What's your opinion on the report? Polite responses are welcome.
1776 Commission Takes Historic and Scholarly Step to Restore Understanding of the Greatness of the American Founding
Issued on: January 18, 2021
1776 Commission—comprised of some of America’s most distinguished scholars and historians—has released a report presenting a definitive chronicle of the American founding, a powerful description of the effect the principles of the Declaration of Independence have had on this Nation’s history.
A copy of the report can be found here.
American self-government, where all citizens are equal before the law, is supplanted by a system where certain people use their group identity to get what they want.Second, by dividing Americans into oppressed and oppressor groups, activists of identity politics propose to punish some citizens – many times for wrongs their ancestors allegedly committed – while rewarding others. Members of oppressed groups must ascend, and members of oppressor groups must descend. This new system denies that human beings are endowed with the same rights, and creates new hierarchies with destructive assumptions and practices.On the one hand, members of oppressed groups are told to abandon their shared civic identity as Americans and think of themselves in terms of their sexual or racial status. The consequence is that they should no longer see themselves as agents responsible for their own actions but as victims controlled by impersonal forces. In a word, they must reject, not affirm, the Declaration’s understanding of self-government according to the consent of the governed. If members of oppressed groups want to become free, they must rely upon a regime of rewards and privileges assigned according to group identity.On the other hand, members of oppressor groups merit public humiliation at the hands of others. Diversity training programs, for example, force members of “oppressor” groups to confess before their co-workers how they contribute to racism. Educational programs based on identity politics often use a person’s race to degrade or ostracize them. These degradations of individuals on the basis of race expose the lie that identity politics promotes the equal protection of rights. Advocates of identity politics argue that all hate speech should be banned but then define hate speech as only applying to protected identity groups who are in turn free to say whatever they want about their purported oppressors. This leads to a “cancel culture” that punishes those who violate the terms of identity politics. Third, identity politics denies the fundamental moral tenet of the Declaration, that human beings are equal by nature. This founding principle provides a permanent and immutable standard for remedying wrongs done to Americans on the basis of race, sex, or any group identity. Repudiating this universal tenet, activists pushing identity politics rely instead on cultural and historical generalizations about which groups have stronger moral claims than others. They claim this approach offers a superior and more historically sensitive moral standard. But unlike the standard based on a common humanity—what Lincoln called “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times”—their historical standard is not permanent. Rather, it adjusts to meet the political fashions of a particular moment. By this standard, ethnicities that were once considered “oppressed” can in short order turn into “oppressors,” and a standard that can turn a minority from victim to villain within the course of a few years is no standard at all.Fourth, identity-politics activists often are radicals whose political program is fundamentally incompatible not only with the principles of the Declaration of Independence but also the rule of law embodied by the United States Constitution. Antagonism to the creed expressed in the Declaration seems not an option but a necessary part of their strategy. When activists are discussing seemingly innocuous campaigns to promote “diversity,” they are often aiming for fundamental structural change.
