A Push for ‘Patriotic Education’Historians in the News
tags: teaching history, Donald Trump, 1776 commission
In an 11th-hour White House report, the administration that coined the term “alternative facts” says it's academics who have hijacked the truth about U.S. history.
Historians, in turn, generally agree that the report -- released by the Presidential Advisory 1776 Commission -- is garbage. The document lacks citations, fails to mention Native Americans entirely, traffics heavily in American “values” at the expense of objective truths and bemoans the “radicalization of American politics” from the 1960s onward.
Less clear to historians is how much of an impact the report will have on already divided and fact-challenged culture.
David Blight, Sterling Professor of American History at Yale University, said that academic historians, “even those with conservative instincts, will discredit this report whenever asked. We value research, facts, evidence, and then interpretation and debate above ideology. At least most of us do.”
Beyond academe, Blight said he was hopeful that the report “will have very little lasting power.” But even as President Trump is about to leave office, he said, “Trumpism is not going away,” and the report gives his supporters a “documentary calling card" in form of an official White House publication.
Ultimately, he said, the report’s real-world impact depends on “what Fox News and other right-wing media does with it. It is cleaned-up Trumpist lies put out for public use.”
Lindsay Stallones Marshall, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said she didn’t expect the incoming Biden administration to continue the commission or heed its work in any way. Yet the “credence” that the Trump administration lent to such “radical, anti-intellectual views of U.S. history education will support efforts to instill this sort of propaganda in the guise of history education reform.”
Trump, who has attacked The New York Times’ "1619 Project" for highlighting the role of slavery in U.S. history, started talking about the need for “patriotic education” in September. He formally created the Presidential Advisory 1776 Committee by executive order in November, to counter a “radicalized view of American history” that “lacks perspective, obscures virtues, twists motives, ignores or distorts facts, and magnifies flaws, resulting in the truth being concealed and history disfigured.”
Hillsdale College, a conservative, politically aspirational private institution in Michigan with Baptist roots, announced in mid-December that Trump had appointed its president, Larry P. Arnn, chairman of the 1776 Commission. Matthew Spalding, dean of Hillsdale’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, was named the commission’s executive director.