Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Thursday faced a barrage of questions from House Republicans regarding his department’s endorsement of critical race theory (CRT) and LGBTQ activism, which he downplayed, saying he trusts individual educators to decide what they need to teach.
During a House Education and Labor Committee hearing on the priorities of the Education Department, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) asked Cardona whether New York Times’ 1619 Project is currently taught in schools as a part of the curriculum. The Pulitzer Prize-winning project consists of a collection of essays, which center around the idea that the United States was founded, and remains today, a racist nation.
A K-12 curriculum based on the 1619 Project, developed by Pulitzer Center, has made its way into many public school districts across the nation, including Chicago, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; and Newark, New Jersey. A new rule proposed in April by the Education Department also prioritizes funding U.S. history and civics programs that incorporate the 1619 Project.
Cardona deflected the question, saying his department “does not get involved” in recommending or mandating curriculum in schools. When pressed again by an unimpressed Walberg, he replied that students engage better when they “see themselves in the curriculum.”
“We don’t get involved, as the federal government, in monitoring curriculum in schools. I think that’s a state responsibility, so I couldn’t answer whether or not [the 1619 Project] is being taught in schools,” said Cardona. “What I can tell you is that we don’t have a role, but as an educator I will tell you …When students see themselves in the curriculum, they’re more likely to be engaged.”
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) expressed similar concern, pointing out that the Education Department’s new rule also lists works of critical race theorist Ibram X. Kendi as an example for the kind of content it wants to promote in American classrooms. He quoted Kendi’s 2019 remark about a racial equity constitutional amendment, and asked Cardona whether he considers ideas like that to be “radical” and “inconsistent” with the goal of public education.
“It’s important that I reiterate at every opportunity I have that the federal government doesn’t get involved in curriculum,” Cardona said, adding that he trusts educators to make decisions about what their communities need. “It’s really not the federal government’s role to determine what gets taught.”
Cardona was also called upon by Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) over a resource (pdf) about confronting “anti-LGBTQI+ harassment in schools,” which was published earlier this week by the Education and Justice Departments. One of the examples of anti-LGBTQI+ harassment involves a teacher telling the class that “there are only boys and girls” and that anyone who thinks otherwise “has something wrong with them.”
“Before we start penalizing teachers for stating a genetic and biological fact about genders, can you please clarify for the committee how many genders there are?” Miller asked.
“So, I know what you’re asking, but I’m going to get to the root of what you’re asking,” Cardona replied. “I feel very strongly, that as educators, it’s our responsibility to protect all students.”
“That is an example [of harassment] under your leadership that you are putting out to people,” said Miller, pressing Cardona again. “How many genders are there?”
Cardona once again deflected, asking how Miller would “respond to a student who is nonbinary in your classroom,” only to have the congresswoman repeating the same question.
“I won’t be answering your question,” Cardona said. “You can continue your line of questioning.”