SC lawmakers may use Trump’s 1776 Report to shape US history curriculum

Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 7:30 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would require “instruction in United States foundational history” for all public middle and high school students in a way that is consistent with former President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission Report, and it already has approval from the state’s top education leader.

The Restore America’s Foundation Act, S.534, has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. If passed, it would require “a minimum of thirty hours of classroom instruction” on United States history every year for students in grades six through 12.

Social studies teachers would be required to spend no fewer than five hours on each of the four sections: Examining the lead up to the American Revolution, the Revolution and some of its battles, America’s political philosophy, and the legacy of the Revolution.

State Sen. Dwight Loftis, a Republican from Greenville, sponsored the legislation.

“We have, in today’s society, a lot of disrespect for the flag, the national anthem, and that sort of thing,” Loftis said. “The knowledge of where we came from and why our forefathers did what they did, I think it’s important that we know.”

The proposed legislation would also require the State Superintendent of Education to “review and prescribe suitable texts and online materials aligned with the principles and concepts of the January 2021 report of the 1776 Commission.”

This commission, which included no professional historians, was created by then-President Trump in Sept. 2020, and it released its report in Jan. 2021, aiming to promote a “patriotic education” in schools.

The Trump White House’s website called the report “a definitive chronicle of the American founding” and a “rebuttal of reckless ‘re-education’ attempts that seek to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one.”

Vernon Burton, a professor of history at Clemson University, said the report “confuses nationalism with patriotism.”

“I think there’s a lot we can be proud of striving for these ideals, but we should not be papering over the problems that we have faced and overcome at times,” Burton said. “We have had problems. We’re in problems now with this kind of legislation itself. It introduces more problems and more politics. It is telling people how to think, not to think.”

The legislation is also getting pushback from Albert Robertson, the president of the state’s Council for the Social Studies and the coordinator of social studies for Lexington County School District One.

“Our goal is the same. We want to make sure students love this nation. We want students to understand that this political experiment that is America is a wonderful thing, but we also have to understand we’re not flawless in our endeavors,” Robertson said.

He added that a lot of the material recommended in the bill is already built into South Carolina’s United States history curriculum, and that the legislation’s requirements may put a burden on teachers who are already trying to cover all their required material.

“There are specific allusions to United States history facts and events in a world history class or a geography class, but the thought to add the same content every single year for 30 hours a year is going to be problematic,” Robertson said.

The 1776 Report claims the “most common charge” leveled against the nation’s founders is that they were “hypocrites who didn’t believe in their stated principles” because they allowed slavery to continue in the U.S. Constitution.

“This charge is untrue,” the report claims, adding it “has done enormous damage, especially in recent years, with a devastating effect on our civic unity and social fabric.”

“Slavery was not the proper thing to do,” Loftis said. “It is slavery, and it’s unfair to people who are enslaved going back to Egypt when they enslaved the Jewish people there. We’ve always had slavery. Don’t approve of it. Never have. But, I think it’s good to know the good and the bad. That’s what we learn from history.”

Loftis said his initial focus of the bill was more on the founding documents, not entirely on the 1776 Report. Burton said that he’s confused why the report is in there at all.

“I have no idea why it’s in there except for political and the culture war reasons,” Burton said. “It makes no sense. It really doesn’t.”

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said she “fully supports” the legislation, adding most of the concepts listed in the report and the bill are already built into the state’s standards.

“I understand that we need to be prepared to teach history accurately, so we’re always working with our teachers to make sure they have the tools and resources that they need,” Spearman said. “South Carolina has such a rich history but obviously there were some dark times, and those need to be taught accurately and our students need to be able to see both sides of issues.”

Spearman said the department is reviewing the document and working to see if 30 additional hours of instruction would be needed seeing that the standards already include many of the report’s lessons.

“I don’t foresee that it will be an undue burden on any teacher,” Spearman added.

“I regret the fact that this seemingly always comes to the slavery issue, which I don’t agree with,” Loftis said. “I think it was bad, but I think we can learn from it. But, I want an appreciation for not only the sacrifice but the mindset, the knowledge, the wisdom to create the laws that we’ve had that’s protected us, giving our freedom for these many years. That’s the key to this.”

When asked if he has spoken with educators about the bill, Loftis responded that he has not yet done so.

As for the bill, if passed, it requires the State Superintendent to review not only the 1776 Report but also materials from “organizations and institutions dedicated to promoting knowledge and appreciation for America’s founding.”

A report detailing the superintendent’s process and conclusions would then need to be submitted to the Senate Education Committee and the House Education and Public Works Committee by Oct. 15, 2021.

To read the full 1776 Commission Report, click here. To read the bill in full, click here.

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