Republican State Lawmakers Want to Punish Schools That Teach the 1619 Project

The state Capitol grounds in Des Moines, Iowa.

The state Capitol grounds in Des Moines, Iowa. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Lawmakers in at least five states have introduced legislation that threatens to cut funding to schools that share curriculum about the award-winning project.

Originally published by The 19th

Lawmakers in several statehouses this year want to stop lesson plans that focus on the centrality of slavery to American history as presented in The New York Times1619 Project, previewing new battles in states over control of civics education.

Republican lawmakers in Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri and South Dakota filed bills last month that, if enacted, would cut funding to K-12 schools and colleges that provide lessons derived from the award-winning project.

Some historians say the bills are part of a larger effort by Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, to glorify a more white and patriarchal view of American history that downplays the ugly legacy of slavery and the contributions of Black people, Native Americans, women and others present during the nation’s founding.

Political battles have long been fought, largely in education boards, over how American students learn about everything from the Civil War to ethnic studies and health. But proposed legislation that would penalize schools for teaching curriculums based on the 1619 Project signals a new era of policy debate over civics education that may increasingly play out in state legislatures.

The project, which was first published in the New York Times Magazine in 2019 and for which its creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first known enslaved Africans in the British colonies that became the United States. It includes audio, essays, poems, graphics and visual art pieces that reframe the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life, arguing that Black Americans are the foundation of U.S. democracy.

The Pulitzer Center, in partnership with the 1619 Project, has made available related lesson planning and says more than 4,000 educators from all 50 states have reported using its resources. While some historians have criticized parts of the project, the Times has stood behind it (a more recent editor’s note further defending the project acknowledges that the newsroom’s separate opinion section has published pieces against it), and other historians have praised the project’s approach and rigor and treatment of the role of white supremacy in U.S. history.  

Experts in history criticized Republican legislators for supporting bills that make such an overt move to force teachers to gloss over parts of U.S. history. It comes after a year in which many Americans have protested systemic racism within U.S. institutions, and education has not been immune from that conversation. Top Republicans, including Trump, have expressed support for nationalist propaganda, as well as the preservation of racist monuments.   

“Do we want historical facts and details that are researched and published by experts taught? Or do we want nationalism taught?” said T. Jameson Brewer, an educator and assistant professor at the University of North Georgia. “That’s a very scary sort of suggestion, that schools would engage in ideological nationalism for political needs.”

The anti-1619 Project bills (which come after U.S. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas filed related legislation last July) are brief and use similar or identical language. The legislation out of Arkansas and Mississippi both call the project “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.” The Iowa bill expands its threat to school funding by suggesting any teachings with “any similarly developed curriculum” could face repercussions. The Missouri bill prohibits teaching, affirming or promoting claims, views, or opinions presented in the 1619 Project as “an accurate account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America.”

Some Republican governors have also proposed using state money to shape how history is taught. 

In November, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves proposed spending $3 million on a “Patriotic Education Fund” that would allow schools and nonprofits to apply for money to provide teaching that “educates the next generation in the incredible accomplishments of the American Way.” In a budget proposal, he wrote: “Across the country, young children have suffered from indoctrination in far-left socialist teachings that emphasize America’s shortcomings over the exceptional achievements of this country.”

In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem last month proposed spending $900,000 for a curriculum that teaches the state’s students “why the U.S. is the most special nation in the history of the world.”

Trump also tried to push “patriotic” education, creating a “1776 Commission” that released a report on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that was criticized for its inaccuracies and erasure of Black people, Native Americans and women and was quickly taken down by President Joe Biden after he took office. 

“I think what we’re seeing is a right-leaning or Republican state sort of picking up the reins as it were, trying to push forward with that exact same agenda, just at the state level,” said Brewer.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, which represents more than 12,000 historians, has been tracking the anti-1619 Project legislation. He expressed concern about efforts at the state level to elide the roles of racism and white supremacy in American history.

“You cannot heal divisions by pretending they don’t exist,” he said. “The way to address divisions is to understand the history of those divisions.”

Grossman added that curriculum proposals that appear to be ideological are an attempt “to deal with a perceived sense of ‘This isn’t my country anymore,’ by making it into something that never really was.”

Koritha Mitchell, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University, noted that several of the bills include language that seeks to address the 1619 Project as a “revisionist,” racially divisive framing of history. But, she said, race does not intertwine with history only when people of color are involved. 

“That’s one of the main ways this White-washing of history happens. We don’t even call it Whiteness. We call those heroes. Founding Fathers. Americans. Pioneers. We pretend Whiteness has nothing to do with those laudable labels,” she said.

Mitchell said the legislation on the statehouse level is aimed at sending a message at a time when Republicans hold more majorities than Democrats in the statehouse but have lost control in Congress.

“There’s more leeway at the state level to do something to put people who aren’t straight White men ‘back in their proper place,’” she explained. “And whether they succeed or not, it is important that they’re flexing that muscle of reminding people, ‘No, no, no. This is still the United States. Where the people who belong in power are straight White men.’”

It’s unclear if any of the anti-1619 Project bills will become law. Phil Jensen, a Republican representative who filed the bill in South Dakota, told The 19th in an email that he has withdrawn the legislation and is focused on other work, including a resolution that celebrates Black History Month.

“I have chosen to withdraw that bill as I do not feel that I can adequately address it as well as I would like to at this time,” he wrote.

Jensen’s Black History Month resolution, which downplays America’s involvement in slavery in part by claiming the country has a “positive record on race and slavery,” has also been publicly criticized.

Skyler Wheeler, a Republican representative who introduced the bill in Iowa, said in a statement: “The Legislature absolutely has an interest in preventing racist, divisive, historically and factually inaccurate, and politically driven propaganda masquerading as history curriculum from being used in taxpayer-funded schools.”

The Republican lawmakers who sponsored the other bills did not respond to requests for comment.

Grossman noted that in the 1950s, some legislators monitored textbooks to see how the Civil War was being taught and teachers were accused of being communists.

“This has a long history in a way, of the most conservative aspects of American political culture jumping on teachers and education curriculum and caricaturing it as being somehow unpatriotic,” he said.  

A decade ago, lawmakers in Arizona passed a bill prohibiting Mexican-American studies. A federal judge in 2017 ruled the law was enacted for racial and political reasons, making it unconstitutional.

Mitchell credits Hannah-Jones, also a staff writer at the Times, for the 1619 Project having a profound impact on some people’s foundational understandings of American history. 

“It’s a backlash to her success at getting ordinary Americans to hold themselves to higher standards,” Mitchell said.

Hannah-Jones, a Waterloo, Iowa, native who expressed disappointment about a bill being introduced in her home state, told The 19th that she doesn’t believe the lawmakers who have filed these statehouse bills have actually read the 1619 Project. She encouraged them and others to read the initiative before deciding how they feel about it. Hannah-Jones also said that no matter one’s politics, she hopes people can agree that an education is about introducing differences in opinion and challenging perceptions.

Michèle Foster, an education professor at the University of Louisville, said much of what she learned about slavery she got from her family, not school. She sees a connection between the Capitol riot on January 6 and the slate of bills filed, linking them to fear of a changing country.

“I think there are historical and societal conditions that give rise to this fear, and one way to deal with fear is to pass legislation that restricts it,” she said. “Because that way you feel like you can control what people learn, and then you can have the status quo.”

This story has been updated to add additional context about the South Dakota resolution on Black History Month.

Barbara Rodriguez is statehouses reporter for The 19th.

NEXT STORY: Pennsylvania Voters to Decide Whether to Limit Governor’s Emergency Powers

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.