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Pennsylvania school district requires social studies classes to incorporate right-wing propaganda Judd Legum

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Last Monday, the Pennridge School Board, located outside of Philadelphia, imposed a new social studies curriculum that will require teachers to incorporate lessons from the 1776 Curriculum, a controversial K-12 course of study developed by Hillsdale College, a private Christian institution that promotes right-wing ideologies.

The curriculum was developed in part by Jordan Adams, an educational consultant with no experience developing curricula for public schools. Adams launched his company, Vermilion Education, in March 2023. The Pennridge School Board hired Adams in April, paying $125 per hour for his services. The contract includes no limit on the number of hours, no specific deliverables, and no termination date. 

Adams holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hillsdale College and a master’s in humanities from another private conservative school, the University of Dallas. He does not hold any degrees in education. After graduating, Adams returned to Hillsdale College as an employee, where he promoted the 1776 Curriculum. On July 1, in a private presentation to Moms for Liberty, a far-right organization that pushes for changes in educational policy, Adams described himself as a “fox..in the henhouse.” He bragged that “the right people are freaking out” about his contract with Pennridge Schools. As of a few months ago, Adams had no other public school clients. 

Although Adams does not have the qualifications to write curriculum, it was revealed during a Pennridge School Board meeting on August 21 that Adams independently wrote aspects of the new social studies curricula. 

Adams’ proposed curriculum faced opposition from several members of the Pennridge School Board and the district’s own academic experts. Jenna Vitale, the K-12 social studies supervisor, cited concerns in a recent school board meeting about the “age-appropriateness of the elementary curriculum [developed by Adams], highlighting… the lack of the appropriate history background for incoming fourth and fifth graders and the elimination of 19th century U.S. history from the secondary social studies curriculum.” Vitale also cited concerns about Adams’ proposal to shift the third-grade curriculum from a focus on Native Americans to “Colonial America.”

The 1776 Curriculum, created in response to the New York Times’ 1619 project, claims that it is an accurate and unbiased curriculum that “seeks to tell the entire grand narrative of the American story.” Hillsdale’s curriculum, however, includes inaccuracies and skewed interpretations of America’s history. 

For example, the Hillsdale curriculum repeatedly suggests that America’s Founding Fathers had deep reservations about slavery. The ninth grade Pennridge curriculum will require a Hillsdale lesson that encourages students to “[c]onsider also that even among the southern founders who supported slavery or held slaves, several leading founders expressed regret and fear of divine retribution for slavery in America, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.” The curriculum states that, “Some freed their slaves as well, such as George Washington.” The same wording is also included in the required Hillsdale lesson for fourth graders.

Hillsdale’s description of the Founding Fathers’ views on slavery is highly misleading. In 1781, Jefferson wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia about his belief in the “biological differences between blacks and whites.” Jefferson also had a “purported relationship” with his slave Sally Hemings, and it is believed that he fathered at least some of Hemings’ children. While Madison argued that slaves “were ‘not like merchandize’ and were ‘not consumed,’ and thus could not be held as property,” Madison chose to “not free his slaves in his will,” instead leaving them to his wife, who “sold them off to pay debts.” While Washington did leave instructions to free his slaves after his death, the instructions also stated that the slaves should not be freed until after his wife had also passed. Washington also “order[ed] an enslaved man to be whipped for walking on the lawn” and “aggressively pursued runaway” slaves. This context is not mentioned in the Hillsdale unit.   

A required Hillsdale lesson for Pennridge School District third graders covers the “history of slavery in world history.” The lesson encourages teachers to downplay the prevalence of slavery in America, instead emphasizing slavery in other parts of the world. “Overall, of the nearly 11 million Africans who survived being brought to the Western Hemisphere, around 3 percent, or about 350,000, were brought to the North American continent, with the rest of all Africans taken to other colonies in the Caribbean and South America,” the lesson states.

The 1776 Curriculum has garnered criticism from academic experts. “What [Hillsdale has] done is they’ve simply left stuff out in an attempt to shape a vision of patriotism,” James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, told NBC News. “What they also are trying to do is replace an approach to teaching that teaches students how to think with an approach that teaches the students what to think.”

During a meeting earlier this month, Pennridge School Board member Jonathan Russell asked why the Hillsdale curriculum was listed as “required” for teachers when the proposed inclusion of Hillsdale lessons was originally pitched as an additional resource. Vitale said that Adams told her other board members “asked him to say that it was required.” 

