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.”