by Brenda Hafera
The Albemarle County school district in Virginia has been subjected to two lawsuits related to its implementation of an “anti-racist” curriculum, which one parent said was “incubating a culture rooted in grievance, discord, and victimhood.” But parents in the school district near Charlottesville may be alarmed to discover that it is not just the school board that is working against them.
Powerful political organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and one of Virginia’s own beloved historic sites may be involved. The Albemarle County anti-racist curriculum appears to have originated at President James Madison’s home, Montpelier, an historic site that has ties to the SPLC.
Montpelier, which is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and operated by the Montpelier Foundation, has been reconstructed and converted into a museum. While some of Madison’s accomplishments are discussed during part of the main house tour and through a brief video in the visitor center, there are currently no exhibits focused on his importance as the Father of the Constitution, according to Montpelier’s website.
Staff members have also reportedly said that they have no interest in honoring a “dead white president and a dead white president’s Constitution.”
According to a grant application Montpelier submitted to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (Montpelier received close to $235,000):
In 2018, Montpelier joined neighboring Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) in a multi-year initiative called ‘Reframing the Narrative’ to develop a culturally responsive and anti-racism curriculum and improve teacher and student efficacy around the teaching and learning of hard history. We worked with ACPS to plan and execute a strategic process of building a teacher cohort, teacher professional development, curriculum development based on the Inquiry Design Model, curriculum implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of tested curricular resources to teachers throughout Virginia … Through ‘Reframing the Narrative,’ we are currently working with a cohort of 24 civics, government, and economics teachers from ACPS.
Given that Montpelier states this curriculum was developed in 2018 and the public school system implemented its curriculum in 2019, it is reasonable to deduce the anti-racist curriculum is one and the same. Montpelier also indicates on its website that it received funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia for various projects, including the development of anti-racist curriculum for use in Virginia public schools.
Notable in the above grant application language is the promotion of the Inquiry Design Model and the learning of “hard history.” The SPLC’s various guidelines for teaching slavery are entitled “Teaching Hard History,” and the organization recommends using the Inquiry Design Model on its website. These similarities, along with the SPLC’s previous history of involvement at Montpelier, indicate that the SPLC may very well have been involved in developing this curriculum.
Though its original mission was laudable, the SPLC has long since become a radical political institution that labels organizations it disagrees with as “hate groups.” One such organization, the Family Research Council, was listed on the SPLC’s “hate map,” which a gunman used to target the organization with the intention of murdering everyone there.
Among SPLC’s guidelines is “Teaching Hard History: Teaching American Slavery Through Inquiry,” which was written by the same authors who championed the Inquiry Design Model that Montpelier relied upon in developing its curriculum.
The SPLC publication states that, “The Teaching Tolerance publication ‘A Framework for Teaching American Slavery’ … will help teachers construct a coherent narrative about how slavery and white supremacy are inescapably and intricately woven into the American story.” Further, the teaching of slavery “should permeate our understanding of how the country was formed and how the original sin of American slavery echoes today.”
The SPLC’s radical curriculum is not simply about teaching slavery, it’s also about forming students into activists. For example, the curriculum recommends that students in grades K-2 should “examine how power is gained, used and explained. They should describe what it means to have power and identify ways that people use power to harm and influence situations” and be able to “contrast equity and equality, identifying current problems where there is a need to fight for equity.”
Equity is about equality of results rather than opportunity.
The SPLC has long been in the business of promoting a curriculum steeped in critical race theory, even prior to the much-publicized 1619 Project. According to Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for education studies at the Family Research Council, “The source of those [critical race theory]-based materials can often be traced back to the SPLC and groups like it.”
SPLC materials are often sent directly to teachers and school administrators, circumventing evaluation by parents.
Montpelier and SPLC associates have collaborated on multiple occasions. Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University, authored the preface of the SPLC’s guidelines for grades 6-12 and is the host of the SPLC’s “Teaching Hard History Podcast.”
He also helped develop a video that is shown at Montpelier on slavery’s lasting legacies and he is vice chairman of the Montpelier Foundation board of directors. Lines from the video, which features protesters carrying Black Lives Matter signs and others waving Confederate flags, echo lines from the SPLC’s preface, and there is a great deal of overlap between the SPLC’s materials and the exhibits at Montpelier.
In addition, in 2018, the Montpelier Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund hosted a National Summit on Teaching Slavery. Maureen Costello, then-director of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program, Dr. Kate Shuster of the SPLC, and Jeffries were in attendance.
In 2021, five families filed suit against the Albemarle County School Board for the implementation of the anti-racist curriculum Montpelier seems to have developed in partnership with the public school system. And in 2022, an assistant principal also filed suit in a case that will be heard in federal court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Though it remains unclear if the parents will be successful in their case (they lost in trial court but are currently appealing), what is clear is that they do not want such radical ideologies being taught to their children.
Montpelier, the home of one of Virginia’s most exceptional Americans, is engaging in efforts that distort American history and undermine Virginia citizens. This, along with Montpelier’s exhibits, is a disservice to Madison’s legacy.
Brenda Hafera is the assistant director and senior policy analyst at the Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation. This column originally appeared in The Daily Signal and is reprinted with permission.