By a 5-4 vote, the Pennridge School Board voted to impose the new ninth grade curriculum this year. The vote occurred on the first day of school, giving the teachers little to no time to prepare lessons based on the new guidelines.  Vitale stated that she was “very nervous” about teachers not having enough time to prepare lessons based on the new curriculum. (The School Board voted to implement the new first through fifth grade curriculum beginning in the fall of 2024).

Hillsdale’s revisionist history 

The 1776 Curriculum spends considerable time on the meaning behind the statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” A lesson now required for Pennridge School District ninth graders instructs teachers to pose the question of whether “women and slaves were included in this understanding of equality.” At the time, women did not have the right to vote, had limited property rights, and married women could not earn their own income. Nevertheless, the Hillsdale lesson argues that “the Founders meant that men and women share equally in human dignity and in possession of natural rights or freedoms that are simply part of being human.”

The lesson claims that, despite the limitation on women’s rights, “[w]hat was unique to America was the right to vote at all and then the relatively rapid rate at which the right to vote was expanded to” women. This statement, however, is misleading. According to Pew Research Center, in 1893, New Zealand granted women the right to vote, and “[a]t least 19 other countries also did so prior to the U.S. passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.” The 1776 Curriculum also creates justifications for not granting women the right to vote, insinuating that it was logical to only give the franchise to men, as they are the ones who “would be called to give their lives up for their country” and “had a high personal stake in what the country did regarding various policies, including going to war.”

For fifth grade, the new curriculum includes a Hillsdale lesson on the Civil War that argues that many Southerners believed the Civil War was about “states’ rights” rather than “preserv[ing] the institution of slavery.” The required Hillsdale lesson states that “[t]he majority of Southerners were not slaveholders and while fighting for their states would preserve slavery, many common Southerners fought for the argument of states’ rights rather than to preserve the institution of slavery.” 

 

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TGIF: WWIII May Come Tomorrow, But. . . Nellie Bowles

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Google employees protesting at the office. They were later fired. (Via X)

Welcome back. World War III watch over here continues. The Axis of Resistance seemed ready to kick off a major war, but then our Ayatollah stood down. The Houthi Youth at Columbia University camped out in solidarity, but the rebellion was short. Then, at press time, Israel struck back against Iran, so World War Watch resumed. You know what helps my stress? A good book. This one, by your faithful soldier, is out May 14.

→ Trump’s Gettysburg Address: Before Trump hit the campaign trail, I’d forgotten a little what he sounds like. In the amber of my mind, he was just “MAGA” and “Shithole countries” on a loop. Now, thanks to a campaign speech Saturday in Schnecksville, PA, we are back in the game with the craziest American orator who’s ever been in the game. The topic was Gettysburg. And our former president gave an impromptu slam poetry interpretation that left me snapping. 

Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was. I mean, it was so much and so interesting and so vicious and horrible and so beautiful in so many different ways. It represented such a big portion of the success of this country. Gettysburg, wow. I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch. And the statement of Robert E. Lee—who’s no longer in favor—did you ever notice that? He’s no longer in favor. “Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill.” They were fighting uphill. He said, “Wow, that was a big mistake.” He lost his great general. They were fighting, “Never fight uphill, me boys,” but it was too late.

Vicious and horrible and beautiful. And the sun that blazes over the October sky. Who will watch the watcher? Who will sing the song of the lonely? Check out my self-published novel in the back, Trump says. 

→ Biden continues paying off successful young voters: Sorry, I mean “forgiving student debt.” Biden this week paid off another $7.4 billion in student loans, making his total student loan cancellation something like $153 billion. And by cancellation, I mean tax dollars were used to make the ledger go to zero. How much exactly? From Penn Wharton’s analysis: “We estimate that President Biden’s recently announced ‘New Plans’ to provide relief to student borrowers will cost $84 billion, in addition to the $475 billion that we previously estimated for President Biden’s SAVE plan.” But that goes to really needy people, right? Well, actually, at least 750,000 of those households are “making over $312,000 in average household income.” Meanwhile, to anyone who questions this allocation of resources, the White House answer is to shame them from official White House accounts by listing how much in pandemic loans were forgiven for House Republicans who own individual small business, which is weird because the reason businesses needed pandemic relief was because the White House banned them from operating. It’s a trap! And the only answer is to pay off every Media Studies PhD student’s loan. Colleges, for their part, are now charging up to $100,000 a year. Yes, literally. And since that’s ultimately going to be paid for by the taxpayers, why work to make it less expensive? Why cut corners when you need to remodel the cafeteria?

