’t say that the Founders not only pressed for the Bill of Rights but were often also slaveowners; don’t say that across the country, starting in 1638 Pequot massacre, American cities were founded and universities built on the wiping out of indigenous people…

Krieger is the author of an ap “text.” Perhaps he would have to revise it… To congratulate itself for bad things and repress or disappear some of its citizens, every country says its history is “exceptional.” Germany, on the contrary, has memorials about the Holocaust (and look what it took…)Sometimes, a country does things that are new, inclusive and genuinely good, i.e. the fight for unions, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the fight against bigotry toward gays and lesbians…

Note that these struggles – a fight for and embodying democracy and the defense of basic rights – wells up from below. As a people, we are slowly coming to honor the Bill of Rights and freedom of speech and conscience, to respect the truth, to listen to the voices of those previous enslaved, slaughtered, demeaned and still courageously present. Inclusion, fighting for the truth and trying to become a more democratic, mutually recognizing of each person society – a society which has defeated the sense of “nobodiness” (King, “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail”), recognizing the dark side and fighting to overcome it – that gives people a wonderful feeling of having done something important.

This School Board – and the Republican National Committee – represent only exclusion (suppress those voters, exclude that history). Serious conservatives often stress small government, the rule of law (no torture, preservation of basic rights, no police murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson and others), no crusading wars on far sides of the world to impose America’s will on other (Vietnam, the now three wars in Iraq, as chaos grows…). In contrast, those on the Board puff themselves up as A Censoring Big Government, limited only (they are now a nationwide laughing stock…) by protest.

They, like the Republican Party (Ron Paul excepted), are imperial authoritarians, not, as they are often mislabeled in the corporate press, “conservatives.” What is good in Jefferson County – democracy and openness to the truth- is represented by the students, by the teachers who called in sick or marched and by 2 members of the School Board (Lesley Dahlkemper, Jill Fellman). Aside from mass nonviolent resistance, there is, and will now be, no decent education in Jefferson Country (the largest school district in the country) while this school board majority survives (and it has 3 years to go unless removed by recall – see here).

Paula Bard, my wife testified at number 92. Here is her original statement – timed for 3 minutes – which she cut down to 1 minutes speaking at the Board:

“To the Jefferson County school board:
We have been parents of children in this district for 20 years.

I do NOT want to see a committee formed to review texts to make sure that materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

It would be ridiculous to try to teach US history without reference to social strife and civil disorder, they have been the bedrock of the country since its inception, from the revolution to the fight for women’s rights, civil rights, native genocide, Vietnam, immigrant and gay rights.

This current right wing take over of the board has caused enormous disruption, conflict and wasted money. They have no business dismantling a perfectly functional school district with their code words for extremist — anti union — anti intellectual — rah rah free-market capitalism — bring back Ronald Reagan — dismantle the New Deal — agenda. This is about turning US history into high school ‘classrooms for propaganda’, nothing more. And we have certainly seen a long sordid history of propaganda in classrooms — a standard tool for every totalitarian government the world has ever known.

But to quote the National Coalition on Censorship, “Decisions about instructional materials should be based on sound educational grounds, Not because some people DO or DO NOT agree with the message, ideas, or content of a particular book or lesson. (They and I) strongly urge you to adopt policies and procedures that focus, not on molding patriots or citizens in a particular image, but on educating students to be informed, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and engaged participants in their communities.”

As we have seen this past week, I might add. . . !”

Some of the students pointed out that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat hopeless aggressions. And here is Chuck Hagel’s (used to be a smart guy about Vietnam) Pentagonizing that War by celebrating decorated veterans who did not protest (and missing the many who did), suppressing any recognition of American genocide against some 3 million Vietnamese (those killed as a result of American aggression), and omitting anti-war protest.

During Vietnam, some 70% of American students polled thought a violent revolution was needed in this country. In three separate wars, the US government now destroyed the Middle East (IS is the latest incarnation of the chaos and barbarism unleashed by the Project for a New American Century/Bush administration/Democratic sycophant project to remake the Middle east by war. It has been “remade” (fortunately, Americans are not just gearing up to march in a hopeless imperial enterprise…).

Even the Democrats, including Obama’s assistants, are mongers of “endless war” and Obama is now emulating, the vapidity of neocons, Hillary, Panetta et al. For a commentary on the rapacious Leon Panetta, see here. But according to the JeffCO School Board “Three,” Vietnam protest did not exist and the Iraq wars are a source of pride, perhaps even “exceptional”…

Alan Gilbert is John Evans professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and author of Marx’s Politics:Communists and Citizens (Rutgers, 1980), Democratic Individuality (Cambridge, 1990), Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy (1999) and Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence (Chicago March, 2012). His blog Democratic Individuality is a rich mine.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, October 18th, 2014.