Bob Shepherd is a regular reader and commenter who has been an assessment developer, a textbook writer and editor, and a teacher, among other things.

In the following post, he reviews the Hillsdale College “1776 Curriculum,” which took its name from Donald Trump’s short-lived “1776 Commission.”

He writes:

According to the Nashville Tennessean, Governor Bill Lee, a proponent of charter schools, is planning a partnership with fundamentalist Christian Hillsdale College to open 50 new charter schools in the state. These would use the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum. Hillsdale bills itself as promoting Classical education.

I’ve just been reading through this stuff from Hillsdale, which is supposed to be a combination American History and Civics curriculum. It’s basically a guide to fundamentalist, nationalist indoctrination.

The first thing to notice about this curriculum, in comparison to existing K-12 American History and Civics programs, is that it is quite short. You can read through it in an afternoon. If your goal is to use history to indoctrinate students in a Christian fundamentalist nationalist mythology, it’s best to keep the discussion at the 50,000-foot level and deal mostly in abstract jingoism, with a few exempla thrown in. This is the sermon as textbook. If you get too much into the details, you are going to run into all kinds of messy events that don’t exemplify the mythology you are promulgating–the Mystic Massacre; the disenfranchisement at the dawn of the country of all but propertied white males; the Fort Pillow Massacre; slave auctions where trade in girls and young women was saved to the end of the day because such human property was particularly prized (guess why?) by good Christian white, male slaveowners; the Wounded Knee Massacre; a century of lynchings and Jim Crow and voter suppression and white citizens councils and the KKK and U.S. federal housing policy designed to keep black people from home ownership, the primary means by which ordinary people build generational wealth; the Eugenics and Nazi Bund movements in America; Trump furious that he couldn’t order to military to fight BLM protestors and the Border Patrol to shoot innocent asylum seekers; and so on ad nauseam.

One of the reasons why Fascism appeals to semiliterate mobs is that it makes everything simple. All complexity is burned away. And that’s just what the Hillsdale American Exceptionalism Curriculum does. (The successor to the 1930s pro-Nazi German American Bund called itself The America First Party, using the America First phrase that Dog-whistle Donald picked up for repetition at his rallies. Where was Leni Riefenstahl to film these?) This need to keep things simpler than they are is why, soon after seizing power, all Fascist governments establish complete control over publishing, the media, and schools and find pretexts for exterminating intellectuals and burning books and artwork.

The President of Hillsdale College, Larry Aarn, introduces his curriculum by saying that the purpose of education is to produce citizens, from the Latin civitas, or city, who can use language to distinguish the good from the bad, and that in history instruction, the way to do that is to concentrate on the lives of great persons. So, at the outset, everything is cleaved into “the good” on the one hand and “the bad” on the other (in other words, this is going to be a curriculum that deals in absolutes), and an avowed program of hero worship is advanced.

When you get into the heart of this comic book curriculum, you find that what its authors have done is choose a few “great” men and carefully excerpt from their writings short selections that support tenets of fundamentalist nationalism (manifest destiny, Christian religious belief, opposition to immigration, states’ rights, supply side trickle-down Laissez-faire economics, opposition to a big, bad federal government, etc.), and these become the subjects of lessons, the takeaways from which are rightwing doctrines and dogmas. So, the history of immigration becomes a few paragraphs from Alexander Hamilton saying that he is against it and accusing Jefferson, via quotations from Jefferson’s own writings, of having flip-flopped on the issue. (NB: Right-wingers only hate big government when it’s not their big government; if it’s Trump trying to bar people who practice a particular religion from the U.S., they are fine with that.)

So, this is all about replacing History and Civics education with comic book/Cub Scout-style mythologized, simplified indoctrination. (The Scouts were created by Robert Baden-Powell for the overtly stated purpose of producing young men willing to fight and die in British imperialist wars. It caught on in a big way in the United States.) Btw, for most of its history, Romans used the noun urbs to refer to the city and civis to refer to a citizen of an urbs. It was only late in Roman history, when Rome was falling apart, that a derivative of the word for citizen started being used to refer to a city itself. But if you are a proponent of education as propaganda, like Aarn, then you want to keep things simple: America good. Foreigners bad. Rome good. Barbarians bad. Classics education = learning to emulate being a true citizen of the Empire.

Doubtless, the Fascist government that the Republicans will put in place should they win both houses in the midterms and the presidency in 2024, will appropriate, in the manner presciently described by Orwell, traditional American concepts and iconography, distorted in a funhouse mirror and presented as a New, Stronger, Tougher, Truer American Exceptionalism.

Remember George Bush, Jr., aka Shrub, who ran on what he called a “kinder, gentler Conservativism” and then gave us 200,000+ Iraqi civilians dead in his illegal war, perpetrated on a false pretext and in violation of the UN Charter? In a similar manner, the Nazis appropriated ancient pictographs, used by cultures worldwide to represent the sun and lightning, and made of these abominations, and the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm proclaimed that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others [are].”

When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” goes the observation falsely attributed to Sinclair Lewis but very much in keeping with Lewis’s themes. Yup. Got that right.

He added an example:

Let me give one example of the general 1776 curriculum approach: The treatment of the disagreement about slavery between Abraham Lincoln and Stephan Douglas is presented as one against absolute moral principles attributed to Lincoln) versus the “moral relativism” attributed to Douglas. This is completely anachronistic. Lincoln, of course, famously disliked slavery but asserted that the important thing was preserving the Union, with or without slavery. Sounds pretty relativistic, doesn’t it? The takeaway from the Hillsdale treatment of this topic is that those who do not support absolute principles (e.g., like those of Christian fundamentalists) are “moral relativists,” bad people who are akin to Stephen Douglas, with his support of slavery.

This is using American history classes to teach that there is an absolute moral order in the universe, established by God, that should be enforced by the state. Note that this is in keeping with the earlier teaching, in this curriculum, that the founding principles were about natural law deriving from God. But, of course, the philosophical Deism of many of the founders was a far cry from absolutist Christian fundamentalism and is, in itself, highly debatable.

And again and again, this is how the Hillsdale Curriculum works. It takes events in American history as occasions for advancing right-wing principles–economic libertarianism, nationalism, fundamentalist religious belief, states’ rights, restrictions on immigration, etc.