→ Oh, RFK’s running mate: For a flash I was thinking, Am I an RFK voter? I’m a mom who worries about plastics, and no, I don’t like how our national conversation is getting so divisive these days. And those steely blue eyes. It just felt right. But this week, my love affair hit a snag. Here’s RFK’s new vice-presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan, arguing that the Covid vaccine is not just bad, that it’s not just something she personally doesn’t want and should have the freedom to choose not to take, but that it should be banned. Over to Nicole: “Here is the devastating reality: it is not a safe vaccine, and must be recalled immediately. Many people are suffering who took it.” I guess this is really the agenda: RFK Jr. might be just asking questions, but if Nicole is chief executive, it sounds like she’s going to be executing. And that looks like legally required sound baths and astrology readings. The government understands that you want to take antibiotics, but you haven’t even tried rubbing yourself in honey yet. 

→ Wow, Kari Lake comes out as really pro-choice: Kari Lake, the Republican running for Senate in Arizona, has released a video about how she disagrees with Arizona’s total abortion ban, a ban she previously supported. I’m all for mind-changing. I actually want our politicians to put their finger to the wind every once in a while. Here’s Lake: “We as American people don’t agree on everything all of the time. But if you look at where the population is on this—a full ban on abortion is not where the people are.” 

She says, “I chose life, but I’m not every woman.” She pivots to Europe, which has all those annoyingly sensible abortion laws, and which is my exact same move: “I had the opportunity to visit Hungary, and it completely changed my view of how we should deal with this complicated, difficult issue.”

Is this Kari Lake sounding normal? In case you need to be reminded of the old Kari, here she is shaking hands with a statue. 

→ Oh no, “get out the vote” helps. . . Trump? Now that young people are for Trump and old people are for Biden, there’s another switcheroo: those who vote less or have never voted are more likely to be Trumpers. Call off the Rock the Vote campaigners! Return the blue t-shirts! The new message for Democrats to win needs to be: do not register new voters. Keep on keeping on. Stay home, save lives.


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April 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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I will not spend the rest of 2024 focusing on Trump and the chaos in the Republican Party, but today it has been impossible to look away.

In Trump’s election interference trial in Manhattan, Judge Juan Merchan this morning dismissed one of the selected jurors after she expressed concern for her anonymity and thus for her safety. All of the reporters in the courtroom have shared so much information about the jurors that they seemed at risk of being identified, but Fox News Channel host Jesse Watters not only ran a video segment about a juror, he suggested she was “concerning.” Trump shared the video on social media.

The juror told the judge that so much information about her had become public that her friends and family had begun to ask her if she was one of the jurors. Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted jurors’ fear for their safety was a concern normally seen only “in a case involving violent organized crime.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the day, twelve people had been chosen to serve as jurors. Tomorrow the process will continue in order to find six alternate jurors. 

It is a courtesy for the two sides at a trial to share with each other the names of their next witnesses so the other team can prepare for them. Today the prosecution declined to provide the names of their first three witnesses to the defense lawyers out of concern that Trump would broadcast them on social media. “Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses. We’re not telling them who the witnesses are,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said. 

Merchan said he “can’t blame them.” Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche offered to “commit to the court and the [prosecution] that President Trump will not [post] about any witness” on social media. “I don’t think you can make that representation,” Merchan said, in a recognition that Trump cannot be trusted, even by his own lawyers.

An article in the New York Times today confirmed that the trial will give Trump plenty of publicity, but not the kind that he prefers. Lawyer Norman L. Eisen walked through questions about what a prison sentence for Trump could look like.

Trump’s popular image is taking a hit in other ways, as well. Zac Anderson and Erin Mansfield of USA Today reported that Trump is funneling money from his campaign fundraising directly into his businesses. According to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in February and March the campaign wrote checks totaling $411,287 to Mar-a-Lago and in March a check for $62,337 to Trump National Doral Miami.

Experts say it is legal for candidates to pay their own businesses for services used by the campaign so long as they pay fair market value. At the same time, they note that since Trump appears to be desperate for money, “it looks bad.”

