President Donald Trump’s demands for “patriotic education” are a “dog whistle” for white nationalists, former Obama Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said Thursday.
“Let’s be clear about what the 45th president is trying to do,” King said during a POLITICO forum on inequality in education. “This isn’t just a dog whistle, it’s a dog bullhorn to try to signal to white nationalists that he is on this side of a false version of our history that denies the reality of slavery and Jim Crow and segregation and the consequences it’s had for our society. That’s what he’s doing.”
The president’s threats are “empty,” said King, who is now CEO of The Education Trust. “Because the federal government cannot withhold funds from school districts based on their using the 1619 Project.”
Trump has railed in recent weeks against “critical race theory” and the 1619 Project by The New York Times, which centers the telling of U.S. history around the effects of slavery and contributions of Black individuals and now offers curriculum for schools. The president has also been advocating for “patriotic education” and promising to create a new federal commission to advance that objective.
Last week, the president said he would establish a new “1776 commission” by executive action, in order to encourage educators to teach children about “the miracle of American history” and make plans to honor the 250th anniversary of America’s founding.
The federal government is barred by law from dictating curriculum, however.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said her school district was one of the first systems to adopt the 1619 Project in its curriculum. As a former history teacher, Jackson said the most “powerful” part of the project was that “it was a counter narrative.”
“I don’t worry about that threat,” she said of Trump’s criticism of the curriculum. “I sympathize with some of my colleagues who live in other places where … the words ‘equity’ or ‘Black Lives Matter’ is met with, you know, kind of a visceral reaction.”
“But that is minuscule compared to the benefits that we get when we teach all of our students, not just African American students, the importance and the richness of our history here in this country,” she said.