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Jeff Sessions urges Alabama schools to cover U.S. founding more favorably

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged an Alabama education commission to recommend teachers cover America’s founding less critically as to “not denigrate history.”

Sessions was a guest speaker Tuesday during a meeting of the Governor’s Commission on Teaching and Learning. Created in January through executive order, the commission will provide recommendations to the governor and Alabama Legislature for improving the state’s public schools, particularly in key areas such as improving teacher quality and quantity, and increasing student growth. Those recommendations will be included in the commission’s final report, which is due on the governor’s desk no later than Dec. 1.

“I love history, and I left Washington with a belief that we weren’t teaching it enough, and that we were losing our understanding of the greatness of America,” Sessions said.

“We’ve got to teach our young people the glory of the American republic, and how to make it better. I think we’ve gotten off track.”

Sessions, who also served in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2017, was just the latest guest speaker before the commission in what has been a months-long process of taking input from a number of leaders in the education realm and other stakeholders.


Members of the commission Reps. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, and Alan Baker, R-Brewton, listen to Jeff Sessions.

Sessions pointed to a graduate program offered by the nonprofit academic institution Ashbrook Center that’s designed to “equip teachers with the knowledge and tools they need to pass America’s principles on to their students” as a model example of how Alabama teachers should cover history.

“I want you to not denigrate history in civics,” Sessions continued. “I really think you can’t have a great nation if you don’t love it. I do think teaching history is important, and I do think the message should be that we’re going to help teachers, not dictate to them.”

Commission member Melvin Brown, superintendent of Montgomery Public Schools, asked Sessions to expand on his belief that history teaching in Alabama had “lost its way.”

“There is a sense that the United States was fundamentally flawed, that the country failed in its founding and therefore is corrupt from its founding and not subject to respect,” Sessions said. 

“I think (that’s) wrong. (The Constitution) was the greatest advancement, and 60 years later, slavery was ended by a bitter war. In the scheme of history since Athens 2,500 years ago, 60 years is not very long if you see it in perspective.”

Brown argued that Sessions’ suggestion – that curriculum in public schools label America’s founding as fundamentally flawed – were incorrect.

“If we’re going to form a more perfect union, that means that we need to be critical of the current union in order to make it more perfect, so I think the whole notion of having discourse about what’s good and what isn’t, I think that’s powerful,” Brown said. 

“Saying that history is bad, or the Constitution is bad or any of those types of things, that’s not happening in schools, but we are having critical conversations about how we can become better.”

Melvin Brown, Superintendent of Montgomery Public Schools.

“Well, I don’t think that’s exactly true,” Sessions responded.

“Oh, it’s true,” Brown said.

“No, what I’m saying is I don’t think it’s true that none of this is being taught in schools,” Session said. “‘Nobody’s teaching this, this is all ridiculous’ – it is being taught.”

Sessions explained that he was open to “being critical” of America’s history, but that teachers should not “condemn” (America) on almost every category.”

“We don’t need to be implying to our students that the foundation is not honorable, and that the country isn’t worthy of being respected and loved,” Sessions said.

The debate over how history should be taught in public schools has ramped up in recent years. Since 2021, 44 states have introduced bills or taken other measures to restrict the teaching of critical race theory, an academic concept that argues racism to be a social construct. 

On the other hand, at least 17 states have made efforts to expand the teaching of history in public schools to include a greater variety of perspectives, as well as to expand the teaching of African and Latino American history.

“Did they make a mistake in not ending slavery in the Constitution…well, it was a failure, but was it really a mistake?” Sessions posed. 

“Didn’t it allow for the progress to occur? And it’s not perfect now, I know that, but most of the legal barriers have been knocked down. So I think we should celebrate America, we have every right to; it was the greatest advancement for human liberty, freedom, equality, and the respect for individuals at the time.”

Commission member Kyle Futral, Holtville High School principal, told Alabama Daily News that the commission anticipated having its final report submitted to the governor in October, ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline. Filled with recommendations on how to improve Alabama’s public education system, that report will ultimately be considered by Ivey and the Legislature, and could shape public education going forward.

“I talked to a few legislators, and I think this commission, if you all really come up with something that addresses this stuff and makes progress, it’ll pass,” Sessions said.

“Let me plead with you to not see this as just one more committee you’ve served on, but to see this as making a list of things you know will make education better in Alabama, put it in a package, and it’ll get passed.”

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