Bill to allow controversial social studies curriculum in Beaufort County Schools surprised its leaders

By: - April 20, 2023 5:30 pm
children in a classroom

Photo: Getty Images

A lawmaker’s attempt to authorize Beaufort County Schools’ use of a controversial social studies curriculum developed by conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan surprised the board of education and other school leaders, Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman said Thursday.   

Cheeseman said and the board learned about the proposal Wednesday after he received a call alerting him that the provision was tucked inside of House Bill 464, which is a local bill to revise how members of the Washington-Warren Airport Authority are appointed.

“The full board [of education], all nine members had never discussed it, never once voted on it, never once asked for it,” Cheeseman said.

The board learned Thursday that there was a conversation about the curriculum between a board member and bill sponsor Rep. Keith Kidwell, a Republican who represents Beaufort County, Cheeseman said. He said there’s a group in the district that has lobbied the board to adopt the curriculum.

The provision to allow the school district to use the Hillsdale curriculum was removed before HB 464 was sent to the Senate.

Kidwell said the authorization for Beaufort County Schools and other districts to use the curriculum would be revisited later.

“I thought it was going to be a pretty straightforward thing, but I’ve had a bunch of other counties express interest and we’ll be readdressing that at a future date,” Kidwell said during Wednesday’s House session.

The Hillsdale curriculum is not among those approved by the State Board of Education.

It has been controversial in other states such as Tennessee where critics say it attempts to whitewash American history.

The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum teaches that civil rights laws outlawing discrimination in public places may violate the U.S. Constitution. It also downplays the extent to which the nation’s founders supported slavery. It grew out of former President Donald Trump’s “1776 Commission” that he created to promote “patriotic education.”

The curriculum faced stiff opposition last year after Republicans, led Gov. Bill Lee, invited Hillsdale College to set up 50-100 taxpayer-funded charter schools.

“Imagine being so ashamed of your history that you would prefer to change the facts rather than learn from its misdeeds and mistakes and make a better future for everyone,” Tennessee’s House Democratic Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie of Nashville was quoted saying in July by Tennessee’s News Channel 5.

The curriculum is ostensibly a response to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer Prize winning “The 1619 Project,” which is a long-form journalism undertaking by The New York Times Magazine that the Pulitzer Center said, “challenges us to reframe U.S. history by marking the year when the first enslaved Africans arrived on Virginia soil as our nation’s foundational date.”

Hannah-Jones, who is Black, conceived of the project and was among multiple staff writers, photographers and editors who put it together.

On Wednesday, Justin Parmenter, a seventh-grade English teacher at South Academy of International Languages in Charlotte, sounded the alarm about the curriculum on his blog Notes from the Chalkboard.

In North Carolina current state law gives the State Board of Education the authority to develop a standard course of study which each school district is required to follow,” Parmenter wrote. “The state’s current social studies standards were adopted in 2021 over objections of Republican state board members who said the standards portrayed America in a negative light and amounted to critical race theory.”

He also noted that Rep. Tricia Cotham’s recent switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP gives Republicans enough votes to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

“That means there’s a good chance this Trump-inspired, whitewashed version of American history will end up on desks in Beaufort County, and there’s no reason to think other counties won’t follow suit.” Parmenter said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.