Dean of the School of Public Policy Pete Peterson’s Oct. 12 email aims to defund schools teaching The 1619 Project and other “anti-American” curriculum. The petition was addressed to President Donald Trump, and Pepperdine community members such as Seaver faculty found the petition confusing.
Photos by Ashley Mowreader
Pete Peterson, dean of the School of Public Policy (SPP), shared a Pepperdine-affiliated petition with Conservative News subscribers Oct. 12 against “leftist indoctrination” of U.S. students from new ethnic curriculum.
The petition stands against teaching “leftist curriculum” in schools and specifically opposes The New York Times’ The 1619 Project curriculum of “debunked, non-historical claims,” according to the School of Public Policy petition. Pepperdine administration was unaware of the petition prior to its release and has suspended the School of Public Policy’s involvement with the campaign, according to the University’s statement.
“There are dire consequences to allowing a liberal viewpoint to be forced on the next generation, and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now,” according to Peterson’s email from Conservative News.
Peterson sent the petition via a Conservative News email Monday as a message from the organization’s sponsor, the School of Public Policy, according to the email.
Conservative News is a subsect of The Daily Wire, conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro’s news organization. In media bias analyses, The Daily Wire received mixed ratings in reliability but high ratings for right-leaning bias by Ad Fontes Media and Media Bias/Fact Check websites.
Peterson, in an interview with the Graphic, said the connection to Conservative News came from the School of Public Policy’s search for a third-party email fundraising campaign manager. SPP hired Active Engagement, a conservative political fundraising agency that works with other Christian universities like Colorado Christian University, for a first attempt at email fundraising.
Other clients of Active Engagement include The Ben Shapiro Report, The Daily Wire, PragerU and The Babylon Bee.
Peterson said he approved two kinds of email messaging that Active Engagement wrote — one addressing curriculum like The 1619 Project and civics education in the U.S., and the other highlighting a lack of viewpoint diversity for conservatives on college campuses.
“The email marketing agency wrote up the messages,” Peterson said. “While I did not write the messages, I did approve them, at least in their broader themes, and so the responsibility for those messages is mine completely.”
Peterson said Active Engagement has shared various emails from the School of Public Policy with the themes of civics education and viewpoint diversity for two to three weeks now, and the campaign planned to continue until February or March.
The School of Public Policy did not see the design of the Conservative News email prior to release, Peterson said, nor was he aware his photo would be used in the campaign. He also said the tone of the messages did not reflect Pepperdine or the School of Public Policy but rather was “aggressive” and “crass.”
He did, however, stand by the messaging against the use of The 1619 Project as civics education and the School of Public Policy as a conservative graduate school.
“Here at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, we’re fighting back against the leftist indoctrination of students by educating future conservative public policy makers about the Constitution and what makes America great,” according to the email signed by Peterson.
The School of Public Policy, according to the email, is a graduate school that prepares young leaders from “a decidedly conservative, Christian worldview” to shape policy in the world. Peterson said, while the school does not market itself as conservative on its website, but given the school’s approach to different issues such as free markets, religious liberty and policy, SPP is considered a conservative program.
The Petition and The 1619 Project
The petition attached to Peterson’s email urges President Donald Trump to strip funding from any school teaching “radical, anti-American curriculum” like The 1619 Project, claiming tax dollars should not instill divisive and biased information.
“That particular petition, while in framework I had worked with advancement on — it was fully my decision,” Peterson said. “It was something that was proposed by the agency, again, as a way of gathering emails and also some fundraising or donor gifts were part of that petition as well.”
The 1619 Project is a Pulitzer-winning magazine that, according to The New York Times, seeks to reframe the history of the United States by focusing on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black individuals to American history. The magazine consists of 12 essays from NYT journalists, a five-episode podcast series, reader submissions, a sports section and a behind-the-scenes feature.
Some historians criticized the project for historical inaccuracies, specifically the American colonists’ desire for independence from Britain stemmed from preserving slaveholding and that capitalism is modeled after plantation slavery, but the project editor, Nikole Hannah Jones, stands by her work nonetheless.
