Serious Historians are Criticizing Trump’s 1776 Report. It’s How Most U.S. History is Already TaughtBreaking News
tags: teaching history, 1776 commission
Less than two weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Trump administration released its 1776 report, a guide to “restore patriotic education.” The report, released on Martin Luther King Day, aimed to discredit accounts of U.S. history that view the enslavement of Black people as central to the nation’s founding. In particular, the report rebukes the New York Times’s Pulitzer-winning 1619 Project and earlier popular histories, such as Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”
Historians and columnists quickly noted the historical inaccuracies and hyperbolic claims made throughout the report. However, my research shows that the “patriotic education” promoted by the 1776 report has many similarities with existing traditional high school civics and U.S. history curriculums throughout the country. My research also suggests that this material can shape whether young people get politically involved.
How the 1776 report’s recommendations echo what’s already being taught
One section of the 1776 report proposes ways to “teach Americans about their country,” offering themes that focus on the accomplishments of predominantly White and male historical figures such as Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. That would protect the long-standing status quo in civics courses, which focus disproportionately on the accomplishments of White male historical figures, while downplaying their flaws.
In recent research, I found that White men continue to be the dominant figures in social studies curriculums. States that have high proportions of the nation’s school-age children hold considerable sway over textbook publishers. In particular, Texas’s sometimes controversial standards often influence what textbook publishers will release. The Lone Star state’s 2005 standards for U.S. government and U.S. history textbooks explicitly required mention of 34 historical figures. Of those, 31 were White men, one a White woman (Susan B. Anthony), and two were Black men (W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King).
Of the 59 figures mentioned in the revised standards used in 2018, 49 were White men, two were White women (Anthony and Betty Friedan), four were Black men (Du Bois, King, Marcus Garvey and Barack Obama), two were Black women (Rosa Parks and Ida B. Wells), and two were Latino (Hector Garcia and Cesar Chavez). No Latinas, Asian Americans or Indigenous Americans were named in the standards.
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