October 1, 2020
By Matt Beienburg
Listen up, parents, teachers, and school board members: There’s a new national curriculum in store.
No, I don’t mean the “handed down from on high, all kids shall now learn X” kind of national curriculum. I don’t mean the “here’s what to teach if you want federal funding” kind of national curriculum, or the “how to multiply fractions in a new way that confuses your parents” kind of national curriculum.
I mean a curriculum that our nation desperately needs right now in this time of political and racial tension—one that’s poised to help strengthen, heal, and unite us. I mean the new curriculum released this week by civil rights leader Bob Woodson and the 1776 Unites project, which tackles some of the biggest, most pointed questions of our time: questions around race, opportunity, and the promise of America.
As Woodson describes:
The 1776 Unites curriculum offers authentic, motivating stories from American history that show what is best in our national character and what our freedom makes possible even in the most difficult circumstances. The curriculum maintains a special focus on stories that celebrate black excellence, reject victimhood culture, and showcase the millions of Black Americans who have prospered by embracing the founding ideals of America.
Developed by Woodson and educator and American Enterprise Institute fellow Ian Rowe, the new curriculum was launched on the eve of Constitution Day (September 17) to, as Rowe put it, ”underscore to our youth the power of embracing our country’s authentic founding virtues and values, as embodied in that most unique document, the U.S. Constitution.”
Yet far from a nationally mandated new package or pedagogy, the 1776 Unites materials will simply offer new resources for teachers and school leaders to incorporate into the classroom, rolling out additional installments over the next several months: “lesson plans, reading guides, assessments, activities, and other resources that allow teachers to provide a more complete and inspiring story of the history of African-Americans in the United States.”
In so doing, 1776 might help bridge the gulf in our nation: offering a serious-minded reflection on race, coupled with a deep appreciation for America’s political and economic principles that uphold the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for millions of every color and creed.
This is especially vital as schools and organizations are rushing to provide students and staff with “anti-racist” materials in recent months—with so much of this content going badly off course and simply fueling further division and despair. (Like the Smithsonian Institute’s recently retracted materials that suggested “objective, rational linear thinking,” “hard work,” and an “emphasis on the scientific method” were qualities of “white culture”—sending a devastating message to budding scientists and engineers of all races.) In contrast, the 1776 curriculum transcends politics and introduces students to the entrepreneurial minds like Elijah McCoy, the son of escaped slaves who went on to succeed as a prolific inventor.
The Goldwater Institute — where I work — is already striving to make sure parents know which of these kinds of lessons (destructive and divisive, or empowering and inspiring) are being taught in their kids’ classrooms through new “academic transparency” model legislation. Now, with the launch of the 1776 curriculum, educators and parents alike will know that an option exists to inform and uplift their students and uphold the founding principles of America.
So if you are a parent, a teacher, or an administrator, now is the time to speak up and encourage the adoption of this content. Now is the time to celebrate not only an anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, but the new arrival of the 1776 curriculum.
Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also directs Goldwater’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy.