Forget George Washington, James Madison, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln—nothing meaningful happened in America before 1877.
That’s the lesson North Carolina public high schools may start teaching. Under proposed changes in their high school history curriculum, the U.S. History course (which seniors take) will cover events from 1877 forward only.
It will be as if the American Founding never happened.
According to Rebecca Garland, the chief academic officer for North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the goal of this change is to teach what students will feel connected to, “where they see the big idea, where they are able to make connections and draw relationships between parts of our history and the present day.”
By implication, nothing before 1877 has any meaning to students: the Declaration of Independence that proclaims the self evident truths of equality, natural rights, and consent of the governed; the Constitution that establishes the rule of law and the framework in which we exercise our liberty; the Civil War in which Abraham Lincoln defended the principles of the American Founding and ended the institution of slavery. These events are irrelevant for today’s students.
Early 20th century Progressives also taught that nothing before 1877 has meaning for today. In his new book We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future, Matthew Spalding recounts Progressives attack on America’s First Principles. The Progressives sought to remake America, so that the Declaration’s Founding Principles, the Constitution’s institutional structures, and the Civil War’s meaning as a victory for Founding principles would no longer ring true. The progressives argued that equal, natural rights were non-existent; government creates rights. They replaced representative government with the administrative, bureaucratic state.
But the Progressives are wrong.
The events of 1776, 1789, and 1865 still inspire our nation. So, for the students across U.S. who have the opportunity to study the American prior to 1877, treasure the Founding documents and learn about America’s First Principles. For you high school students in North Carolina, don’t worry, the We Still Hold These Truths study guide is coming soon.