Testimony to the Ohio State Board of Education, September 22nd 2020

To the distinguished members of the Ohio State Board of Education Good afternoon. My name is Ian Rowe.

This testimony is in response to Resolution number 20 which is intended to condemn racism and to advance equity and opportunity for black students, indigenous students and students of color.

I am currently a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Woodson Center, founded by Bob Woodson in 1981. For nearly forty years the Woodson Center has empowered thousands of local leaders across the country to transform the lives of people within their communities by involving those suffering challenges to develop solutions and achieve their potential. In Ohio, some of our grassroots leaders include Reverend Willie Peterson in Youngstown, Reverend Gary Wyatt in Akron, and Bishop Marva Mitchell in Dayton.

For the last ten years, I was CEO of a non-profit network of public charter elementary and middle schools in the heart of the South Bronx and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Our faculty had the solemn responsibility to educate more than 2,000 students—primarily low-income, black and Hispanic kids—whose parents chose our schools because they wanted their children to develop the skills and habits to become agents of their own uplift and build a better life.

Similar to parents throughout Ohio, many of our parents in low-income communities may have faced racial discrimination and other challenges in their own lives and fear that their children might as well. But they knew that a great education can make a huge difference. They did not believe their children were doomed to be shackled by the horrors of America’s legacy of slavery. They knew their children might face closed doors because of America’s legacy of slavery. But they also knew that, because of America’s legacy of black excellence and resilience in the face of slavery and discrimination, hundreds of doors are now open. And young people of all races have the ability to open their own doors if they are prepared to capitalize on the opportunities at their fingertips.

Our parents knew that their children could lead a life on their own terms, even in the face of structural barriers, with three key ingredients: strong family support, teachers with high expectations who are empowered with a curriculum teaching character-based

strengths like integrity and resiliency, and a strong sense of personal agency—the belief that you can be master of your own destiny.

This is very important right now as we as a country and in Ohio are having critical conversations about race and racial disparities. For example, Resolution 20 correctly states that black male students lag far behind their white counterparts in several measures of educational attainment.

The resolution also states that it is resolved that the State Board of Education directs the Ohio Department of Education to provide support for school district’s reflection and internal examination, including identifying and sharing curricular models and resources. Having exemplary models is important. It is equally important to ensure that the models that you do highlight reinforce the principles that young people of all races should adopt to overcome racial disparities, rather than reject those principles. For example, the 1619 Project released by the New York Times claims that “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written,” and that “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” As an educator, particularly of students in low-income communities with primarily students of color, I know how damaging and disempowering an impact that message can have on children.

Yet on the Ohio Social Studies website, there is a link to the 1619 Project Curriculum. It is important to note that key elements of the 1619 Project have been discredited by some of the most well respected historians in the country. And just recently the authors of the 1619 Project have stated that they don’t consider 1619 the true founding of the country, which was a central claim.

As an exemplar of an exceptional curricular model and resource, I would like to bring your attention to 1776 Unites (www.1776unites.com). Led by primarily black scholars, 1776 Unites is a non-profit movement to liberate tens of millions of Americans by helping them become agents of their own uplift and transformation, by embracing the true founding values of our country.

One of the key components of 1776 Unites is a curriculum, the first installment (high school) of which was just announced five days ago. The 1776 Unites curriculum, which ultimately will be K-12, offers authentic, inspiring stories from America’s past and present that show what is best in our national character and what our freedom makes possible even in the most difficult circumstances. In just five days, nearly 2,500 downloads have already occurred.

1776 Unites includes two major components: a Look Back and a Look Forward. The Look Back maintains a special focus on stories and lesson plans that celebrate black excellence, reject victimhood culture, and showcase African-Americans past and present who have prospered by embracing America’s founding ideals of free enterprise, family, hard work, entrepreneurship and faith.

The look forward component includes units that teach life lessons that help the next generation understand the series of life decisions that give them the greatest likelihood of economic success as they make choices as they make their passage into young adulthood. These are factors more in the control of young people, that ensure they can improve economic outcomes within their generation, and thus their ability to transfer wealth across generations.

This is why the 1776 Unites curriculum Look Forward component will stress the concepts of personal agency, and that for educators the guiding theme should be increasing opportunity and access for kids of all races, by strengthening the mediating institutions that shape the behavior and attitudes of young people – families, faith-based organizations, schools, community associations. To address racial disparities, it’s important for all students, particularly students from low-income backgrounds, to understand the power of strong families, access to a high-quality education, free enterprise, and entrepreneurship, as a means to generate wealth and economic security.

As an example, attached to this testimony is a sample 1776 Unites curriculum unit of

Elijah McCoy (1844-1929)

The “Real” Elijah McCoy

In this history lesson, students learn about the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of Elijah McCoy, a prolific black inventor who held 57 patents, mostly on designs related to locomotives. The son of escaped slaves, McCoy overcame early discrimination to become an internationally respected authority in his field. By the time of his death, McCoy was widely celebrated by his contemporaries as a leader and model for Black America in the first generation after Emancipation. This lesson asks students to consider how McCoy’s life experiences led him to create such important innovations and ask why his inventions were so highly valued by manufacturers and consumers.

The first installment of three curriculum units is designed for high school students and is available at https://1776unites.com/our-work/curriculum/. The 1776 Unites Curriculum is an effort to empower schools across the country with exemplary lesson plans, reading guides, assessments, activities, and other resources that allow teachers, community leaders and parents to provide a more complete and inspiring story of the history of African-Americans in the United States. All of the content is available for free on 1776unites.com.

Lessons will be added monthly, with K-8 modules coming soon. The Woodson Center developed a list of 10 Principles that Bob Woodson used in order to transform struggling neighborhoods and to empower the people within them. All of the lessons in the 1776 Unites curriculum are grounded in one or more of the ten Woodson principles, which are:

  • Competence
  • Integrity
  • Transparency
  • Resilience
  • Witness
  • Innovation
  • Inspiration
  • Agency
  • Access
  • Grace

In closing, it is important to note that America is not defined solely by its legacy of slavery. We want all children to know of the legacy of excellence alongisde the legacy of slavery and these lessons are relevant to all American children. There are innumerable examples of individuals and groups that have gone from persecution to prosperity by embracing America’s founding ideals.

As part of your Resolution 20 directing the Ohio State Board of Education to identify strong curricular models and resources, I would strongly urge you to showcase the 1776 Unites curriculum.

Thank you.

Ian Rowe

Senior Visiting Fellow The Woodson Center