Michigan conservatives lose fight to ban 'democracy' in schools


Conservative school board members in Michigan just tried — and failed — to remove the word 'democracy' from the statewide school curriculum.

In Michigan, conservatives just tried to literally erase the word "democracy" from their statewide teaching standards. Fortunately, they failed.

Conservatives swung for the fences, proposing a far-reaching revision to how teachers instruct about history, economics, civics, and geography. The proposal, helmed by former Republican state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, would have removed all reference to LGBT people in the civil rights section. It would have also prevented teaching about Roe v. Wade.

By far the worst part of the Michigan proposal was one that Colbeck personally pushed for. He wanted a provision that required Michigan teachers to explain "how the expansion of rights for some groups can be viewed as an infringement of rights and freedoms of others."


In other words, Colbeck believes that as civil rights expanded to include LGBT people, immigrants, and people with disabilities, among others, that was somehow infringing on the rights of others — presumably, conservative Christians.

By far the most absurd part of the Michigan proposal was that key references to "democracy" and "core democratic values" be removed from the curriculum, presumably because saying so invokes thoughts of the Democratic party. In its place, conservatives demanded the United States be referred to as a republic or, even worse, the clunky term "representative democracy/republic." That's going to comical lengths just to stop schoolchildren from saying the dreaded D-word.

Regrettably, Michigan wasn't the first state to come up with this idea. Texas got rid of the term "democracy" back in 2010. Georgia fought about it a while before settling on "representative democracy/republic."

School boards and the shaping of statewide curricula have been a favorite conservative battleground for quite some time.

In Texas, the state board of education initially voted to remove Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller from textbooks. In the final vote, they kept Hillary and Helen, but one of the GOP members, in dissenting, explained that Clinton "doesn't respect good citizenship" while another referenced "the Benghazi thing." Texas kept Moses in the curriculum, explaining that he influenced the founding fathers, and also kept "states' rights" in as one of the causes of the Civil War.

A conservative school board member in Jefferson County, Colorado, proposed a change to how history was taught. Her proposal required that materials promote patriotism and capitalism and should not encourage civil disorder. History material also had to only present "positive aspects of the United States and its heritage."

Banning discussion of climate change is also a conservative favorite. Back in 2018, the Idaho Legislature voted to ban all references to climate change from their state science guidelines. State standards mentioning climate change in South Dakota, Virginia, and Maine are also currently under attack.

It's precisely because of all these attacks that the Michigan victory feels so important. It's a struggle to fight these battles state by state, but it's vital to ensuring that conservatives don't mislead the next generation with their narrow — and incorrect — views on history.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.