February 11, 2021
One of the articles on the front page of my local paper this morning addressed the effort to ban the “1619 Project” from being taught in the state’s schools. The representative who proposed the ban cited “a misleading narrative of American history.” The proposal drew criticism from both Republican and Democrats on the House panel. The main criticism of the bill was that the two dozen teachers who choose to be trained to teach the material should be regulated at the local level, rather than the state. Rather than ban the curriculum, the Districts should be able to decide if, and when it is taught, and then allow parents the right to opt in or out for their children.
When I looked the project up online, I found it had been created to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in England’s Virginia colony. The 1619 Project is a journalism project developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative”. The project has received mixed critiques from historians. In a letter published in The New York Times in December 2019, several historians expressed “strong reservations” about the project and requested factual corrections. They accused the project of putting ideology before historical understanding. Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her introductory essay to the 1619 Project.
Opposition to teaching the curriculum began in July 2020, when Republican Senator Tom Cotton (Arkansas) proposed the “Saving American History Act of 2020.” This called for the prohibition of K-12 schools from using federal funds to teach curriculum related to the 1619 project, and to make schools that did ineligible for federal professional-development grants. Cotton added that “The 1619 Project is a racially divisive and revisionist account of history that threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.” This was backed by the administration who used an Executive Order last November to create the “1776 Commission” to develop a “patriotic” curriculum. The commission was terminated by President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021. History is always bias, just usually in favor of the elite.
Thoughts: One of the requirements for my graduate degree in American History was completion of a Thesis. While the MA Thesis is designed to prove your ability to research and recount what other historians have said in a scholarly manner, the PhD instead focuses on presenting new information on the past. Over the last half century this has resulted in a focus on “revisionist history”. This often revises how we interpret and understand existing documents rather than finding new sources to shed new light. One of the things I have been taught (and found to be true) is that what we record, save, and retell are the stories that support our individual bias. That is true for individuals, but also for a nation. The 1619 Project presents a different voice. That is what free speech is about. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.