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Why the 1776 Commission is a Bad Idea

On the day before the election, President Trump signed an executive order creating a “1776 Commission,” whose purpose is to promote “patriotic education.” The Trump administration appears to be responding to the 1619 Project, a publication of the New York Times that examines American history through the eyes of African Americans. 

This commission is campaign fodder for Trump’s base, who are fearful that the unblemished history they learned in high school and the cultural dominance of white men, are under threat. They are right. Over the past 50 years, historians have documented the hidden history of racism, injustice and unequal treatment sustained by people of color, especially African Americans. 

Trump’s executive order equates efforts to tell the full history of the United States, warts and all, as an attack on the Founding Fathers and the nation itself. The order claims that “many students are now taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but rather villains.” No evidence is presented for this hysterical rant. No objective research has been published to support these charges. 

So what is this commission supposed to do? It is directed to produce a report to the president within a year “regarding the core principles of the American founding and how these principles may be understood to further enjoyment of ‘the blessings of liberty’ and to promote our striving 'to form a more perfect Union.'” The president’s opening statement hailed “self-government based on the consent of the people,” which is amusing considering he called for states to stop counting ballots two days after Election Day so he could be declared the victor in states where he was leading. If that failed, he promised to go straight to the Supreme Court to overturn any results that adversely affected his reelection.


So what is wrong with the 1776 Commission? To begin with, any federal effort to influence curriculum in the nation’s schools is against the law. Federal law has prohibited any such actions since the 1970s. The current law, found in Section 8526A of the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), states, “No officer of employee of the Federal Government shall through grants, contracts, or other cooperative agreements, mandate, direct, or control a State, local education agency or school’s specific instructional content.” It further bars federal encroachment in the curriculum.

The reason for this prohibition is that when the U.S. Department of Education was established in 1980, both parties feared that the other might try to impose its own views on the nation’s schools. So they agreed that the federal government would keep its hands off what was taught in the schools. 

Read entire article at The Hill