The legislative proposal to create the “Patriotic Education” Project of 1836 seemed from the beginning more than an attempt to give Texas a politically modified public face, free from annoying blemishes that some people find unpleasant or deny.
That, people, is not education. It’s propaganda.
Now that Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and spokesman Dade Phelan have appointed nine members of the 1836 Project Advisory Committee, the first concerns seeming to be justified, especially if the panel is favorably influenced, like its chairman, by Donald. Trump’s ill-conceived 1776 commission, which was reportedly also created to support “patriotic education.”
What the new state committee is doing is important because it will work with state agencies on ways to promote Texas history to visitors in state parks, monuments, museums, and other landmarks. The panel will also create a brochure for people who obtain a driver’s license in Texas and can make recommendations for future legislation.
Truth be told, Trump created the Commission in 1776 to try to whiten the impact of slavery and racism in American history and culture, and during the election year 2020 suppressed Black Lives Matter activism over the killing of blacks by police officers. The then president wrongly claimed that some educators tried to divide Americans into race and slavery and taught students to “hate their own country.”
Trump’s appointment to his commission was driven by ideology, not scholarship, and her report issued in the last days of his administration reflected that fact. Instead of valid academic contributions from professional historians, the report was largely a compilation of right-wing debates and ideologically inclined theories that, among other things, question the value of multiculturalism and apologize for hypocrisy in the fact that several of our nation’s prominent founders, while advocating equality, were slave owners.
The report had no technical footnotes or citations, and James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said it was not a historical work, but a demonstration of “cynical politics.”
“They use something called by history to incite cultural wars,” he told The New York Times.
Upon taking office, President Joe Biden immediately killed the 1776 Commission and its report.
However, at the first meeting of the Project Advisory Board in 1836 last week, Chairman Kevin Roberts, appointed by Abbott, described the 1776 report as an “excellent scholarship” and invited his fellow committee members, future invited witnesses, and anyone else to work on the commission. He said the Trump Commission’s report would help them get an idea of what the 1836 committee was trying to accomplish.
Roberts, who holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Texas at Austin, is a former president of a small Catholic college in Wyoming and the founder and former principal of a Catholic school in Louisiana. He is now the CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank in Austin whose main interest in education is its privatization and funding for public schools. His group has great influence over Abbott and many lawmakers.
Another member of the advisory committee, Sherry Sylvester, a former chief adviser to Governor Patrick, is a respected TPPF senior. One of the members of the 1776 Commission was Brooke Rollins, Trump’s domestic policy adviser and former president and CEO of the TPPF. Since then, she has returned to TPPF as a senior advisor and board member.
Five of the nine members have a history and / or education, including Roberts. Among them is Robert Edison, a former Dallas ISD teacher of the year who has spent his career and is now retired educating the public about black history. Another member is former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who transferred the Alamo to state supervision.
Some critics also find the name “1836 Project” problematic. It’s been a year since Texas gained independence from Mexico. The Advisory Committee is responsible for promoting the “history of prosperity and democratic freedom” of the state. But the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, passed in 1836, legalized slavery and excluded indigenous groups from any civil rights.
The committee will hear the testimony of the Texas Education Agency, but is not yet authorized to change the curriculum of public schools. However, it is entitled to recommend legislation that could lead to more partisan or ideological interference in what teachers may or may not teach. This could open another front in the political war against public education.