The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction last week encouraged high school teachers to use a history curriculum drafted by a group funded by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
The state legislature passed a law in 2011 requiring public schools in the state to offer a history course on the “Founding Principles,” which was based on model legislation from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The News and Observer reported that North Carolina hired the Bill of Rights Institute to write a history curriculum for teachers to follow, and that the Virginia-based organization has received grants and donations from Charles Koch and multiple Koch groups.
The decision by the Department of Public Instruction to “highly recommend” came just after the state Board of Education discussed the controversy over the new AP U.S. History exam, which conservatives have criticized as negative and unpatriotic.
The 390 page document produced by the Bill of Rights Institute, along with some input from teachers in the state, unsurprisingly centers on the founding fathers and the documents they penned.
By focusing on the founding documents like the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, the course feeds the concept of “American exceptionalism,” a phrase favored by the conservatives who hate the new AP History exam. The course presents the founding documents as a mostly perfect structure on which America was built.
The curriculum is not overtly political or conservative. But the document includes a subtle libertarian bias focused on limited government and individual freedom, and offers a positive view of early American history.
Throughout the curriculum, students are asked to tie lessons back to the concept of limited government, which the state’s 2011 bill calls for. And the curriculum consistently emphasizes that the Bill of Rights was established to limit the government.
In a lesson on the “rule of law,” the curriculum asks students to analyze how the Constitution serves to “ensure liberty and limit government.” The document claims, “Rule of law is important because it limits the government and the people under the same set of laws so that they cannot infringe upon rights.”
The section on rule of law leaves out any discussion of civil disobedience or the civil rights movement, reminiscent of a Colorado county school board’s attempt to ensure its history curriculum does not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
The curriculum devotes one of the ten modules to the concept of “individual responsibility” and how a free nation depends on it.
The curriculum introduces the module by asking students to “challenge preconceived notions about what freedom means, and understand the way individual freedom is inextricably tied to personal responsibility.”
Students are then asked to articulate the “importance of civic virtue and individual responsibility in our society” and “evaluate how free government depends on citizens’ virtue.”
In defining “virtue,” the curriculum tells students it’s okay to be judgmental.
“To further justice, we must exercise judgment. In order to understand and evaluate virtue, we must be willing to admire heroes and condemn villains. We must be willing to take a stand. A special challenge today may be that many people do not wish to appear judgmental, especially when another person’s actions do no harm to others,” the document reads.
The Founders Weren’t Racist
The curriculum written by the Bill of Rights Institute addresses the founders and slavery during a lesson on “inalienable rights,” but the document justifies the founders’ decision to maintain the institution of slavery.
“Some say that the Declaration’s authors didn’t mean to include everyone when they wrote ‘all men are created equal.’ They say that Jefferson and the Continental Congress just meant to include white men who owned property. But this is not true. Jefferson and the Continental Congress did not believe that there was a natural class of rulers, and they asserted that the colonists had the same right to rule themselves as the people of England,” an essay in the curriculum asserts.
“Slavery was an important economic and social institution in the United States,” the essay continues. “The Founders understood that they would have to tolerate slavery as part of a political compromise. They did not see a way to take further action against slavery in their lifetimes, though many freed their slaves after their deaths.”
A separate essay acknowledges that many of the founders, like George Washington, owned slaves. But this small unit glosses over the institution of slavery and how the nation was in fact founded with glaring inequality.
The Federal Government Has Too Much Power
The curriculum constantly questions how much power and authority the federal government should have and subtly asserts that the federal government has gained too much power since 1789.
During a lesson on incorporation, the process through which the Supreme Court extended the Bill of Rights to the states, the curriculum casts doubt on whether it was a smart move. The language in the document argues both for and against incorporation, but then mentions the increase in Supreme Court cases since the Bill of Rights was extended to govern the states.
“It seems that fewer people are making more decisions about the nature of our fundamental rights,” the curriculum reads.
The curriculum is also critical of the the expanded use of the commerce clause to justify actions by the federal government.
“Congress was now able to create laws regulating, banning, and supporting a wide range of activities, and it did. Laws would be upheld as long as the Court was convinced that the regulated activities had a close and substantial relation to interstate commerce. Federal power expanded dramatically for the next fifty years,” the document reads, implying that this could lead to abuses of power.
The section on the commerce clause includes a bit about the Affordable Care Act.
“The Affordable Care Act: The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government did not have the power to force Americans to buy health insurance under the Commerce Clause, but that they did have the power to tax,” the curriculum reads.