Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 9, 2014

…And on the Home Front, U.S. History Activists Go Full Norman Rockwell

This is the second post in a series of “Ed Shots” by contributor Phil Perdue looking at the health of America and the battle for its future through the lens of its educational system.

If the optics coming out of Hong Kong over the past few weeks make visual democracy look like a western export, then it’s worth pausing to notice how the look and feel of civil dissent is taking shape out west. While photojournalists flocked to Hong Kong, residents in Jefferson County, Colorado have been staging their own protests. Public school students and teachers alike have rallied in opposition to proposed changes in the county’s Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum. Public marches, handcrafted signage, and voices in solidarity object to the School Board’s decision to downplay the democratic function of dissent in favor of pushing a more authoritarian, militaristic, and neoliberal version of America’s past.

Yet even with that much of a backstory, we can know that both camps imagine themselves as conservers of tradition–as the saviors of American history. At the same time, since self-identified conservatives on the Jefferson County School Board are looking to resurrect Norman Rockwell’s Americana, what is especially noteworthy is how it is the dissenters in this photograph end up looking the part. But It’s not just the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant church vibe at work here, but also the sense that brown people still take a back seat to the white savior. Where the grand visual spectacle of civil unrest in the Occupy or Furgeson mode emphasizes the boundary between the good guys and bad guys, the optics of education politics can often make those boundaries less visible.

— Phil Perdue

See also: When Critical Issues Make For “Bottom-Tier” Visual Stories: Take Education

(photo: Brennan Linsley/AP. caption: Members of the public attend a Jefferson County School Board meeting on Oct. 2.)

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