America as it actually was

A Penn GSE symposium confronts American myth and the complexities of teaching 1776 in light of 1619.

Educators from Penn GSE, the University of Pennsylvania, and across Philadelphia gathered both in-person and online for “Teaching Independence: Bridging the Communications Gap,” a two-day symposium that took an in-depth look at the challenges of teaching the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, and the nation’s founding in the current political climate.

Co-organized by Penn GSE, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Penn Libraries, and the Museum of the American Revolution, the symposium was the kickoff of America 250 at Penn, a series of programs organized by Penn Libraries to explore the country’s roots as we approach its 250th anniversary.

“We’re hoping that this leads to more events that discuss the issue of teaching independence broadly as, of course, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration looms in 2026,” said Emma Hart, a professor of history and Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “And the goal for today and tomorrow is to bring together voices from across the educational spectrum, from K-12 teachers to universities and public historians.”

The roundtable which opened the symposium focused on the public debate surrounding the 1619 Project, how it relates to our understanding of the founding of the country, and the way American history is taught.

Speakers were invited to discuss how they, as educators, teach the Revolutionary era of American history in such a fraught political environment.

The success of the symposium—in all, providing two days of engaging, interesting discussion about the complexities of teaching American history in an increasingly polarized political environment—marked a strong start to America 250 at Penn.

“I think it’s important we give students and the public the tools they can use to create their own explanations of what happened in the Revolutionary era, rather than falling into narratives of good people and bad people, good events and bad events,” said Hart. “I hope we can build on these issues. This is an experiment, and we hope it is the beginning of something greater.”

Read more at Penn GSE News.