In early September, President Trump announced his new effort to promote what he terms “patriotic education” through the creation of the 1776 Commission. While the federal government has no authority to dictate school curriculum, it is important to take a closer look at the Commission itself, the purpose of this education, and the harm President Trump causes when he continues to center whiteness using the platform of the Presidency.
What is the 1776 Commission?
According to President Trump, the National Endowment for 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.” In conjunction with the grant program, the President also announced he was signing an Executive Order to form the 1776 Commission – establishing “a national commission to promote patriotic education.”
In an effort to further support the rampant nationalism sweeping through his base of supporters, the President announced “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.”
The grant program, commission, and several other actions were all in response to what the President termed “anti-American propaganda” being “pushed by the far-left” to “see America weakened, derided, and totally diminished.”
Why is the 1776 Commission harmful?
Breaking down the President’s announcements and creation of the 1776 Commission is critical to understanding the purpose of campaigns like Black Lives Matter and other efforts to de-center whiteness in our culture.
Ironically, the President stated part of his actions were due to “radicals” wanting to “burn down the principles enshrined in our founding documents.” He further stated, “In order to radically transform America, they must first cause Americans to lose confidence in who we are, where we came from, and what we believe.” The President fails to acknowledge that only wealthy, white men who owned property were even involved in the drafting of our founding documents in the first place.
The creation of a “pro-American curriculum” to celebrate the “truth” of our history is absurd. We are far from teaching the truth as it is, given the lack time and attention paid to our nation’s entrenched dependence on slavery and racism at its very founding. A “pro-American curriculum” would take an honest look at the individuals who founded our nation, the principles that drove them, the society and culture at the time, and the failings. Indeed, it is an honest review of the failings, including slavery and sexism, that are most critical for any forthright education designed to tell the truth of our history and atone for our mistakes in the future.
Instead of taking a hard look at why Black History Month exists and question why Black history isn’t integrated into each and every subject as it is already, given Black Americans are Americans and Black History is our American History, the President chose yet again to leverage his platform as the President of the United States to promote an agenda centering whiteness and harming Black and brown American citizens.
An honest instruction of the history of our founding, including the scope of racism, slavery, and anti-Black and brown political agendas since 1776, is desperately needed in our public schools. All students will benefit from a full and rich education acknowledging the depth of pain our racist history has caused, as well as the vibrant contributions people of color have given to American culture and advancement in each and every field of academia.
The level of nationalist rhetoric exuding from the Presidency is troublesome, and echoes eerily to rhetoric in Germany in the 1930s. The President fails to understand that the way to unite is not through diminishing racial differences and propping up whiteness. This will lead to further dissent, further divisions, and further harm to Black and brown citizens everywhere.
Our nation is hurting. Our people are tired. We need to reckon with how racism has been woven into each and every institution since even before 1776 to benefit white America, and wealthy white America in particular, at the expense of Black people, personal toll, and human cost.
Our children need to know the truth about our founding, every ugly detail of it. Only once the truth comes to light will we be able to grapple with the depth of pain racism has borne out, generation after generation.
We cannot fix what we cannot see. If the person we call President is unable to see how racism is entrenched in each of our institutions, then this person is unfit to lead us.
We will unite when our differences are finally seen and understood. We will unite when we are heard. We will unite when we center truth.
Until then, we will fight. At the ballot box, in the classroom, in our homes, and in our communities.
We vote. We hold accountable. We rise.