In a surprising move, the U.S. Department of Education released grant proposal rules for programs teaching U.S. history and civics that were heavily edited from earlier proposals to remove references to controversial sources on critical race theory (CRT) and the term “systemic racism.”
The decision comes after months of protests by parents against the use of CRT in school curricula and indicates that vocal American conservatives are having a tangible impact.
The Education Department published two proposed priorities in April for grant competitions under the American History and Civics Education programs. One of the proposed priorities — to incorporate “Racially, Ethnically, Culturally, and Linguistically Diverse Perspectives into Teaching and Learning” — cited the “New York Times’ landmark ‘1619 Project’ ” and referenced Ibram X. Kendi and authors Dorothy Steele and Becki Cohn-Vargas.
Kendi’s teaching includes the controversial premise that “all policymaking is either racist or anti-racist, all racial disparities are the result of racism — and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect ‘equity’ may be a form of structural racism itself,” as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat noted. Steele and Cohn-Vargas have published books on creating “identity-safe classrooms.”
The proposed priority also references “systemic racism” twice in the background information, noting, “Our country faces converging economic, health, and climate crises that have exposed and exacerbated inequities, while a historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism.”
After receiving nearly 34,000 comments through the Federal Register, many of which were critical, the department made significant changes.
The new call for grant proposals says more broadly that programs should “provide students with a full and accurate understanding of our Nation’s history.”
The proposed diversity priority was also changed to an “invitational priority” — encouraging applicants to “incorporate practices that reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students into teaching and learning” — that grant applicants are not required to address in their proposals.
The call for applications emphasizes that “The Department fully recognizes and respects that curriculum decisions are made at the State and local levels, not by the Federal Government, and does not mandate, direct, or control curricula through this competition.”
In a Friday blog post, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona noted that the goal of the history and civics grants programs was to help students “learn about the rich history of our nation and build the skills needed to fully participate in civic life.”
Reiterating that the program “has not, does not, and will not dictate or recommend specific curriculum be introduced or taught in classrooms,” Cardona said those decisions would continue to be made on a local level.
Twenty-six states have introduced legislation in the last few months restricting schools from teaching CRT.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, one of 20 attorneys general who signed a letter to the Department of Education in May urging them to reconsider the priorities, said the revisions were a victory but that conservatives need to remain wary.
“Bureaucrats in Washington could very well stop using the term ‘critical race theory,’ ” he said, “while continuing to fund programs … aimed at discrediting American institutions and the beauty of our Constitution.”
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