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Emotions run high during Garfield Re-2’s first public meeting on conservative American Birthright social studies curriculum

More than three dozen people packed into a meeting room at the Silt Branch Library on August 30, 2023. People came to share their thoughts on three proposed social studies curricula for the Garfield Re-2 school district.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
More than three dozen people packed into a meeting room at the Silt Branch Library on August 30, 2023. People came to share their thoughts on three proposed social studies curricula for the Garfield Re-2 school district.

Pueden encontrar la versión en español aquí.

The Garfield RE-2 school district held its first of four public meetings to get feedback from families on options for a new social studies curriculum that would be put in place for the 2024-25 school year.

In addition to two sets of state-approved standards, it’s considering the controversial American Birthright Standard social studies curriculum, developed by the conservative group the Civics Alliance.

American Birthright was rejected by Colorado’s state board of education, along with the National Council for the Social Studies, which said the standards “use outdated language, have a clear political motive, and promote content and approaches to social studies and history education that do not align with those recommended by experts in social studies content areas.”

“If implemented in schools, these suggested standards would have damaging and lasting effects on the civic knowledge of students and their capacity to engage in civic reasoning and deliberation,” the Council wrote in a statement.

American Birthright focuses on Western civilization, patriotism, and Christianity. The authors of the curriculum write that “love, liberty, and the law” should be the touchstones of American social studies education, but that many modern curricula reject those touchstones to “malign” the U.S. and create “ a corps of activists dedicated to the overthrow of America and its freedoms.”

In the “Scope and Sequence” portion of the curriculum, the authors write that they neither endorse nor reject any specific pedagogies, and that teachers should be free to teach as they like. However, they take aim at a variety of teaching methodologies in the text.

“Furthermore, we judge that a great many pedagogies actively inhibit student learning,” they write. “Including action civics, so-called ‘anti-racism,’ civic engagement, critical race theory, current events learning, inquiry-based learning, media literacy, project-based learning, social-emotional learning, and virtually any pedagogy that claims to promote ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ or ‘social justice.’”

The other two standards on the table come from the Colorado Department of Education. One set was adopted last year, after a number of house bills required the Colorado Department of Education to include certain topics in social studies education, including the Holocaust and genocide, financial and media literacy, contributions of minority groups, and civics. The other set is a revised version of the adopted standards.

More than three dozen people attended the meeting in Silt to give their thoughts on the curriculum options.

Jenny Zetah taught English as a Second Language, or ESL in Garfield Re-2 for over 20 years.

She said she was “confounded” to find out the district was even considering the American Birthright Standard.

“I find this incredibly shortsighted, especially as our student population continues to become more diverse,” she said. “I spent my career as an advocate for our Latino students and their families, and I can’t accept that this district would believe that this Eurocentric, biased curriculum would properly prepare students for the world around them.”

According to Re-2, 44% of the district’s students are Hispanic.

But other speakers frequently strayed from the specific curricula up for debate, and brought up topics like sex education in schools, the role of parents in their children’s education, the LGBTQ community’s visibility in schools and society, and whether morality and “American values” should be taught in schools.

The state standards clarify, “the requirement to teach about the history, culture and social contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals is not an obligation to teach comprehensive human sexuality education, which is optional under state law.”

Silt parent Andy Womack has five kids in Re-2, and said there were some topics in the state standards he’d rather his kids learn at home.

“I want to be able to teach my kids some things,” he said. “The more the state wants to grab into my parental responsibilities, it feels like they want to parent my kids. No, I get to parent my kids.”

Caleb Waller, who lives in Silt and has six kids in the district, agreed with that sentiment, saying there were topics in the state standards that children shouldn’t be asked to deal with.

“Let’s start taking care of our kids again in our community, and not putting that responsibility on the schools. And so I’m in support of what I’ve seen from Birthright, to be honest with you guys. I’ve looked at that as a dad… I'm very proud to be an American, and I want to instill that in my children.”

Rifle resident Debbie Grizzle has grandkids in Re-2 schools, and said it’s not fair for people to impose their religious beliefs onto other people. She said she’s heard from other grandparents about discrimination against students who are minorities, like LGBTQ and Latino kids, and that concerns her.

“It’s fine you believe what you want to believe, but you gotta remember that your kids are mixing with all of these different kids, and it’s not fair for your kids to be cruel,” she said. “But they’re learning what you teach them.”

The district will have public meetings on the social studies curriculum in Rifle on September 6 and 7, and another in New Castle on September 11. The district will have Spanish-language interpretation available at all of the meetings.

People can also fill out an online survey in either English or Spanish, which provides links to each of the curricula in detail.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that both the state standards and the revised standards were adopted last year. That is not correct. Only one standard was adopted by the state Board of Education and CDE. This story has been edited to reflect that correction.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.