Bill of Rights Institute
The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) is a member of the expansive State Policy Network, which is an organization of state-level think tanks that promote conservative policy. BRI’s mission is to “educate young people about the words and ideas of America’s Founders, the liberties guaranteed in our Founding documents, and how our Founding principles continue to affect and shape a free society.” In doing so, the organization provides “educational resources… for teachers and students…” A profile in the Huffington Post details the extent of BRI’s influence, quoting promotional materials that “boast that the BRI has offered sessions for 18,000 teachers and provided materials for another 40,000.” The Huffington Post concludes that the BRI “cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home its libertarian message.”
The Bill of Rights Institute was founded in 1999, with continued funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, and David Koch. In fact, the organization has close and continuing ties to the Koch brothers. Two of BRI’s four board members are employed by David and Charles – one is a senior VP at Koch Industries and the other leads the Charles Koch Foundation’s higher education initiatives. BRI’s president, David Bobb, has done extensive work at Hillsdale College, which devotes its mission statement, in part, to criticizing “the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so called ‘social justice’ and ‘multicultural diversity.’”
Several observers have argued that organizations like the Bill of Rights Institute are an integral part of a growing trend by the Koch Network to exert increased influence on schools. Bill Bigelow, the co-director of the Zinn Education Project, notes that several Koch-sponsored organizations have led pushes to decrease funding to public schools; the resulting budget shortfalls are then used by organizations like BRI as justification to for teachers to use their free curriculum tools. As he writes in the previously quoted Huffington Post profile, “In other words, as the Kochs spend millions undermining and defunding public schools, impoverished schools will become more and more dependent on the millions that the Kochs spend to shape the curriculum.”
In December 2014, it was announced that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction had awarded the Bill of Rights Institute a $100,000 sole-source contract to develop curriculum to satisfy a law – originally written by ALEC – that required the teaching of America’s founding principles. Inside Philanthropy announced the news with “Get Ready for History Class, Koch Brothers-style,” and Think Progress conducted an in-depth analysis of the curriculum – which the state “highly recommended” – and found that “the materials also push a very clear agenda in subtle – and often not-so-subtle – ways.” For example, the materials elevated the importance of property rights, attacked taxes, and criticized ObamaCare. Additionally, although the BRI materials take a break from attacking “federal overreach” to acknowledge that the “legacy of slavery” is an argument against states’ rights, they go on to display a prime example of false equivalency in saying that “The federal government did not effectively protect citizens from slavery.” The materials’ entire section devoted to the evils of eminent domain “frequently crosses the line from subtle suggestion into explicit advocacy.” Finally, the section on the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of Equal Protection “largely ignore[s]” women and instead asks students to focus on how affirmative action “is inconsistent” with equal protection.
Think Progress concludes that “The students who learn from these materials are likely… to emerge more like Charles and David Koch.”
Meanwhile, teachers nationwide and in North Carolina opposed the BRI materials. The Zinn Education Project staged a silent protest of the BRI at the National Council for the Social Studies conference. And history teachers interviewed by the Charlotte Observer universally said that they “didn’t need” the BRI materials “and some said it was not appropriate for a Koch-connected group to write public school course materials.” One teacher argued that curriculum should not be developed by those whose “principal concern is profit-making.” Another said that the materials were “setting students up for failure [by] limiting their world view.”