President Donald Trump painted a grim and divisive portrait of the state of American education on Thursday, claiming that anything from elementary schools to colleges are being overrun by “radical” teachers bent on destroying “our children” with “Marxist doctrines.”
The president was talking about an educational framework known as critical race theory, which holds that the founding of the United States is inextricable from slavery and racism, with their impacts still reverberating today.
“Critical race theory and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together,” Trump said in a speech from the National Archives Museum near the White House, his voice echoing through the cavernous room. “It will destroy our country.” Trump has seized on critical race theory as part of his culture war against what he calls “the radical left.”
Amid plummeting poll numbers and widespread disapproval of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has accelerated his focus on depicting Democrats as antithetical to American values and tied it into his broader “law and order” pitch for reelection.
Trump has taken particular aim at the 1619 Project, a long-form piece by The New York Times about the founding of the US that relies on tenets of critical race theory. In his National Archives Museum speech, Trump reminded the audience he recently signed an executive order forbidding the project to be taught in any federal institution.
“The left has warped, distorted and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods and lies. There is no better example than The New York Times’ totally discredited 1619 Project,” he said.
“This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.” Trump also said he would soon sign another executive order to establish a new entity that will promote “patriotic education.”
“It will be called ‘The 1776 Commission,’” he said. “It will encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and make plans to honour the 250th anniversary of our founding.” It’s unclear how such a commission will work since school curriculums are set by state and local governments, not presidents.
A spokesman for the Department of Education did not return a request for comment. Andrew Bates, the spokesman for Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign, said the goal of Trump’s “patriotic education” push appeared clear. “He stokes hatred and division rather than bringing this nation together to confront racism,” Bates said. “History will not be kind to this president for these failures and more. In 47 days, we start writing the next chapter.” — DPA