Those who sign the petition “stand with Pepperdine School of Public Policy in fighting against the leftist indoctrination of students by biased coursework,” according to the petition.
“We are not going to send out another email like the one that went out ever again,” Peterson said. “But we are going to continue to critique the state of civics education and The 1619 Project as civics education.”
Tuesday, one day after the email went out, Provost Rick Marrs provided the University’s statement on the petition to the Graphic via email.
“We recently learned of the School of Public Policy’s participation in a marketing campaign executed by a third-party vendor,” Marrs wrote. “The University was neither aware of nor did we give approval to the marketing materials prior to distribution. At this time, my office is working diligently and as quickly as possible to assess the school’s involvement in the campaign, which has been suspended and will not be resumed.”
Peterson said he agrees with President Jim Gash and Provost Rick Marrs’ opinion that all messaging from the five Pepperdine schools, even those sent through third-party agencies, need to follow the University process.
Pepperdine is in the midst of searching for a new Chief Diversity Officer to lead diversity and inclusion measures at all levels of the University. Seaver College also plans to incorporate a cultural competence component in the General Education program.
Pepperdine community members, such as Seaver History Professor Loretta Hunnicutt, expressed shock at the petition, both in its content and language. Hunnicutt said she disagreed with the petition’s stance and also with the polemic language used.
“It’s problematic on a number of levels,” Hunnicutt. “I personally don’t think it’s the way I would want to go as a University. […] I want us to do everything we can to certainly speak our values but to do so in a way that’s respectful of all people.”
In her classroom, Hunnicutt used The 1619 Project as a debate piece because she views the material as a conversation starter as opposed to objective history.
“It was meant to be a debate starter and a different take on American history, but it’s threatening to some people, I think, that what they were taught might not be the whole story,” Hunnicutt said.
Hunnicutt said she believes in the value of having a wide array of courses available to teach history to challenge people’s thinking.
“I don’t know that I would agree with everything that’s in [The 1619 Project], but I very much object to calling it leftist indoctrination,” Hunnicutt said. “It left us to want to wrestle with slavery. You could say maybe [Hannah Jones] claims too much. Did she exaggerate the impact? Maybe. But it’s not indoctrination to talk about a really complex issue and say we haven’t appreciated how complex it is.”
Peterson and Ethnic Curriculum
Peterson vocally opposes ethnic and other racially charged curriculum — specifically new California legislation for ethnic studies in schools — and spoke on The Eric Metaxas Radio Show about the subject Sept. 3.
The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum is a requirement for California public schools passed via California Assembly Bill 331, which necessitates high school students to pass an ethnic studies course to graduate. The course will “examine the history, culture, politics, contributions and prejudices facing ethnic and racial ethnic groups nationwide,” according to EdSource. Some like Peterson, however, believe this new course is anti-American and seeks to frame the United States in a negative light.
“Our nation’s children have received a biased ‘education’ for an entire generation — from high school through college — so it should come as no surprise to us that we see thousands of young adults rioting in the streets, burning our nation’s cities, and toppling historic monuments,” according to Peterson’s email.
In his interview with Eric Metaxas, Peterson compared the new course requirement to The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project curriculum and criticized the project for its perspective on capitalism as a “systemic regime.”
The email claims “the left” is pushing for The 1619 Project to be included as a history curriculum component in schools nationally.
“The left is doubling down by pushing to make The New York Times’ radical ‘1619 Project’ a component of history curriculum at all levels of education in American schools,” according to Peterson’s email. “It’s a poisonous narrative, and one rooted in pure left-wing fantasy.”
The Pulitzer Center and The New York Times Magazine developed a curriculum for teachers looking to include aspects of The 1619 Project into their classrooms. More than 4,500 schools nationwide have adopted the curriculum, including some public school districts in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, N.Y. No requirements are in place at the schools for these faculty to teach the material or include every part of the program.
“If you believe that America’s students need to learn about true American history, about how great this country is, and how our Founders fought to give us the freedoms we enjoy — I urge you to sign the National Petition in Support of True American History,” according to Peterson’s email.
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