A decade ago, when an Obama-era initiative called “Common Core” convinced 41 states to give up control of their education standards, it was infamously the result of a massive influence campaign by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Now, with America’s K-12 landscape being turned upside down by “equity” initiatives that divide children by ethnicity and devalue rigorous academics, the culprit is much the same: Gates and other philanthropic foundations.
That’s a takeaway from the two years I spent poring through educational and financial records for my new book, “Race to the Bottom: Uncovering the Secret Forces Destroying American Public Education.” These philanthropic foundations are perhaps the most powerful and least understood force in American politics — and a key node in moving critical race theory from academic papers to society. Pick any radical racial initiative in your child’s school, and it is likely to tie back to the Ford, Kellogg, Gates, Annie E. Casey, MacArthur, or Surdna foundations.
Take the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 2019 New York Times series-turned-grade school curriculum. It might never have seen the light of day if not for the MacArthur Foundation.
In 2014, MacArthur awarded a $1 million, three-year grant to ProPublica, a left-wing nonprofit news outlet for which Hannah-Jones wrote about race. In 2017, MacArthur awarded Hannah-Jones a “$625,000, no-strings-attached grant.”
In “How the 1619 Project Came Together,” the Times explained that Hannah-Jones consulted with “Kellie Jones, a Columbia University art historian and 2016 MacArthur Fellow.” Matthew Desmond, who contributed an article about the “brutality of American capitalism” to the series, was a 2015 MacArthur fellow.
The nonprofit that pushed curriculum based on the 1619 Project into schools is also funded by MacArthur. In 2021, MacArthur secured a position for Hannah-Jones as a professor at Howard University, where she would teach her racial ideas and continue the 1619 Project, by donating $5 million to the school.
The Kellogg Foundation bankrolls the group behind the Zinn Education Project (named after anti-American author Howard Zinn), which is relied on by a company that produces content for 90 percent of K-12 schools. In one lesson plan, the teacher stages a “tribunal” to decide who should be held “accountable” for Covid-19, tells students it should not be China, and leads them to order that “all members of the [U.S.] federal government [be put] in jail” to “end, or lower the amount of, capitalism so no secrets are present.”
Even groups that exist to get government officials on the same page, such as the National School Boards Association (which likened parents to “domestic terrorists”), receive private funds from foundations like Ford, Gates, and Carnegie.
Making it even creepier, far-left foundations have converged through a group called Arabella, a for-profit company that brings them together alongside groups like the American Federation of Teachers union. Teachers union honcho Randi Weingarten said of one Arabella initiative, fittingly called “The Hub Project”: “It essentially creates a place to have a shared strategy on issues with groups that might seem disparate.”
Arabella is the same group that The New York Times conceded in January has led Democrats to dwarf Republicans with the “dark money” leftists publicly denounce. One tentacle of Arabella, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, spent more in 2020 than the Democratic National Committee.
You likely don’t know the name Arabella, or the names of its main nonprofits like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, because they specialize in creating pop-up astroturf fronts, which operate with little financial disclosure and with scant public recognition of where they’re coming from.
But these groups have been sowing the seeds of critical race theory in obscure educational bureaucracies since long before you even heard the term. In 2013, New Venture Fund, one of Arabella’s most important arms, outright paid for the creation of a federal government entity, the “Equity and Excellence Commission,” which pushed for a return to 1970s-style bussing.
Savvy activists strategically fund force-multipliers: behind-the-scenes groups that shape others who go on to shape others. For those seeking to efficiently spread fringe ideas, there is no better bang for the buck than conscripting schoolchildren. But once I saw who was behind the curtain, it became clear why they hid.