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Pennridge Pulls Ahead in Bucks County Right-wing School Boards’ Race to the Bottom with Hillsdale’s 1776 Curriculum

The 1776 Commission and Hillsdale’s 1776 Curriculum are inextricably linked to indoctrinate students into a far-right nationalist agenda.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

At the January 18 Pennridge Curriculum Policy Committee meeting, at 3:26:47, school board director Jordan Blomgren conveyed the intention to incorporate, or “overlay,” a portion of the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum into existing course material.

A terse discussion between Blomgren and board member Joan Cullen followed.

Cullen pointed out that using words like “embedding stuff” or “adding to it” still equates to creating new course material that will require an investment of taxpayer dollars. Blomgren disagreed.

Far outweighing any concerns about costs are questions concerning the use of the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum.

This latest bombshell follows the district’s December decision to reduce social studies credit requirements from four to three.

Inquiries by parents and taxpayers to Superintendent David Bolton about Hillsdale have produced nothing more than boilerplate responses void of any meaningful substance.

More than just a new-fangled right-wing syllabus, the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum being pushed by conservatives actually serves to coalesce the campaigns of groups such as Moms For Liberty and Turning Point USA who employ tactics to ban books, destroy DEI programs, promote “Don’t Say Gay” campaigns along with the overall dumbing down of public education.

READ: Pennridge Diversity Meeting Meltdown Demonstrates Why DEI Is Desperately Needed

Despite the variety of groups who have inserted themselves into the arena of public education by making racism, religion, homophobia and overall intolerance part of the conversation, these objectives aren’t unique but instead part and parcel of an overarching goal to transform American life in the 21st Century into an unrecognizable society.

Years in the making, the current public education crisis now resembles a movement on steroids.

Hillsdale College has an interesting if not somewhat salacious history, including that of its former president, George C. Roche, III, who had an affair with his daughter-in-law, who then died by suicide, after which he resigned.

Funding of the college is not traditional and relies on private donations because the school has chosen to forfeit all federal funding due to its refusal to incorporate Title IX anti-discrimination requirements that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity in education programs and activities.

Discrimination surrounding gender doesn’t appear to be their only issue.

“The president [Larry Arnn] of Michigan’s Hillsdale College took heat from several lawmakers during a hearing today in which he said state officials visited his campus to determine whether enough “dark ones” were enrolled,” wrote USA Today in 2013.

Deep pockets and support from the rich and powerful have been aiding Hillsdale for years and include Mike Pence, Clarence Thomas, Betsy Devos, Erik Prince, The Koch Foundation, Richard Uihlein, Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak and, of course, lots of money from Donors Trust.  

Donor’s Trust, established in 1999, was created specifically for funding conservative and libertarian not-for-profits. This DAF, or donor advised fund, allows contributions to be made to specific not-for-profits without ever revealing the donor’s name and creates a right-wing win-win because the unnamed donor receives a tax deduction and the not-for-profit pays no income tax on the donation.

On or around September 2020 – during the COVID-19 pandemic – the Trump administration signed an executive order to create the 1776 Commission whose mission was to study and report on the “core principles of the American founding and how these principles may be understood to further enjoyment of the blessings of liberty.”

Members of the commission included Hillsdale’s Larry Arnn, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, former Bush speechwriter and conservative activist Ned Ryun, former governor of Mississippi Phil Bryant, former congressman Bob McEwen, the Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Spalding (who doesn’t believe in birthright citizenship), Scott McNealy creator of Curikki, a free open source online curriculum, and others.

Many believe the 1776 Commission, which met at Hillsdale College, was backlash to the 1619 Project that serves to reframe U.S. history by placing slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the country’s narrative.

While the 1619 Project may have initially caused conservatives to cringe, they recovered quickly and used the opportunity to reinforce the manufactured outrage at critical race theory, an academic concept that is not found nor taught in K-12 curriculum.

The 1776 Commission released its 41-page report on January 18, 2021, just days prior to the end of Trump’s presidency. Its content includes no footnotes or citations and it does not identify the authors. Historians across the country, as well as the American Historical Society, condemned the work and referred to it as nationalist propaganda.

President Biden dissolved the 1776 Commission upon taking office.

On July 19, 2021, Hillsdale introduced its 1776 Curriculum. Anyone may download the K-12 course material for free. 

Of note are the teacher resources that instruct educators to watch online Hillsdale lectures to gain additional perspective for the purpose of properly teaching the curriculum.

A doctrine laced throughout Hillsdale’s many websites, including those that host educational lectures, says “True education of the mind and heart teaches and requires self-government. Self-government calls for the active cultivation of intellectual and moral excellence and humility before our Creator.”

Throwing a wrench into what would have appeared to be a Trump created timeline is the Hillsdale activity that took place prior to the creation of the 1776 Commission.

In 2019, according to CT Insider, Hillsdale was bequeathed the estate, plus an additional $25 million, of S. Prestley Blake, cofounder of the Friendly’s restaurant chain, located in Somers, Connecticut. The 77-acre property includes a mini replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello that now houses a Hillsdale outpost known as The Blake Center for Faith and Freedom and whose tagline is “Maintaining Christianity and Perpetuating Liberty.”

According to the Tennessee Star, Emily Stack Davis, a Hillsdale representative, is reported to have said in an email that “a major component of the institution’s purpose going forward will be holding training programs and lectures for K-12 teachers.”

Local zoning issues forced Hillsdale to abandon their Connecticut plans, but not for long.

“Hillsdale returned about six months later, this time calling itself a religious institution, with a proposal for a religious education center and threatened to sue the town under a federal anti-religious discrimination law if the project wasn’t approved,” wrote CT Insider.

“My problem all along is when they first arrived in town, they weren’t a religious institution,” Joe Duffy, who lives near the planned institute, tol CT Insider’s Christopher Hoffman. “The longer the process went on, the holier Hillsdale College became.”

Adding insult to injury, the town would actually lose money when Hillsdale moved in because, as a not-for-profit, the property would be exempt from real estate taxes estimated at approximately $100,000 per year.

“Nothing happens in a vacuum in life: every action has a series of consequences, and sometimes it takes a long time to fully understand the consequences of our actions,” said Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, now a widely banned book.

Recent history reveals the perfect storm to accommodate goals of the far-right: The combination of Trump, COVID, Hillsdale and miscellaneous fascist groups have created an atmosphere conducive for commandeering public education and this combination is indeed having consequences.

If Pennridge parents and taxpayers haven’t been paying attention, they should be now.

Next time: Is the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum accurate? Where is it being taught?

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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