OPINION: Never a Good Time for Vermilion Education and Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum in Pennridge, or Any Bucks County School District

Pennridge’s new social studies curriculum will force teachers to indoctrinate students with a whitewashed, nationalistic revisionist history.

The Ridge Network organized a demonstration before Pennridge’s School Board meeting Monday where dozens of people protested the racist, right-wing Hillsdale 1776 curriculum being pushed by Vermilion Education.

“As a parent in this district I have concerns about my children getting a watered down version of our history. A curriculum that emphasizes how people were trying to do the right thing trivializes the horrors that were our treatment of the Black and indigenous people of our country,” said Pennridge parent Leah Rash. “Even worse, the idea of this being taught to our students of color is embarrassing.”

Let’s start with just one example of how the curriculum distorts the truth. A tactic that has been very popular in recent years among right-wing revisionists is to distort the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. From “Unit 8: Late 20th Century Government and Politics” we find:

“Although King appealed to the individual conscience and not the force of law to bring about a color-blind society, some who partook in the civil rights movement and subsequent political and moral philosophies would instead seek to use the power of the government to change individual consciences.“

Dr. King in fact said the opposite.

“Although it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. Even though it may be true that the law cannot change the heart, it can restrain the heartless,” said King in his 1967 speech at Stanford. “Even though it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, it can restrain him from lynching me…and so while the law may not change the hearts of men, it can and it does change the habits of men. And when you begin to change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes will be changed, pretty soon the hearts will be changed. I’m convinced that we still need strong civil rights legislation.” 

In the same section of the curriculum on civil rights, we see:

“Ask students to consider the areas in which the civil rights movement did move into the realm of controlling private property and activity, namely in private businesses open to the public and in hiring practices. This area of public accommodation was where the line between private conscience and government coercion began to blur.”

This suggests that the government can’t and shouldn’t pass laws regarding discrimination. Recall that key legislative actions from the civil rights movement included the right of minority citizens to patronize restaurants and other businesses that had previously banned them.

And finally the post lesson assignment for the unit is based on this leading question:

“Assignment: Explain how affirmative action, identity politics, political correctness, and “anti- racism” differ from the principles of the American founding (2–3 paragraphs).” 

Spoiler alert – they don’t.

There are plenty of examples similar to the ones above in the sections on slavery, reconstruction, and current events throughout the curriculum. Feel free to have a look for yourself.

This curriculum, championed by Vermilion Education – the consulting firm which formed only several months ago and has no actual experience in the public education sector, seems more intent on teaching students what to think rather than how to think critically. It has seen strong opposition or been outright rejected in many communities across the country. In Sarasota Florida, Vermilion was voted down due to lack of experience. In South Dakota the Board of Education Standards received a strongly concerned letter from the American Historical Society when Governor Kristi Noem brought in Hillsdale to set new state standards for the Social Studies curriculum there. 

But the Vermilion/Hillsdale’s 1776 curriculum appears to be moving forward in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that founder Jordan Adams is not certified to draft curriculum in Pennsylvania, it appears that is exactly what he is helping educators in Pennridge school district to do.

It’s unsurprising in light of all this that so many in Pennridge school district have come out to speak against plans to move forward with an ill-conceived and hurried restructured curriculum from Vermilion. As the community braced for what was to become the fledgeling consultancy’s first ever attempt at influencing what goes into a K-12 curriculum, the Ridge Network, a group formed by concerned parents and taxpayers held their second demonstration of the year just prior to the school board meeting Monday night. Ridge Network has been at the forefront of organizing continued resistance against the efforts of Vermilion and the Pennridge school board’s decision to hire them. 

READ: Pennridge Parents, Teachers Criticize Vermilion Education’s Push to Require Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum for the District

“I wasn’t surprised the Board voted to move forward with approving the curriculum developed by Vermillion and that used Hillsdale 1776 as the framework,” said Jane Cramer, parent of a student at Pennridge High School, and attendee at the demonstration. “I encourage Pennridge parents to read it – it sounds like propaganda from Russia or North Korea. It whitewashes our history. The only way to fix this is to vote this Board out.”

Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie was among the participants at the demonstration. I took a moment to ask him his thoughts regarding the events unfolding in the Pennridge district.

“I was a high school social studies teacher for 26 years,” said Commissioner Harvie. ”I wrote curriculum in two different states. I used to educate people on how to write curriculum. It used to be that nobody paid attention to [the] social studies curriculum, quite frankly – we used to joke about [it] being the ugly stepchild of academia because nobody cared.”

“Unfortunately the ‘care’ we see now are from people who clearly have an agenda,” he continued, “that is not about educating kids so much as it is about indoctrinating kids. It really doesn’t serve to educate and prepare young people for how to be active and positive members of American society.”

Despite eloquent, yet passionate opposition from an overwhelming majority of concerned parents, teachers, community members, and even students as young as fifth-graders, a majority of the board voted to pass the Vermilion-assisted curriculum effective this year for grade nine and next school year for grades one through five. (You can watch the meeting on youtube.)

READ: Pennridge Parents Plan To Opt Students Out Of Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum

In addition to organizing the demonstration, Ridge Network also supplied opt-out forms that parents can use to demand that their student(s) are given alternatives to the Vermilion curriculum. If you are a Pennridge parent and wish to take this course of action, it is well within your right to do so, and the school must comply. (Here is a (.pdf) link to the opt out form.)

It’s clear that the residents of Pennridge School District did not ask for and do not need Vermilion or Hillsdale. If you’ve read this far and you agree, consider signing the online petition to hold Pennridge’s school board accountable.

Oh, and don’t forget to vote in November.

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Picture of Kevin E. Leven

Kevin E. Leven

Kevin E. Leven is co-leader of the Bucks County Anti-Racism Coalition, A 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity organization dedicated to educating, informing, and taking action on matters of racial justice.

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