A Trump-era commission tasked with combating “false narratives about the American Founding” has urged the Biden administration to drop its proposal to fund history and civics programs that promote critical race theory or related curricula “under the misleading name of ‘anti-racism.'”
Former President Donald Trump holds an executive order he signed at the White House in Washington on June 26, 2020 to establish a 20-person Advisory 1776 Commission under the Department of Education to promote “patriotic education.” The commission was terminated by President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
The so-called “1776 Commission,” established in the final months of the Trump presidency before being formally dissolved by President Joe Biden upon taking office, has continued its work in a non-government capacity. The group met on Monday at Hillsdale College’s campus in Washington to discuss civic education curricula, issuing a statement critical of the Biden administration’s proposed rule to issue grants to classroom educational projects that give prominence to so-called “antiracist” ideas such as the controversial “1619 Project.”
“We are concerned that the U.S. Department of Education’s Proposed Rule defining priorities for the American History and Civics Education programs, whether as Critical Race Theory or under the misleading name of ‘anti- racism,’ actually encourages and seeks to direct federal funds to the teaching of racial discrimination in America’s elementary and secondary school systems,” the group wrote.
“This Proposed Rule should be withdrawn, and individual states should oppose any such race-based pedagogy as part of their curricula, especially if that curricula is imposed by the federal government,” it added.
In the proposed rule, released on April 19, the Education Department outlined new priority criteria for a $5.3 million American History and Civics Education grant, as well as exemplary materials for K-12 educators to use. Specifically, the department cited the “1619 Project,” and critical race theorist Ibram X. Kendi’s “antiracist idea” as leading examples of the kind of content it wants to use taxpayer dollars to promote in history and civics classrooms across the country.
The Biden administration’s proposal, which was open for public comment until May 19, praises “growing acknowledgement of the importance of including, in the teaching and learning of our country’s history, both the consequences of slavery, and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our society,” but makes clear that such an “acknowledgement” would be “reflected […] in the New York Times’ landmark ‘1619 Project’” and in Kendi’s “antiracist” ideas. The proposal cites Kendi, noting that “antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities,” which is essentially the highly contentious argument that differences in outcomes among different racial groups can be reduced to a single variable—racist policies.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington on May 12, 2021. (Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA)
The “1619 Project,” inaugurated with a special issue of The New York Times Magazine, attempts to cast the Atlantic slave trade as the dominant factor in the founding of America instead of ideals such as individual liberty and natural rights. The initiative has been widely panned by historians and political scientists, with some critics calling it a bid to rewrite U.S. history through a left-wing lens.
The 1776 Commission meeting was hosted by Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, who said in a statement: “History is complete and cannot be changed. These controversies about history can only be resolved by looking at the facts. To help the young know this history is the work of the commission, and its importance has not diminished since inauguration day.”
Matthew Spalding, the 1776 Commission’s executive director, told the Washington Examiner in an interview ahead of the group’s meeting that the commission does not want to whitewash the nation’s history of racism, but rather seeks to emphasize racial equality as America’s foundational principles, as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, namely that “all men are created equal.”
“When we start going about dividing people by groups, by social identities, and especially by identities that deal with race, and we’re starting to make those kinds of divisions, all Americans should get very nervous,” Spalding told the outlet.
“It’s a departure away from the historic grounding of civil rights in America, which is that we all are equal.”
“Current arguments about identity politics and critical race theory that … present themselves as merely responding to perceptions of their current assessment of American society, but do so by introducing as their principle that we should look at people based on the color of their skin, strikes us as a fundamental denial of the idea that all men are created equal,” Spalding said.
“And that’s a problem for politics. That’s a problem intellectually and historically.”
The commission’s meeting comes as Republicans across the nation are trying to prevent the teaching of critical race theory and related ideas in the nation’s classrooms.
Proponents of critical race theory have argued that it’s needed to demonstrate what they say is “pervasive systemic racism” and to facilitate rooting it out.
Critics have noted critical race theory’s roots in Marxism, arguing that the concept advocates for the destruction of institutions, such as the Western justice system, free-market economy, and orthodox religions, demanding that they be replaced with institutions compliant with the critical race theory ideology.