There is a multi-state, far-right effort to manipulate K-12 civic and social studies curricula across the country. 

These efforts often center the influence of Judeo-Christian teachings on the founding fathers, and recast American history, particularly with regard to race and slavery, in a more favorable light. 

Let’s look at five of the groups behind these anti-democratic actions:

  • Hillsdale College: Hillsdale College is a private Christian college in Michigan that has risen to prominence by disseminating its 1776 Curriculum — which Vanity Fair reports “has been criticized for revisionist history, including whitewashed accounts of US slavery” — through a network of charter schools nationwide. In many states, including South Dakota, Florida, and Pennsylvania, individuals associated with Hillsdale have reportedly influenced the development of state curricula or programs.
  • PragerU: Founded by talk show host Dennis Prager and funded by backers of election denialism and extremists, PragerU creates videos under the guise of education materials that advance Christian nationalism, fundamentalist gender norms, and climate change denialism. In the past year, Montana, Oklahoma, Arizona, Florida, and New Hampshire have approved PragerU content to be shown in public school classrooms. 
  • Civics Alliance: The Civics Alliance is a coalition of anti-equity policymakers and educators convened by the National Association of Scholars, a far-right advocacy organization that opposes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs and multiculturalism. The coalition opposes so-called “New Civics” that celebrates diversity, sustainability, and service learning.
  • Bill of Rights Institute: Founded by Charles Koch in 1999 and led by former Hillsdale professor David Bobb, the Bill of Rights Institute has partnered with state governments to revise their social studies standards.
  • The Fordham Institute: The Fordham Institute is an extremist think tank that advocates for policies that weaken public education.

Democracy Forward has initiated a multi-state investigation into the influence of these organizations on state and local policies. We are seeking records from:  

South Dakota: Last year, the South Dakota Department of Education issued revised Social Studies Standards. The Department signed a $200,000 contract with William Morrissey, a former Hillsdale College professor, to facilitate the revision process and aid in drafting the standards. The new standards align with the 1776 Curriculum.

Florida: Florida is one of three states that has implemented new civics standards. In 2022, Florida officials began a series of training sessions for educators with a $3000 bonus to teachers that participated. In early 2023, the state developed an additional online course (Civics Literacy Excellence initiative) that aligns with the new standards to promote American exceptionalism with the help of experts affiliated with Hillsdale College, the Bill of Rights Institute and the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship.

At the same time, Florida opposed elements of the AP African American history curriculum, leading the College Board to issue a revised curriculum which eliminated certain components (including a discussion of the Black queer experience) and rendered other portions optional (Black Lives Matter, reparations). The state also effectively banned the AP Psychology course from being taught in Florida high schools over claims that its material about sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” Law. The AP course asks students to “describe how sex and gender influence socialization and other aspects of development.” In addition to this, last summer Florida became the first state to approve PragerU Kids material to be used in classrooms. 

The state rejected math textbooks over “references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics.” Of the three out of the 125 reviewers who found objectionable content, two were affiliated with Hillsdale College.

Arizona: Alongside PragerU CEO Marissa Streit, Arizona’s GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne announced that PragerU Kids’ videos and “educational” content would be available on the Arizona Department of Education website. Arizona is the fifth state to add PragerU Kids materials to their educational curriculum following Florida, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and Montana.

Montana: The Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) licensed PragerU allowing local school boards to adopt its content. OPI said the superintendent approves book dealers, not content, but the Montana Human Rights Network said the videos “push rhetoric from fringe groups into mainstream content for children.” 

New Hampshire: The New Hampshire Board of Education voted unanimously to approve an online PragerU “Cash Course,” a series of 15 five-minute videos, for use in the state’s remote Learn Everywhere program as a way to earn graduation credit toward the state’s financial literacy education requirement. Opponents in New Hampshire argued that PragerU’s branding as a “university” constitutes a violation of New Hampshire consumer protection laws. The AG’s office found that since PragerU was not incorporated in New Hampshire, the statute did not apply to them.

Colorado: In January of last year, Woodland Park School District became the first school district in the country to adopt the American Birthright social studies standard, developed by the Civics Alliance. The district’s resolution to adopt the standard came just one month after the state board rejected the standards, despite opposition from community members and students in the district. News coverage questioned whether the resolution put the district in conflict with state standards. All Colorado districts are required to adopt local standards that meet or exceed the state standards.

Texas: Public reporting suggests that PragerU has been soliciting Board of Education members, but the chair of the SBE said that nobody from PragerU had presented to the board or contacted him. In November of 2023, the Texas State Board of Education rejected a number of textbooks because they included policy solutions for climate change or because of the publishing company’s ESG policy. The Board also delayed voting on standards for an Indigenous Studies course.