State Board of Ed member: ‘U.S. ended slavery voluntarily’

State Board of Ed member: ‘U.S. ended slavery voluntarily’

Colorado’s latest education official to condemn high school history course standards wonders why those who wrote the curriculum missed what seems to her an obvious point — that the United States voluntarily ended slavery.

Pam Mazanec, a Larkspur businesswoman who sits on Colorado’s Board of Education, posted on a Facebook discussion thread her concerns that questions asked on the Advanced Placement U.S. history test “portray the negative viewpoint as the correct answer.”

“As an example, I note our slavery history,” she wrote to a woman who teaches AP U.S history. “Yes, we practiced slavery. But we also ended it voluntarily, at great sacrifice, while the practice continues in many countries still today!

“Shouldn’t our students be provided that viewpoint? This is part of the argument that America is exceptional. Does our APUSH (AP U.S. History) framework support or denigrate that position?”

Mazanec’s comments were posted Saturday evening on the Facebook page, Speak for DCSD, described as “a place where teachers and parents are encouraged to speak freely about their issues, questions and concerns in the Douglas County School District.”

She did not respond to several attempts to reach her for comment.

History teachers and civil rights activists question the state Board of Ed member’s understanding of slavery in the United States and the civil war that ended it.

“The idea that the United States voluntarily gave up slavery is an outright misrepresentation of history. The United States engaged in a civil war to end slavery. There was nothing voluntary about it,” said Stephanie Rossi an AP U.S. history teacher at Wheat Ridge High School. “I’m just flabbergasted at anyone who would make that claim. Flabbergasted.”

Patrick Demmer, a pastor at Denver’s Graham Memorial Community Church and longtime civil rights activist, said Mazanec’s take on slavery shows “she’s willfully ignorant at best or she is racially disingenuous at worst.”

“She shouldn’t be on the education board.”

“What her comment and that whole movement is trying to basically do is repaint history in a way that takes away the ugliness and the hurt and abuse that the African American in America suffered and endured to get to where we are right now,” Demmer said.

Mazanec took office in January 2013 as one of the state’s seven education board members. She represents the 4th U.S. Congressional District – all of eastern Colorado. She’s an ardent advocate of school choice and, as the state board’s website reads, “interested in improving civics education.”

“Pam understands that a well-educated citizenry is vital to Colorado’s economic future and America’s national security,” according to her state bio.

Her criticism of the new AP U.S. history curriculum comes as the Jefferson County School Board made national and international news for proposing to review the AP instructional material and, as suggested by school board member Julie Williams, with an eye to replace it with a curriculum that avoids encouraging “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” and instead promotes positive aspects of the nation’s history. Students and teachers have walked out in protest.

Mazanec’s Facebook post admonishing the AP and college level history courses that “downplay our noble history and accentuate the negative view” suggests she’s in-line with Williams’s agenda.

Mazanec’s posted message to a teacher named Jennifer said she had read the AP sample test and is concerned about “an overly negative view of our history and many of our historical figures (if mentioned).” “I think our students deserve to have all perspectives – include the negative viewpoints on the motivations, but also the positive viewpoints,” she wrote.

Rossi, an employee of Jeffco schools, warns of the dangers of viewing – let alone teaching – history as a zero-sum game.

“To me, history is not a collection of positives or negatives. It’s not a math equation. It’s a story. It’s a story about humans overcoming difficult circumstances. It’s a story of humans making horrific mistakes. And then it’s a story of human beings saying ‘Wow, we can’t do that again,’” she said.

Mazanec’s slavery comments “trivialize the experiences of slaves” and “cheapen the professionalism of history teachers.”

“It’s shameful,” Rossi said.

“To say the United States voluntarily gave up slavery is like saying that Germany voluntarily surrendered at the end of World War II,” added Anton Schulzki, a 32-year veteran teaching U.S. History and the AP coordinator at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs.

Schulzki is a director of both the Colorado and National Councils for Social Studies and he has blogged for The Colorado Independent. He notes that the United States was one of the last industrialized countries to end slavery – not exactly a happy fact in the nation’s history. Still, he said AP History “actually addresses the whole notion of American exceptionalism and recognizes what’s extraordinary about this country.”

Schulzki attended last month’s state education board meeting during which members discussed the AP curriculum and whether it threatens American values.

“History itself is political. We all know that. What’s happening right now is people are politicizing the teaching of history. That should be everyone’s concern.”

pam m facebook 1
pam m facebook 2

[ Photo via Sheridan School District No. 2 ]

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About the Author

Susan Greene

A recovering newspaper journalist and Pulitzer finalist. Her criminal justice reporting includes “Trashing the Truth,” with Miles Moffeit, and “The Gray Box.”
susan@coloradoindependent.com | 720-295-8006 | @greeneindenver

42 Comments

  1. Kevin on said:

    This is appalling that an education official for the State of Colorado would make such a blind statement. Where is her impartiality? Where is the thinking of an individual elected to support all students in our state?

  2. Laura on said:

    So are you trying to tell us that the abolitionist movement never happened? Or are you just picking on a conservative board member? I would presume the latter….

