Trump’s New 1776 Commission Will Dictate Public School Curricula
At a White House conference today, the incumbent president made the following statement:
“The only path to national unity is through our shared identity as Americans. That is why it is so urgent that we finally restore patriotic education to our schools. Under our leadership, the National Endowment of (sic) the Humanities has awarded a grant to support the development of a pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history. Today I am also pleased to announce that I will soon sign an executive order establishing a national commission to promote patriotic education. It will be called The 1776 Commission. It will encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and make plans to honor the 250th anniversary of our founding.”
The federal government has never before arrogated to itself the power to define public school; curricula, a power that has been conceded to the states since the founding of the Republic. The 1776 Commission is an attempt to impose specific curricula that will extol the virtues of the American republic or, more specifically, what Trump refers to as a “pro-American curriculum.”
When you stop and think about that phrase for a just a moment, it becomes obvious that it would be impossible to develop a curriculum without whitewashing away many of the heinous things that the United States as done in pursuit of its “manifest destiny.”
The list begins with the atrocities inflicted upon the native peoples of this continent and the even more atrocious things we did to African peoples who were brought here as slaves. We can then progress to the annexation of Texas in 1845, the War with Mexico (1846-1848) that resulted in the annexation of New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, and Colorado, and the Spanish American War that brought Puerto Rico under American rule….and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
American is a great country. We have done amazing things, growing from an agrarian experiment to the most powerful nation on earth but there is no such thing as “the greatest country in the world” because there’s really no metric to base that decision upon. America is the most powerful country on the planet but that’s because of the size of our military budget and the scope of our weapons systems, but not because we are more moral, more righteous, or more caring than any other country…because we aren’t.
In his preliminary remarks, Trump made it clear that he believes Americans are being taught all the wrong things in our public school systems and our colleges. He believes that our educational system has been taken over by socialists and communists who are teaching our children to hate our way of life, to hate America. He paints a picture of an America where the streets are running with blood, where lawless mobs are running wild in the streets….and he blames our educational establishment for the behavior of those people.
During his remarks, he singled out three men who are going to serve on this commission. One of them, Peter W. Wood, is the president of The National Association of Scholars, which is a non-profit politically conservative advocacy group, with a particular interest in education that opposes political correctness on college campuses and supports a return to mid-20th-century curricular and scholarship norms, and an increase in conservative representation in faculty.
What is the difference between the current curricular norms and the curricular norms of the 1950s? In the 1950s, students were segregated by race. Non-white and Jewish students were subjected to quota systems in higher education placements. Women were routinely discouraged from pursuing careers in engineering, science, and medicine. School prayer was commonplace and often required. Dissent was disapproved.
Peter Wood’s inclusion on this commission is a red flag indicating Trump’s intention to roll back the intellectual clock to the 1950s, where he would probably fit right in. There is, however, a much more worrisome red flag in Trump’s announcement where he says that the 1776 Commission “will encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history…”
No, he really said that.
The miracle of American history is a red flag because it indicates that Trump wants to reintroduce Christian teachings into the American public school system, teachings that were squeezed out of the American public school system through a series of court rulings based upon the separation of church and state.
The implication of this statement is that America is divinely inspired which, in turn, feeds into Trump’s posturing as an evangelical figure, with all of the magical thinking that suggests.
Previous Attempts to Inject Federal Supervision
Previous administrations have attempted to “fix” the American public school system with indifferent results. In 1965, the Johnson administration passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provided federal funding to primary and secondary education for professional development for teachers, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and the promotion of increased parental involvement.
In 2001, the George W. Bush administration passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and added a new feature: a requirement for standardized testing to determine the extent to which children were mastering reading, writing, and basic mathematical skills. This law did NOT attempt to establish a specific curriculum, nor did it mandate specific testing instruments.
In 2015, the Obama administration rebranded the No Child Left Behind Act, was superseded by the Every Student Succeeds Act which returned the responsibility for auditing the performance of public school systems to the states but required the states to submit and receive approval for annual plans for improving the performance of publicly-funded school systems.
In none of these previous measures did an American president attempt to take control over the curricula for state and locally funded public school systems, but that’s precisely what Trump is attempting to do.
CONCLUSION: We are now living in the world that George Orwell envisioned in his novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” to the extent that, day after day, the Leader has been saturating our intellectual environment, distorting facts, weaving a web of lies that is so complex that it may not be possible to unravel the threads in the skein. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the novel’s protagonist Winston Smith is employed by the Ministry of Truth to rewrite history so that it conforms to the changing policies of The Leader so that the people’s recollections of the past are contradicted by the historical record.
Sound familiar? This is going on all around us right now.
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