Dominic Day woke up the day after Inauguration Day and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw one of Joe Biden’s first acts as president was to rescind the 1776 Commission.
The commission, which former President Donald Trump’s administration created in the final stretch of his time in office, was supposed to promote “patriotic education.” It was an apparent response to The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which centered slavery and racism in America’s history, as well as Black Lives Matter protests.
Trump’s executive order establishing the commission said viewing America as an “irredeemably and systemically racist country” diminishes the legacies of people such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.
Day, a curriculum coordinator for the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, had a particular interest in the commission because his job is to develop curriculum based on education standards. Not that the commission could have created new education standards; that’s left up to the states.
The 1776 Commission, which issued its report on MLK Day, is dead, but the threat of a whitewashed, “patriotic” approach to education is not.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, proposed a Patriotic Education Fund to combat the “indoctrination in far-left socialist teachings,” and other red states could choose to take up the mantle for themselves without Trump in the White House, leaving curriculum coordinators like Day wondering where the next battle could come from.
“We can no longer accept marginalized or minimized history,” he said.
For public schools in Indiana, there is a team at the school or district level that develops curriculum based on standards set at the state level. Those teams go to the school board for approval, and assuming that happens, the curriculum team works with teachers and other staff to figure out exactly how to implement it.
The process works in waves, so most years there is usually a new subject up for approval.
The 1776 Commission couldn’t have created new curriculum. Education is mostly controlled at the state and local level. Similar to what happened with Common Core, though, the U.S. Department of Education theoretically could have rewarded and punished individual states and districts through grants based on adoption of certain standards.
Warren Morgan, chief academic officer for Indianapolis Public Schools, said students should be able to see themselves and their history through the work they do at school.
“It is important that IPS students have pride in our country,” Morgan said in an email. “We can teach that pride without dismissing the hard realities and tough issues that our country has endured.”
IPS has a partnership with the Racial Equity Institute, which includes teacher and staff training to better understand structural racism. The school board also recently passed a policy that outlines the district’s commitment to addressing disparities.
If all else fails, the burden of giving students a thorough education — the good and the bad — can fall to parents, grandparents and other adults.
Jordan Thierry wrote “A Kids Book About Systemic Racism” partly for that reason. The information is out there, he said, and if schools can’t be an authority in accurate education, students can look elsewhere. The obvious risk is it’s easy to get bad information.
Thierry said some schools have ordered his book to teach, but his focus is on adults to read with students.
“If people want to see this next generation be proud to be residents of the United States of America, we as adults have to pave the way for embracing the fight against the inequities,” he said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.