The 1776 report Conclusion Identity politics is fundamentally incompatible with the principle of equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Proponents of identity politics rearrange Americans by group identities, rank them by how much oppression they have experienced at the hands of the majority culture, and then sow division among them. While not as barbaric or dehumanizing, this new creed creates new hierarchies as unjust as the old hierarchies of the antebellum South, making a mockery of equality with an ever-changing scale of special privileges on the basis of racial and sexual identities. The very idea of equality under the law—of one nation sharing King’s “solid rock of brotherhood”—is not possible and, according to this argument, probably not even desirable. All Americans, and especially all educators, should understand identity politics for what it is: rejection of the principle of equality proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. As a nation, we should oppose such efforts to divide us and reaffirm our common faith in the fundamental equal right of every individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The 1776 report Appendix IV Teaching Americans about Their Country America’s founders understood the importance of education to the long-term success or failure of the American experiment in self-government. Liberty and learning are intimately intertwined and rely on each other for protection and nurturing. As James Madison noted, “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty and Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?” Education in civics, history, and literature holds the central place in the well-being of both students and communities. For republican government, citizens with such an education are essential. The knowledge of human nature and unalienable rights—understanding what it means to be human—brings a deeper perspective to public affairs, for the simple reason that educated citizens will take encouragement or warning from our past in order to navigate the present.A wholesome education also passes on the stories of great Americans from the past who have contributed their genius, sacrifices, and lives to build and preserve this nation. They strengthen the bond that a vast and diverse people can point to as that which makes us one community, fostered by civil political conversation and a shared and grateful memory. The crucial contribution that a quality civics education makes to the well-being of America and its citizens is love for our country, properly understood. A healthy attachment to this country—true patriotism—is neither blind to its flaws nor fanatical in believing that America is the source of all good. Rather, the right sort of love of country holds it up to an objective standard of right and wrong, with the desire and intent that the country do what is right.Where the country has done what is good, citizens justly praise those who came before them. Where it has done wrong, they should criticize the country and work to make sure that we—the people who govern it—do what is right.Rather than cast aside the serious study of America’s founding principles or breed contempt for America’s heritage, our educational system should aim to teach students about the true principles and history of their country—a history that is “accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling. ”The Misuse of History To begin such an education, we must first avoid an all-too-common mistake. It is wrong to think of history by itself as the standard for judgment. The standard is set by unchanging principles that transcend history. Our founders called these “self-evident truths” and published these truths for all the world to see in the Declaration of Independence: there are “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” that inform human interactions, all human beings are created equal, and all human beings have fundamental rights that are theirs as human beings, not the gift of government.Consider the subject of slavery. At the time the Declaration was written, between fifteen and twenty percent of the American people were held as slaves. This brutal, humiliating fact so contradicted the principles of equality and liberty announced in 1776 that many people now make the mistake of denouncing equality and liberty.Yet as we condemn slavery now, we learn from the founders’ public statements and private letters that they condemned it then. One great reason they published the Declaration’s bold words was to show that slavery is a
The 1776 report wrong according to nature and according to God. With this Declaration, they started the new nation on a path that would lead to the end of slavery. As Abraham Lincoln explained, the founding generation was in no position to end this monstrous crime in one stroke, but they did mean “to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.” The point is this: The key to freedom for all is discovered in the moral standard proclaimed in the Declaration. It would, the founders hoped, prove to be the key that would unlock the door to equality and liberty for all. History tells the story of how our country has succeeded—and at times failed—in living up to the standard of right and wrong. Our task as citizens in a national community is to live—and it is the task of teachers to teach—so as to keep our community in line with our principles. The purpose of genuine, liberal education is to come to know what it means to be free. Education seeks knowledge of the nature of things, especially of human nature and of the universe as a whole. Man is that special part of the universe that seeks to know where we stand within it. We wonder about its origins. The human person is driven by a yearning for self-knowledge, seeking to understand the essential nature and purpose of his or her life and what it means to carry that life out in relationship with others.The surest guides for this quest to understand freedom and human nature are the timeless works of philosophy, political thought, literature, history, oratory, and art that civilization has produced. Contrary to what is sometimes claimed, these works are not terribly difficult to identify: they are marked by their foundational and permanent character and their ability to transcend the time and landscape of their creation. No honest, intelligent surveyor of human civilization could deny the unique brilliance of Homer or Plato, Dante or Shakespeare,Washington or Lincoln, Melville or Hawthorne.But far too little of this guidance is given in American classrooms today. In most K-12 social studies and civics classes, serious study of the principles of equality and liberty has vanished. The result has been a rising generation of young citizens who know little about the origins and stories of their country, and less about the true standards of equality and liberty. This trend is neither new nor unreported, but it is leaving a terrible and growing void as students suffer from both the ignorance of not realizing what they lack, and a certain arrogance that they have no need to find out.The Decline of American Education This pronounced decline of American education began in the late nineteenth century when progressive reformers began discarding the traditional understanding of education. The old understanding involved conveying a body of transcendent knowledge and practical wisdom that had been passed down for generations and which aimed to develop the character and intellect of the student. The new education, by contrast, pursued contradictory goals that are at the same time mundane and unrealistically utopian.In the view of these progressive educators, human nature is ever-changing, so the task of the new education was to remake people in order to improve the human condition. They sought to reshape students in the image they thought best, and education became an effort to engineer the way students think.This new education deemed itself “pragmatic,” subordinating America’s students to the demands of the new industrial economy for skills-based, jobs-oriented training. Rather than examine the past for those unchanging truths and insights into our shared humanity, students today are taught to assume th at the founders’ views were narrow and deficient:that’s just how people used to think, but we know better now.
