Home > Uncategorized > Wait! What? Betsy DeVos Wants Schools to Emphasize Freedom, Founders Without Emphasizing Slavery?

Wait! What? Betsy DeVos Wants Schools to Emphasize Freedom, Founders Without Emphasizing Slavery?

December 30, 2020


Thankfully we have only three weeks of Betsy DeVos left, but she is making the most of her waning hours behind the bully pulpit. In a Fox News editorial she decries the 1619 Project, champions President Trump’s 1776 Project, and makes her last ditch effort to promote vouchers. I’ve blogged frequently about the flawed thinking behind vouchers and a couple of times on the fact that testing has marginalized instruction in all areas of the curriculum outside of reading and math skills. Before she and her boss leave office I want to provide an overview of the 1776 Commission and why it is preposterous to use it as a counterpoint to the 1619 project. Here, Ms. DeVos offers her description of the 1776 Commission:

The 1776 Commission, which President Trump launched recently, will help focus the national conversation on the great American story and the importance of ensuring the rising generation understands the values of our founding, the contents of our Constitution and the critical need to be engaged citizens.

Until now, I haven’t given much space in this blog to critique the 1776 Project, but I might as well give a short one now in light of Ms. DeVos’ continued efforts to promote it even though I am hopeful that the Biden administration will make any detailed analysis moot.

The roots of the 1776 Project was the widespread publicity and dissemination of the NYTimes 1619 Project, which looked at American history through the lens of slavery. It asserts that our nation’s founding and initial economy was predicated on existence and continuation of slavery, a political and economic reality that has been whitewashed in history books. Since its publication, several historians have questioned the facts cited in the document and because of those inaccuracies they have contended that the entire premise is flawed.

From my perspective, the entire study of history should be viewed with a degree of skepticism because it inevitably reflects the assumptions of the individuals writing the history and the culture that the history brings from. It should be clear to any politician that history is a subjective curation of facts. The “history” most of us learned in school is necessarily limited by the time allotted to instruction and tends to tell the same story with nuance and perspective added as children mature. A third grader can understand the stories of history while a tenth grader should be able to understand the way those stories can be changed based on a different perspective. The 1619 Project offered a different curation of facts and, therefore, a different perspective on the stories we grew up with. It is not the last word on our country’s history any more than the 1776 Project will be.

My perspective is that history instruction should make it clear to students that everyone has a different perspective when it comes to interpreting events and that we should be able to look at each other’s perspectives and the facts used to reach those perspectives. The 1619 Project may have presented some flawed facts, but it could still reach some sound conclusions.

As for the 1776 Project, the purported antidote to the the poisonous information being spread by anti-American history teachers, it seems that it overlooks some inconvenient truths in the story it wishes to tell. most importantly the fact that may of the “values of our founding” are clearly unacceptable today. We don’t allow slavery;  we do allow women to vote; we allow those who do not own land to vote; and, we have made several adjustments to the documents of the founders to reflect the changes in science and technology.

And last but nearly not least, we “anti-Americans” who are open to reading and teaching about slavery and the union movement presented in Howard Zinn’s texts, DO value freedom. And because we value freedom, we find it completely unacceptable to have the government defining an official narrative that every child needs to commit to memory. As long as we are free to think for ourselves and develop our own narratives to explain events we are free. Once there is only one way to look at history, Freedom is Slavery and we all love Big Brother.

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