The education advisory commission set up by former President Donald Trump will resume operations despite being disbanded by President Joe Biden, aiming to undermine the acceptance and teaching of critical race theory in schools.
The 1776 Commission is scheduled to convene on Monday in Washington on the annex campus of Hillsdale College to plot its next steps. An agenda for the private meeting, which is closed to the media, was not available. But in an interview with the Washington Examiner, Matthew Spalding, the 1776 Commission’s executive director, said the group sees a major role for itself in the explosive debate over the teaching of the history of the United States in public and private schools.
On one side is critical race theory. The decades-old academic study of U.S. history, more prevalent recently, argues that racism remains deeply embedded in all aspects of American life. According to the concept, the only way to unravel this systemic racism and bring about a just society is for institutions, public and private, to place race and ethnicity at the center of policymaking, hiring, and how people are treated generally.
On the other side are traditionalists who believe in de-emphasizing race and ethnicity. The 1776 Commission does not intend to whitewash the nation’s history of racism, Spalding said. Rather, the group wants to promote a history curriculum that defines racial equality as an American tenet, from the founding creed of the Declaration of Independence — “all men are created equal” — to Martin Luther King’s dream of a colorblind nation and beyond.
“When we start going about dividing people by groups, by social identities, and especially by identities that deal with race, and we’re starting to make those kinds of divisions, all Americans should get very nervous,” said Spalding, who runs Hillsdale’s Washington campus and is a faculty member. “It’s a departure away from the historic grounding of civil rights in America, which is that we all are equal.”
“Current arguments about identity politics and critical race theory that … present themselves as merely responding to perceptions of their current assessment of American society, but do so by introducing as their principle that we should look at people based on the color of their skin, strikes us as a fundamental denial of the idea that all men are created equal,” Spalding continued. “And that’s a problem for politics. That’s a problem intellectually and historically.”
The teaching of American history as it relates to race, how to address the nation’s racist past, and how to frame the progress toward equality made since the country’s founding has become a major cultural flashpoint between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are more sympathetic to critical race theory — if not in total, at least to the idea that the U.S. is still falling short of its founding ideals of treating all people equally.
Republicans tend to disagree.
Many believe that people of all races are treated according to character and merit. Others, at the very least, take exception to the notion that the U.S. is inherently racist or that generations of racism toward black people and other ethnic minorities, and favorable treatment of whites, negate the good that America has done, such as ending slavery through a bloody Civil War, defeating the Nazis in World War II, and winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
The creation of the 1776 Commission was Trump’s way of highlighting this view of American history and undercutting critical race theory. Although the group is no longer an advisory commission and is meeting on its own accord, it hopes to have a robust impact on education policy.
“This really grows out of a decadeslong debate about the nature of America,” Spalding said.
“That debate is now at the forefront of our politics. It’s a cultural question, rightly so,” he added. “What is America? And we’re going to have that debate, whether we like it or not. And I think in having that debate, there need to be clear and thoughtful voices that can inform politics and political leaders.”
The 1776 Commission issued its report just prior to being abolished by Biden.