36The 1776 report Under this new approach, the only reason to study the works of Aristotle, Shakespeare, or America’s founders is not to learn how to be virtuous, self-governing citizens, not to learn anything true, good, or beautiful, but to realize how such figures of yesteryear are unfit for the present day. Such a vision of education teaches that ideas evolve as human progress marches on, as supposedly old an d worn ideas are cast aside on the so-called “wrong side of history.”This new education replaced humane and liberal education in many places, and alienated Americans from their own nature, their own identities, and their own place and time. It cuts students off from understanding that which came before them. Like square pegs and round holes, students are made to fit the latest expert theory about where history is headed next.As the twentieth century continued, these progressive views reached their logical apex: there is no ultimate or objective truth, only various expressions of different cultures’ beliefs. Wittingly or unwittingly, progressives concluded that truth is an ideological construct created by those with inordinate wealth and power to further their own particular agendas. In such a relativist environment, progressive education may as well impose its own ideological construct on the future. They did not call it indoctrination, but that is what it is. Since the 1960s, an even more radicalized challenge has emerged. This newer challenge arrived under the feel-good names of "liberation" and "social justice.” Instead of offering a comprehensive, unifying human story, these ideological approaches diminish our shared history and disunite the country by setting certain communities against others. History is no longer tragic but melodramatic, in which all that can be learned from studying the past is that groups victimize and oppress each other.By turning to bitterness and judgment, distorted histories of those like Howard Zinn or the journalists behind the “1619 Project” have prevented their students from learning to think inductively with a rich repository of cultural, historical, and literary referents. Such works do not respect their students’ independence as young thinkers trying to grapple with social complexity while forming their empirical judgments about it. They disdain today’s students, just as they doubt the humanity, goodness, or benevolence in America’s greatest historical figures. They see only weaknesses and failures, teaching students truth is an illusion, that hypocrisy is everywhere, and that power is all that matters.A few reforms of note have been attempted to improve America’s civic educational system, but they fail to address the key problems.The first was embraced with good intentions. Common Core appeared to be a promising way for the federal government to supply a framework to improve the nation’s schools. But the Constitution leaves education to the states and localities and denies the federal government any authority to impose what it wants to be taught in the nation’s schools. To surmount this obstacle, the federal government used significant federal funding to entice states to adopt Common Core. Nevertheless, within a few years it became clear that students in states that “voluntarily” adopted Common Core suffered significantly lower academic performance and fewer marketable skills than comparable cohorts of students who had been educated outside the Common Core regime. This system of micromanaged “standards” proved to be a recipe for bureaucratic control and sterile conformity instead of a pathway towards better instruction. We learned from the failed Common Core experiment that one-size-fits-all national models are a blueprint for trivializing and mechanizing learning.
37The 1776 report A more recently proposed remedy is called the “New Civics” (or “Action Civics”). The progressive approach to education rests on the faulty notion that knowledge concerning long-term human and social concerns is divided between “facts” (scientific data separated from judgments about right and wrong) and “values” (preferences about moral matters, such as justice, which are said to have no objective status). Most students, yearning to make the world better, find the study of “facts” boring and meaningless. The New Civics approach is to prioritize a values-oriented prax is over fact-based knowledge. As a result, New Civics uses direct community service and political action (such as protesting for gun control or lobbying for laws to address climate change) to teach students to bring change to the system itself. Under this guise, civics education becomes less about teaching civic knowledge and more about encouraging contemporary policy positions.However well-intended, the New Civics only aggravates the already inherent problems of progressive education. Dispensing with ideas that transcend and inform history, students lack criteria for judging what a politically healthy nation looks like and they cannot defend what practical actions actually would improve the health of their community. A well-formulated education in political and moral principles is the necessary source of the knowledge citizens need to make wise judgments about voting, demonstrating, or any other civic activity. By neglecting true civic education, the New Civics movement only compounds the mistakes of today’s conventional education in civics.What is Authentic Education? There are many aspects of formal education. The importance of professional education and technical training is not here in dispute. There is no question that one crucial purpose of education is to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to provide for themselves and their families. More fundamental is the broader and deeper education called liberal education.Education liberates human beings in the true sense—liberation from ignorance and confusion, from prejudice and delusion, and from untamed passions and fanciful hopes that degrade and destroy us as civilized persons. It helps us see the world clearly and honestly. In revealing human nature, it reveals what is right and good for human beings: authentic education is not "value-neutral" but includes moral education that explains the standards for right and wrong. It takes up the hard but essential task of character formation. Such an education can form free men and free women—self-reliant and responsible persons capable of governing themselves as individuals and taking part in self-government.Such an education starts by teaching that all Americans are equal members of one national community. Th eunique character and talents of each person should be recognized and developed. The wide experiences and the varied backgrounds of our citizens should be respected and honored. But the truths that equality and liberty belong by nature to every human being without exception must be taught as the moral basis of civic friendship, economic opportunity, citizenship, and political freedom.Such an education respects students’ intelligence and thirst for the truth. It is unafraid both to focus on the contributions made by the exceptional few, or acknowledge those that are less powerful, less fortunate, weaker, or marginalized. With the principle of equality as a foundation, such an education can incorporate the study of injustice and of tragedy in human affairs—including the American story’s uglier parts—and patiently addresses the ways injustices can be corrected.Rather than learning to hate one’s country or the world for its inevitable wrongs, the well-educated student learns to appreciate and cherish the oases of civilization: solid family structures and local communities; effective,
38The 1776 report representative, and limited government; the rule of law and the security of civil rights and private property; a love of the natural world and the arts; good character and religious faith.In the American context, an essential purpose of this honest approach is to encourage citizens to embrace and cultivate love of country. Thoughtful citizens embrace their national community not only because it is their own,but also because they see what it can be at its best. Just as students know their family members have good qualities and flaws, good education will reckon the depths and heights of our common history.Genuine Civics Education Civics and government classes should rely almost exclusively on primary sources. Primary sources link students with the real events and persons they are studying. The writings, speeches, first-hand accounts, and documents of those who were acting out the drama of history open a genuine communication, mediated by the written word, between historical figures and students that can bring to life the past. Primary sources without selective editing also allow students to study principles and arguments unfiltered by present-day historians’ biases and agendas.It is important for students to learn the reasons America’s founders gave for building our country as they did. Students should learn and contemplate what the founders’ purposes, hopes, and greatest concerns truly were,and primary sources will help them begin these considerations. Students should not read the Declaration of Independence as archaeology but as the idea that animates our nation with claims that are true for all time. As Alexander Hamilton reminds us in one of those primary documents (his 1775 essay Farmer Refuted), The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.Civics and government classes ought to teach students about the philosophical principles an d foundations of the American republic, including natural law, natural rights, human equality, liberty, and constitutional self-government. Students should learn the reasons why our constitutional order is structured as a representative democracy and why a constitutional republic includes such features as the separation of powers, checks and balances,and federalism. They should study the benefits and achievements of our constitutional order, the Civil War’s challenge to that order, and the ways the Constitution has been changed—not only by amendment and not always for the better—over the course of time. Finally, these classes ought to culminate in the student’s understanding and embracing the responsibilities of good citizenship.A genuine civics education focuses on fundamental questions concerning the American experiment in self-government. The best way to proceed is for the teacher to assign core original documents to students to read as carefully and thoroughly as they are able and then initiate age-appropriate discussion to surface and consider the meaning of the document. Teachers will find that students of every age have a genuine interest in engaging in discussion (and disagreement) about what these documents say, because they soon realize these enduring words speak to their own lives and experiences.Using the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, the following are a few examples of prompts teachers can use to encourage civics discussion amongst students:
39The 1776 report•What does human equality mean in the statement that “all men are created equal"? Equal in what respects? What view of human nature does this presuppose? Does the Declaration intend to include African Americans, as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all insisted?•What does the Declaration mean by asserting that all persons possess rights that are not “alienable”?Who or what, precisely, can alienate our rights? Are all rights deemed inalienable, or only some? And if the latter, why are they different?•Why did the founding generation consider government’s powers to be "just" only when government is instituted by the consent of the governed? Is justice for the founders based on nothing more than consent? What considerations might be more authoritative than consent?•At the time the Federalist Papers were being written, the new Constitution did not include the Bill of Rights. What are the rights and protections enumerated in the Bill of Rights and how did they come to be amendments to the Constitution?•Why did the founders opt for representative democracy over the "pure" version of democracy practiced in ancient Athens? How do the two kinds of democracy differ? What did the Federalist assert was the inadequacy of ancient democracy?•How does the Constitution seek to reconcile democracy, which means rule by the majority, with the rights of minorities? Stated differently, how does the Constitution do justice both to the equality of all and to the liberty of each? What exactly is the difference between a democracy and republic?•What economic conditions make American democracy possible? Could American democracy under the Constitution be reconciled with any and every economic system? Why does the Constitution protect property rights? Why do critics of American democracy such as Karl Marx believe that private property(protected by our Constitution) is the root of injustice? How would Madison and Hamilton have responded to Marx and his followers’ criticisms?•Students should read the best-known speeches and writings of progressive presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt on economic democracy. In what ways do they differ from the principles and structure of the Constitution? Would the Constitution need to be significantly amended to fit their proposals? Apart from amendments, in what other ways has progressivism changed our constitutional system?•Implicit in these questions are other basic documents and major speeches that every American citizen should study. The questions concerning the meaning of human equality, inalienable rights, popular consent, and the right of revolution call for a fresh examination—in the light of the Declaration—of such key works as Frederick Douglass’s speech on “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro” and Chief Justice Taney’s infamous opinion for the Supreme Court majority in Dred Scott v. Sandford (holding that African-Americans "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect"). Douglass’s and Lincoln’s scathing criticisms of Taney’s pro-slavery opinion should be taught with these as well.
40The 1776 report•Students should read the 1848 Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” calling for women’s suffrage, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Why did Elizabeth Cady Stanton look to the form and substance of the Declaration of Independence in crafting the Seneca Falls Declaration? What did King mean in asserting that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution constituted a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir”?These questions cover just a sample of the issues that come to the fore as students read the primary documents of the founding and history of America. Other less fundamental but still important documents, speeches,and topics could be added. Recognizing that political activism has no place in formal education, mock civics andc ommunity service projects should be encouraged.Conclusion Among the virtues to be cultivated in the American republic, the founders knew that a free people must have a knowledge of the principles and practices of liberty, and an appreciation of their origins and challenges. While this country has its imperfections, just like any other country, in the annals of history the United States has achieved the greatest degree of personal freedom, security, and prosperity for the greatest proportion of its own people and for others around the world. These results are the good fruit of the ideas the founding generation expressed as true for all people at all times and places. An authentic civics education will help rebuild our common bonds, our mutual friendship, and our civic devotion. But we cannot love what we do not know. This is why civics education, education relating to the citizen, must begin with knowledge, which is, as George Washington reminds us, “the surest basis of public happiness.”
41The 1776 report The President’s Advisory 1776 Commission Larry P. Arnn, Chair Carol Swain, Vice Chair Matthew Spalding, Executive Director Phil Bryant Jerry Davis Michael Farris Gay Hart Gaines John Gibbs Mike Gonzalez Victor Davis Hanson Charles Kesler Peter Kirsanow Thomas Lindsay Bob McEwen Ned Ryun Julie Strauss Ex-officio Members Michael Pompeo, Secretary of State Christopher C. Miller, Acting Secretary of Defense David L. Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mitchell M. Zais, Acting Secretary of Education Brooke Rollins, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy Doug Hoelscher, Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs The Commission is grateful to the following individuals who assisted with the preparation of the 1776 Report: William Bock, Alexandra Campana, Ariella Campana, Joshua Charles, Brian Morgenstern, Macy Mount, McKenzie Snow, and Alec Torres. Adam Honeysett, Designated Federal Officer.