Astonishingly, Trump’s trial was not the biggest domestic story today. Republicans in Congress were in chaos as members of the extremist Freedom Caucus worked to derail the national security supplemental bills that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has introduced in place of the Senate bill, although they track that bill closely. 

The House Rules Committee spent the day debating the foreign aid package, which appropriates aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan separately. The Israel bill also contains $9.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other countries. A fourth bill focuses on forcing the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the company, as well as on imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

At stake in the House Rules Committee was Johnson’s plan to allow the House to debate and vote on each measure separately, and then recombine them all into a single measure if they all pass. This would allow extremist Republicans to vote against aid to Ukraine, while still tying the pieces all together to send to the Senate. As Robert Jimison outlined in the New York Times, this complicated plan meant that the Rules Committee vote to allow such a maneuver was crucial to the bill’s passage.

The extremist House Republicans were adamantly opposed to the plan because of their staunch opposition to aid for Ukraine. They wrote in a memo on Wednesday: “This tactic allows Johnson to pass priorities favored by President Biden, the swamp and the Ukraine war machine with a supermajority of House members, leaving conservatives out to dry.”

Extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) vowed to throw House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) out of the speakership, but Democrats Tom Suozzi of New York and Jared Moskowitz of Florida have said they would vote to keep him in his seat, thereby defanging the attack on his leadership.

So the extremists instead tried to load the measures up with amendments prohibiting funds from being used for abortion, removing humanitarian aid for Gaza, opposing a two-state solution to the Hamas-Israel war, calling for a wall at the southern border of the U.S., defunding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and so on.

Greene was especially active in opposition to aid to Ukraine. She tried to amend the bill to direct the president to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and demanded that any members of Congress voting for aid to Ukraine be conscripted into the Ukraine army as well as have their salaries taken to offset funding. She wanted to stop funding until Ukraine “turns over all information related to Hunter Biden and Burisma,” and to require Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to resign. More curiously, she suggested amending the Ukraine bill so that funding would require “restrictions on ethnic minorities’, including Hungarians in Transcarpathia, right to use their native languages in schools are lifted.” This language echoes a very specific piece of Russian propaganda.

Finally, Moskowitz proposed “that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene…should be appointed as Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress.” 

Many congress members have left Washington, D.C., since Friday was to be the first day of a planned recess. This meant the partisan majority on the floor fluctuated. Olivia Beavers of Politico reported that that instability made Freedom Caucus members nervous enough to put together a Floor Action Response Team (FART—I am not making this up) to make sure other Republicans didn’t limit the power of the extremists when they were off the floor.

The name of their response team seems likely to be their way to signal their disrespect for the entire Congress. Their fellow Republicans are returning the heat. Today Mike Turner (R-OH) referred to the extremists as the Bully Caucus on MSNBC and said, “We need to get back to professionalism, we need to get back to governing, we need to get back to legislating.” Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios:  “The vast majority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives…are sick and tired of having people who…constantly blackmail the speaker of the House.”

Another Republican representative, Jake LaTurner of Kansas, announced today he will not run for reelection. He joins more than 20 other Republican representatives heading for the exits.

After all the drama, the House Rules Committee voted 6–3 tonight to advance the foreign aid package to the House floor. Three Republicans voted nay. While it is customary for the opposition party to vote against advancing bills out of the committee, the Democrats broke with tradition and voted in favor.

Notes:

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/opinion/donald-trump-trial-prison.html

https://www.politico.com/live-updates/2024/04/18/congress/hfc-on-alert-00153097

https://www.jns.org/house-rules-committee-debates-israel-aid-package-as-house-speaker-confronts-right-flank/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-new-york-court-criminal-trial/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/jesse-watters-goes-juror-by-juror-to-sow-doubt-in-trump-hush-money-case

https://www.salon.com/2024/04/18/juror-quits-over-fear-of-being-outed-after-fox-news-host-singled-her-out/

https://www.rawstory.com/jake-laturner/#cxrecs_s

https://www.cnn.com/2024/04/18/politics/mike-johnson-speakership-rules

https://www.rawstory.com/freedom-caucus-2667810851/

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8034

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8035

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2024/04/18/trump-campaign-funnels-money-to-his-businesses/73344744007/

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/mike-johnson-gaetz-motion-to-vacate-ukraine

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/jake-laturner-retire-house-gop-kansas

https://www.axios.com/2024/03/27/house-members-retiring-quitting-productivity

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/us/politics/house-israel-ukraine-aid-package-explainer.html

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April 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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