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Trump Announces 'Patriotic Education' Commission

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Many educators say schools in our country need to do a better job teaching students about white supremacy and systemic racism. President Trump is arguing for the opposite. Yesterday, he again went out of his way to portray protests in American cities as more violent than they really are. This time, though, he blamed what he called left-wing indoctrination in schools and universities. Trump said he wants to create a commission to promote, quote, "patriotic education."

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country. American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools.

GREENE: For more on this, let's turn to NPR education correspondent Cory Turner. Good morning, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Tell us more about the president's argument here.

TURNER: Well, he tried to frame the protests in response to the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police as rioting and mayhem and, in his words, said they're the result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. Basically, he argued that schools are teaching kids to hate this country by talking about the things America has gotten wrong, first and foremost slavery, instead of talking about freedom and the promise of our founding documents. He singled out The New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project as a big part of the problem. The project is being used in some classrooms to explore the legacy of slavery and present-day systemic inequities. In a speech yesterday, he also said, David, that he'd establish a 1776 Commission to promote patriotic education and that the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a grant to develop a pro-American curriculum.

GREENE: So, Cory, you cover education. You spent a lot of time in schools talking to teachers, educators, students. As someone who knows so much about this subject matter, like, how do you take this all in?

TURNER: First of all, David, this is election season politics, plain and simple. And using the history that we teach our kids as a wedge issue has been happening for generations. But some important context here - you know, I covered a report two years ago from the Southern Poverty Law Center that found that many teachers and textbooks still don't talk about slavery and its legacy much or well, for example, focusing on the uplifting stories of Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass without exploring the awful truth of the slavery they escaped, you know, what it was, how its legacy survives and the toxic ideology of white supremacy. I spoke last night with several teachers who said President Trump's varnished version of history is still what's being taught in many places. And that's the problem. I also heard from many historians, including professor Hasan Kwame Jeffries at The Ohio State University, that they disagree with the president's basic premise here, that studying America's flaws is somehow unpatriotic.

HASAN KWAME JEFFRIES: That's absurd. The highest form of patriotism is critical analysis. How can you make something better if you don't understand the shortcomings, what didn't work in the past and what worked in the past?

GREENE: So, Cory, the president says he's actually going to, you know, take some action here. He has a plan to develop what he's calling a pro-American curriculum. What can he actually do, beyond words?

TURNER: Yeah. The grant is relatively small. It's for $188,000. It came out of the big coronavirus relief act. But some really important context here about this curriculum - the federal government has no authority to impose such a national curriculum. The president's own party has argued for years for the local control of schools. Josh Halpren is a middle school U.S. history teacher in Maryland. I spoke with him last night. And he told me for the president to be telling states and districts what to teach in the name of protecting the Constitution...

JOSH HALPREN: Is paradoxically contrary to the Constitution and the fact that that power rests with states and local communities to decide.

TURNER: So, David, this curriculum will be like any other. It's something schools will have the freedom to use or not. One more thing I want to say - several teachers texted me last night to say they're now hearing the president's angry rhetoric being repeated by parents. One teacher in Indiana sent me a link to a blog where a parent in his district complained about teachers and neighbors buying into leftist indoctrination. And the parent wrote, quote, "I am afraid that the only way are they going to get it is once they're looking into the barrel of a gun."

GREENE: Wow. NPR's Cory Turner. Cory, thanks for helping us understand this.

TURNER: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.