President Donald Trump said he will create a commission to promote “patriotic education” and decried the “twisted web of lies” being taught in schools and the narratives in universities that “America is a wicked and racist nation.”
Speaking at the White House Conference on American History on Thursday, Trump railed against "critical race theory" and the 1619 Project directed by The New York Times Magazine, calling the project "totally discredited." The 1619 Project is named after the year when the first slaves arrived in Virginia.
His remarks came shortly after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at another venue praised an alternative take on Black American history, the "1776 Unites Curriculum," promoted by notable conservatives. British colonies signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Trump said his “1776 Commission," established by executive order, will encourage educators to teach children about “the miracle of American history” and make plans to honor the 250th anniversary of America’s founding.
Trump also spoke about a grant awarded earlier this year by the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the development of a “pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history.”
"Critical race theory, the 1619 project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that if not removed will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together," he said. "It will destroy our country. That is why I recently banned trainings in this prejudiced ideology from the federal government and banned it in the strongest manner possible."
Trump recently threatened to nix federal funding for California schools that teach the 1619 Project, while the White House issued a governmentwide directive to stop what it called “un-American propaganda training sessions" about race.
"The only path to national unity is through our shared identity as Americans," Trump said. "That is why it is so urgent that we finally restore patriotic education to our schools."
During her remarks, DeVos acknowledged that the federal government can't dictate school curriculum. The education secretary said during a conservative policy panel that she thinks a 1776 Unites curriculum "sounds really wonderful."
That project was launched this week by the group 1776 Unites, whose founder, Bob Woodson, has said "low income blacks are just collateral damage" in efforts of "radical leftists" seeking to "demean and destroy the civic institutions in this country."
The 1776 Unites project is described as a way to offer "a more complete and inspiring story of the history of African-Americans in the United States" and is a direct response to the 1619 Project.
“I’m often asked ‘Shouldn’t the federal government advance some kind of a national civics curriculum?’ I fear doing that, frankly,” the secretary said Thursday in a conversation with Ian Rowe of the American Enterprise Institute, during the Reagan Institute Summit on Education. Rowe, a New York charter school and education executive, helped develop and launch the 1776 Unites project.
Federal law bars the Education Department from mandating curriculum.
“The federal government, the Department of Education, does not have a role in a national curriculum. Curriculum is best left to the states and local districts at local education agencies, but we can talk about curriculum that actually honors and respects our history and embraces all of the parts of our history and continues to build on that," she said. "Because we know that if we do not know and understand history, we are bound to repeat it."
The 1619 Project by The New York Times centers the telling of U.S. history around the effects of slavery and contributions of Black individuals and now offers curriculum for schools. The project's creator was awarded a Pulitzer Prize this year for her introductory essay on the effort.
The 1776 Unites curriculum offers lesson plans, reading guides, assessments and life lessons from “largely unknown, heroic African-American figures.”
DeVos said Thursday that “America is an exceptional country, and we know this because there are literally millions of people the world around who want to come here, who want to be a part of the American idea."
“And yet, I think, there are a lot of young people — even my children’s generation and younger — that probably have not been exposed to our history in a way that helps them really appreciate from whence we came and the need to protect what we have, to build on what we have, to acknowledge where we have to continue to improve. But not to forget what our foundations are."