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Douglas County

School board members concerned about AP U.S. History

Two school board members cite late rollout, political bias among issues

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Two Douglas County School Board members have expressed public concern about the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course that sparked a firestorm in Jefferson County. Jim Geddes and Judi Reynolds said their interest is not about promoting or quashing a particular viewpoint, but giving students a balanced perspective on the past.

Geddes wants to provide a balanced political view he said the new course is lacking. He wants to not only request the College Board revise the course, but provide students with an alternative accredited U.S. History class.

“I believe the course is heavily flawed,” Geddes said. “When I read the tests, I see a leftist liberal indoctrination; I don't approve of that. We must have a responsible academia, particularly when it comes to these kinds of courses.

“Our purpose is not to tell young people what to think about what happened. It's to lay out the facts and tell them maybe various people's views about what happened in a balanced fashion. And that course doesn't do that; I'm highly concerned about that.”

Geddes said he is “not interested in jetting up the flames that have occurred in JeffCo,” and Reynolds said she has no interest in removing or immediately altering the course. But both are frank about their concerns.

Geddes brought some of his up during an Oct. 7 board of education work session. Reynolds has blogged about hers. No other Douglas County School Board member has yet voiced any public opinion on the new AP U.S. History course.

Reynolds said her main concern is that the dramatically revised course was released too late for school officials to review, or even for teachers to prepare for teaching it. Political bias is a secondary issue, she said.

“It was rolled out in a manner that didn't give anyone time to review it, from state and local (boards) to teachers,” she said. “It's part of our job to keep an eye on these things.”

The College Board's website said AP U.S. History teachers felt the original course required a breathless race through American history. The four-year redesign provides, “an in-depth examination of American founding documents, the Constitution, and important leaders and citizens from American history,” according to the website, and encourages students to write to demonstrate their understanding.

The course framework expanded from five to more than 80 pages, a change Reynolds said is “significant” and merited local review.

“I think we need to watch it and see how it plays out for the course of this year,” she said. “I don't know if there's anything we can do locally at this point in the school year.”

Geddes suggests a more aggressive plan of action.

“One is that we tell the College Board in a nice but very firm way we need to see it changed,” he said.

If the course remains in its current form, “I'd like to see us invite other universities to offer students Advanced Placement-type courses that are accredited.”

Those could include the University of Colorado, Colorado Christian University, Arapahoe Community College or others. DCSD already has concurrent enrollment partnerships with ACC, CCU, Community College of Aurora, and Red Rocks Community College.

“The optimal solution is to see a course with true integrity offered by the College Board,” he said. “But if they're not going to do it, then I say we have to do something else because the course they are offering now is unacceptable.”

Reynolds' daughter is taking the course at a Douglas County high school and so far, she believes the teacher is providing a “balanced approach,” she said.

“I feel pretty confident our teachers, especially our history teachers, are pretty sensitive to the fact that our community wants a balanced approach,” Reynolds said.

Nevertheless, she shared some of Geddes' content concerns.

“There does seem to be some bias,” she said. “As a conservative, I do have a different view of some of our historical events than some of my liberal friends. I think discussions on those differences of opinion are good. (But) I want history taught in a manner where kids get the information and the facts and they draw their own conclusions. I'd like for it to be in as nonbiased a manner as possible.”

Geddes also is a regent at the University of Colorado Boulder, and said his concerns about AP U.S. History dovetail with his longer-standing mission to politically balance the traditionally liberal college's teaching staff. He would take the same approach to the staff at Michigan's conservative Hillsdale College.

“Would I love to see every kid come out of a college a conservative?” he said. “Hell yes, I'll admit that because I think that's what's best for America. But I would never send my child to Hillsdale College (because) they don't have a balanced faculty.

“If I were in charge of Hillsdale, I would recruit some flaming liberals to come in and be part of each of those departments. I'd want to make sure I had the other side well represented.”

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