July 8, 2020
By Matt Beienburg
The death of George Floyd has rocked this nation.
The overthrow of George Washington must as well.
As businesses, schools, and institutions of all stripes have rallied with the Black community through words, donations, and plans of action, and as elected officials have debated necessary police reforms, political agitators have exploited a grieving and fractured nation to usher in a new dogma of intolerance and authoritarianism — one which rejects men and women of color who do not conform to their political aims. One that rejects the very being of the United States of America. One that — perhaps worst of all — demands parents submit to them their children for a proper (re-)education.
Over the past year, thousands of schools across all 50 states have implemented curricular materials from the New York Times “1619 Project,” an effort aimed to displace the historical significance of July 4, 1776, reframe the United States as a “slavocracy” rather than a democracy, intentionally neglect any mention of white abolitionists in American history, and —until forced to acknowledge it had falsified its account — argue that the American Revolution had been fought to preserve slavery.
Now, amid a surge of such racially “woke” energies and less than a year since “1619” launched, a CNN headline reported in stark terms: “Protesters tore down a George Washington statue and set a fire on its head,” setting ablaze an American flag thrown upon him and triumphantly spray-painting “1619” on the fallen Founder. The last time Washington burned, America recognized it was at war against the British. Yet now, those in power appear content to watch America’s Founders — from Washington to Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant — topple all across the country, purportedly in the name of racial justice.
All of this as schools rush to implement “anti-racist” curricula at breakneck speed for the upcoming year. To the extent such efforts would offer genuine exchange of ideas and foster a greater historical appreciation for both the defects and virtues of America then and now: all the better. But simply because these materials are branded under a laudable sentiment — “anti-racist” — should not mean they are uncritically welcomed. As a rose by any other name is still a rose, so too is political opportunism by any other title. (Surely, for instance, we would all support those behind the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea over the brutal one-man dictatorship of Kim Jong Un, until realizing the one simply names the other.)
But what parent could object to anti-racist curricula approved by the Black Lives Matter organization, for example, unless that parent unfathomably objected to the principle that Black lives matter? Well, perhaps one who — like the majority of Americans — rejects the BLM organization’s stated demand for “a national defunding of police.” Or perhaps a parent who wonders about the ideological perspective of an organization whose co-founders have openly described themselves saying, “[We] are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists.”
Or perhaps a parent who is concerned that their kids’ “anti-racist” materials might spring from similar minds as the 1619 Project, whose lead author has casually dismissed the idea of exploring issues fully and fairly, shrugging that “this adherence to even-handedness, both-sidesism, the view from nowhere, doesn’t actually work in the political circumstances that we’re in,” and who has pronounced it an “honor” to have the new cultural revolution characterized as a “1619 riot.”
Or perhaps a parent who is unnerved at the prospect of her son or daughter being branded as a racist for failing to agree with aspects of such curricula, when social media boasts like this one have received over 400,000 “likes” for declaring, “When you expose a racist student, you stop them from attending a university that will allow them to become a racist healthcare worker, teacher, lawyer, real estate developer, politicians, etc.” Indeed, when General Grant — who literally led the army against the slaveholding South and then crushed the Ku Klux Klan — is cast down as a racist, might such a parent’s concern for her child’s future not be wholly unfounded?
Given the utter failure of our public schools to establish basic civic literacy (just 15 percent of 8th graders scored “proficient” in U.S. history and less than a quarter in civics in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Education), any efforts to promote anti-racist curricula ought to reject the cardboard cutout versions of history permeating our discourse and instead — looking to resources such as civil rights leader Robert Woodson’s 1776 Project — re-establish the foundational knowledge of, and appreciation for, America and its Founders, flawed as they are.
If schools do not, parents must act to express their displeasure in the way school leaders will most acutely understand: in their enrollment decisions and associated funding that comes with each student. Especially in states like Arizona, where vibrant options for school choice exist, parents who believe in America and its Founding must ultimately choose whether to send their students to an institution that shares their values, or one that denigrates them.
At the same time, policymakers who are in charge of state budgets must take a stand. Especially as public schools have already begun seeking bailout funding to shield them from enrollment drops in the fall — as parents increasingly consider homeschooling or other options — lawmakers should put the burden on schools to justify themselves through the level of academic enrichment and civic knowledge they are actually providing to students before they open the state pocketbook any more than is required.
To that end, the Goldwater Institute, where I work, is launching a new initiative and model legislation for “academic transparency” — that would require schools to fully disclose online (and before parents are forced to make enrollment decisions) — a list of all educational materials used in the prior year so that parents can themselves judge the caliber and character of instruction awaiting their students. Lawmakers ought to insist at the very least on such safeguards before greenlighting any new funding.
Meanwhile, parents must decide whether they will passively submit to the erasure of American history and the toppling of George Washington, or whether they will lift him back up when he can no longer stand on his own.
Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also directs Goldwater’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy.