the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Sung M. Cho ’22
Image Credit: New York Times
Now dissolved in the early days of the Biden administration, one of former President Donald Trump’s lasting legacies will be the report of his 1776 Commission on the state of U.S history education in American schools.
Criticized by many professional historians for not including any specialists in U.S. history, the commission was created to reflect Trump’s ideal of “patriotic education,” a highly attractive selling point to his base. In some ways, the commission was a reactionary response to the nation’s racial reckoning this summer. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, victims of unquestionable police brutality, became symbols in America’s ever-growing partisan divide. Demands for police reform became a hot topic of debate in America’s culture wars, and as a way to shore up Election Day support, the 1776 Commission was formed.
The former president’s remarks on systemic racism — “a twisted web of lies” and “a form of child abuse” — were denounced by the media and many celebrities. However, the commission still held its first meeting Jan. 5, 2021, and published its findings on the following Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The report itself is aggressive: it identifies progressivism as a “challenge to American principles,” and criticizes American centers for learning as “hotbeds of anti-Americanism, libel, and censorship.” The American Historical Association quickly moved to denounce the report as pseudohistory. Looking forward, the future of the commission seems grim; President Joseph Biden dissolved the committee by executive order on his first day in office and its work has been archived.
So, for Westminster students, what significance does this defunct report hold? Does it matter in the context of our lives on Williams Hill? In some key ways, it does not: our education and curriculum is not determined by state or federal laws, and as an independent school, Westminster has little dependence on government aid, grants or funding. Additionally, our faculty are smart and knowledgeable. In that way, Westminster faculty have never been dependent on the contents of a book to teach their students. Instead, they teach their own ideas, and the concepts they have personally honed and perfected over decades.
Yet, Westminster students also represent a collective of the American imagination. Williams Hill holds students from all across the Republic, from the traditional bedrock of the East Coast, to burgeoning Florida and the balmy West. As any student here would know, there is no single way to classify American history. The understanding of our nation’s history is varied and diverse, a melting pot of ideas that will undoubtedly be different in Massachusetts than in Georgia. With that thought in mind, the 1776 Commission is flawed not only because it pushes a monotonous, politicized view of history, but because it fails to address a key component of America’s greatness: our diversity and difference of thought.