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Trump Announces 'Patriotic Education' Commission, A Largely Political Move

President Trump holds a Constitution Day proclamation after speaking Thursday during the White House Conference on American History at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Saul Loeb
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump holds a Constitution Day proclamation after speaking Thursday during the White House Conference on American History at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

In austere, starkly divisive remarks, President Trump on Thursday said he would create a commission to promote "patriotic education" and announced the creation of a grant to develop a "pro-American curriculum." The move is largely political — a reaction to a growing push by some academics for schools to teach an American history that better acknowledges slavery and systemic racism.

In the speech, Trump decried what he said was a "twisted web of lies" being taught in U.S. classrooms about systemic racism in America, calling it "a form of child abuse." He reprised themes from a speech he gave in July at Mount Rushmore.

"Teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse, the truest sense," Trump said. "For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans' silence for weakness. They're wrong. There is no more powerful force than a parent's love for their children. And patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country."

The federal government does not have jurisdiction over school curriculum.

Trump decried "a radical movement" working against telling a more flattering version of U.S. history as Democrats' efforts to smear the country for political gain.

The president's remarks reflect a growing outcry among Republicans against recent moves to tell a more evenhanded version of the nation's history, including its early foundational reliance on slave labor and the longtime disenfranchisement of and systemic racism against racial minorities.

In particular, Republicans have taken offense to The New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning "1619 Project," which detailed the country's history from when the first enslaved Africans were brought to America's shores.

"Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country," the president said Thursday.

Trump said schools need to focus instead on "the legacy of 1776," when American Colonies declared independence from Great Britain. The newly formed committee, Trump said, will be called the "1776 Commission" — a further dig at The Times' project.

"American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools, cancel culture at work or the repression of traditional faith, culture and values in the public square," Trump said.

Trump blamed "the left," aided by the media and unnamed corporations, for "a vicious and violent assault on law enforcement" and said violent protests in recent months "are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools."

In a shot at his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump said he would add a statue of Caesar Rodney to the National Garden of American Heroes park — a proposal he first made in his Mount Rushmore speech.

A statue of Rodney, a slave owner who signed the Declaration of Independence, was removed from Wilmington, Del., this summer amid protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Trump criticized Biden for not speaking out about it.

Statues paying homage to the Confederacy and other slave owners and racists have been among the most divisive issues in Trump's ongoing culture war against Democrats.

Following his remarks, the phrases "Trump Youth" and "Hitler Youth" trended on Twitter, with some likening the president's new education project to the indoctrination of young people in Nazi Germany.

Roberta Rampton contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.