Migrant Imaginary © 2019 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Layqa Nuna Yawar & Ricardo Cabret, 1902 South 4th Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.
In September, President Trump announced that he planned to create a “pro-American” curriculum called the 1776 Commission to promote “patriotic education.” Patriotic education can be defined as “a form of political education…to teach people to love America,” however the curriculum would ignore most social movements and exclude current and historical movements for Black Freedom. The 1776 Commission is in contrast to the 1619 Project which teaches American history with a critical race lens – America being founded on oppression versus freedom. Trump’s speech argues the opposite, “America’s founding set in motion the unstoppable chain of events that abolished slavery, secured civil rights, defeated communism and fascism, and built the most fair, equal, and prosperous nation in human history.” His speech is overflowing with the idea of American exceptionalism (maybe jingoism), denial of the uncomfortable parts of the past, and painting America’s history as warm and fuzzy.
Fast forward to the eve before the U.S. Presidential elections when Trump signed an executive order establishing the 1776 commission. It’s no secret that people in the U.S. are more polarized than ever and this divisiveness is evident in different news sources.
A right-leaning article titled “The 1776 Commission is desperately needed,” declares that teaching history with a critical race lens skews American history to only see the negatives. The author, Keisha Russell further asserts that all of America’s sins were addressed and fixed, thanks to the U.S. Constitution and its founding principles. Russell implies that opponents of the commission have an authoritarian agenda and want to destroy civic bonds. Studying American history any way other than through its achievements is distorting facts and is outright propaganda. This evokes Cold War-era rhetoric involving ideas of an enemy and legitimization of politicized views. In the author’s short 700-worded article she doesn’t once address the paradox of her own argument: supporting patriotic education IS government indoctrination.
Whereas, a left-leaning article argues that patriotic education should include the complexity and mistakes a nation has made while also celebrating unsung historical heroes – Black heroes and other figures from different cultural backgrounds. The author uses examples of BIPOC student’s negative school experiences and how all students benefit from racial conversations. Another article asserts the 1776 Commission would whitewash American education and appeals to credibility by calling on academics like Ibram X. Kendi who says, “What Trump calls ‘patriotic education’ is racist education” and Jeff Sharlet purports that a patriotic education is a “fundamentalist concept.” Opponents of the commission contend that to actually do right by the Constitution is to reckon with America’s problematic past and only then can America genuinely move forward.
There is a striking difference in rhetoric when comparing the two sides. Proponents of the 1776 Commission create a distinct us versus them narrative by the use of language that invokes sentimentality as well as fear. On the other side, the discourse is mainly centered on racial injustice and a curriculum that includes ALL backgrounds. Both sides illuminate how divided a nation is and it brings up some important questions: (1) What will a patriotic education look like in 2021 with a new president? (2) What implications does a U.S. President’s agenda have globally? A similar circumstance is occurring in Pakistan right now and days following Trump’s speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin created a new appointment in Russia’s National Guard to maintain “ideological unity and “political unity.” But, maybe it’s the reverse and that Trump is responding to America’s current atmosphere i.e. civil unrest with an authoritarian approach and taking notes from Putin or Chinese leader Xi. (3) How do schools create national identity? What does Americanization entail? (4) How does the 1776 commission reflect or contradict democratic education?
Written by Amy Yang
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- Gross, E. (2020, November 2). Trump Signs Executive Order To Establish A 1776 Commission To Instill ‘Patriotic Education’. Forbes. Retrieved November 6, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/elanagross/2020/11/02/trump-signs-executive-order-to-establish-a-1776-commission-to-instill-patriotic-education/?sh=5e2153f06dc3
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- The Moscow Times. (2020, September 22). Putin Recreates Soviet-Era Political Supervision Over National Guards. The Moscow Times. Retrieved November 6, 2020 from https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/09/22/putin-recreates-soviet-era-political-supervision-over-national-guards-a71506
- The Moscow Times. (2020, September 22). Putin Adds Patriotism, War History to School Curriculum. The Moscow Times. Retrieved November 6, 2020 from https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/05/22/putin-adds-patriotism-war-history-to-school-curriculum-a70347
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- XinhuaNet. (2019, March 18). Xi stresses ideological and political education in schools. XinhuaNet. Retrieved November 6, 2020 from http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-03/18/c_137905201_2.htm
- Yawar, L. N., Cabret, R. Migrant Imaginary [Mural]. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Retrieved on November 6, 2020 from https://www.muralarts.org/artworks/migrant-imaginary/