  3. Terry C on said:

    Last year, I met a woman who taught in the Cherry Creek system. She told me that she taught math and history and she’d sometimes use history lessons to teach math. Then she told me that she would teach her students that the reason the Jamestown colony failed was because of socialism. She would teach them that the colony was founded as a collective and the induced some people to be lazy and unproductive and that brought the whole colony down. I was speechless. My only thought was “OMG, what will happen to these students going forward with this fact-free view of some of our earliest history?”

  4. Leslie miller on said:

    So so so glad we had the opportunity to leave Colorado public school systems. What.a.joke.

  5. Lisa on said:

    John Ewing you obviously know and support the State school board member in question. It would be wonderful if you could actually add any intelligent comments to the conversation. All I want to say to the rest of you is get out there and fight not just for the current students but also for the future. This just makes me sick.

  6. Pingback: Right-Winger Trying to Revise Colorado AP History Course: ‘U.S. Ended Slavery Voluntarily’ | Americans Against the Tea Party

  7. SocraticGadfly on said:

    Your email address is: state.board@cde.state.co.us

    Sample letter is: Ms. Mazanec is a grade-A idiot who needs to be censured by the rest of the board if she doesn’t retract, and apologize for, her offensive comments.

    When an education overseer can be as idiotic as members of the Texas State Board of Education, where I live, it’s bad.

  8. A_Pink_Poodle on said:

    Yeah we ended slavery voluntarily after beating the crap out of and occupying the South.

  9. Pingback: Question: How Many Countries INvoluntarily Gave Up Slavery? | ENDABlog 2.0

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  12. Robert on said:

    Don’t focus so much on the person, but on the make up of the board…it was a 3-2 vote…the wingers won…elections have consequences…these were stealth candidates, backed by the kochs’ dark money…and she is doing what she is being/will be paid for…she is a tool…as are the other two…puppets of the meat variety…shameless…corrupted…and they want to mold the minds of our kids??? Not gonna happen…

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  16. Brian Holcomb on said:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but certain events in US History don’t have a positive aspect, such as the Trail of Tears. Any attempt at trying to justify it can be written off as patronizing at best and overt racism at worst. Your argument on the ‘voluntary’ ending of slavery is the longest stretch I’ve ever heard of for revisionist history. You can also spin alot of current events like Vietnam and Iraq, and in the end, 100 years from now it will be abundantly clear that there was no positive viewpoint. Just money and power that had the American people duped because they were being fed to much ‘promoted patriotism and respect for authority’.

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  19. Will Morrison on said:

    This woman is an IDIOT. And that’s being kind to her, insulting to idiots everywhere. Seems she forgot about this little thing we had called “The Civil War”. It was NOT voluntary.

    No, as to her question: “Shouldn’t our students be provided that viewpoint?”… NO, they shouldn’t. It’s a STUPID viewpoint that has NO bearing in REALITY. If you want to teach children nonsense, then that’s what Sunday school is for. NOT public education.

    And it’s PATHETIC that a school board member doesn’t know the difference between “there”, their” and “they’re”. That ALONE should disqualify her from serving on ANYTHING having to do with education.

    This is absolutely PATHETIC.

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  21. Dale on said:

    Well technically she’s right, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to states in conflict with the US not the Union states, so unless you count the after the fact acts of congress, once defeat and occupation of the CSA happened then yes, yes it was voluntary. Remember the CSA “broke” from the Union and was forced back in. In Jan 1865 the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States … So yes if you want to be completely honest about history, she is correct.

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  24. Michael Sprague on said:

    Technically, she may be correct, but overall she is a bit … crazy. The Congress passed the amendment outlawing slavery in the South, which left it legal in the North, as I recall, just a bit before reunification. Had the southern states been voting, it would never have passed. As it was, it barely passed.

    The war was fought for the purpose of keeping the Union together, the end of slavery was at best a secondary concern.

    Still many may have believed then, as many believe now, that freeing the slaves was why we went to war. It may not be 100% accurate, but the woman’s statement that it was voluntary is ludicrous on it’s face. Half a million Americans died wearing blue and grey. It was a tragedy of monumental scale, and she describes one of the end results as voluntary.

    Mook.

  25. Miles on said:

    Perhaps she means that the “we” ended slavery voluntarily in that it was ended by our elected legislature in a democratic process. In that respect “we” certainly did end it voluntarily. But putting it that way is kind of suspicious, especially after reading her comments about the need to emphasize “our noble history”, which smacks of a propagandist outlook.

  26. Robert Evans on said:

    She should watch the movies GODS & GENERALS AND GETTYSBURG ! 600,000 good men died believing in their cause.

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  28. S. Johnson on said:

    This woman is a complete loon as is anyone who follows her. It’s frightening that she actually made it onto the school board. It is people like her and other uber patriotic/Christian Americans that are going to drag us back into the Dark Ages. If the ideas of these people are allowed to prevail, America will soon be a third world theocracy.

  29. ANNE KILEY on said:

    You have to wonder where Ms. Mazanec herself went to school since she doesn’t seem to know the difference between “their” and “there.”

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