Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to abandon curriculum in American schools that McConnell argues tells a revisionist history of America’s founding. He includes the New York Times 1619 Project in the mix. (McConnell photo: Twitter) Bulletin board created by University City High School students during their investigation of issues explored by The 1619 Project. (Photo by Christina Sneed. St. Louis, 2020)

by Curtis Weathers — 

Curtis Weathers, the education columnist for The New Tri-State Defender.

I was minding my own business last week, all set to dive into the issue of state testing and learning loss in our schools. 

Suddenly, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and 37 of his Republican colleagues showed up on my doorstep with this letter addressed to the U.S. Department of Education complaining about the 1619 Project. 

McConnell apparently read my column a few weeks ago and decided he’d heard enough about Nicole Hanna Jones and the 1619 project and felt compelled to leap into action (just kidding).  

Anyway, they left me no choice. I have to address this issue, AGAIN!

The Department of Education has added two additional rules or priorities to its federal grants program supporting American History and Civics Education. In doing so, they made specific reference to the 1619 Project and scholar Ibram X. Kendi’s teachings on anti-racism.   

The language in the rule includes the following: 

“There is growing acknowledgment of the importance of including, in the teaching and learning of our country’s history, both the consequences of slavery and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our society. This acknowledgment is reflected, for example, in the New York Times’ landmark “1619 Project” and in the resources of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.”

Apparently, McConnell and his Senate colleagues are upset and are now pressuring Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to stop any proposed rule that invokes the 1619 Project and promotes “revisionism” of U.S. history. 

“Our nation’s youth do not need activist indoctrination that fixates solely on past flaws and splits our nation into divided camps,” they wrote.  Furthermore, “Taxpayer-supported programs should emphasize the shared civic virtues that bring us together, not push radical agendas that tear us apart.”

What!  Wait a minute. Stop the presses!  Surely these are not Republicans who are concerned about bringing us together rather than tearing us apart?  

I think it is rich that all of a sudden, this particular group of Republican Senators find it necessary to voice concerns about someone’s “politicalized and divisive agenda.”

In the letter, McConnell and his colleagues further write, “Families did not ask for this divisive nonsense. Voters did not vote for it.”

Of course, I take issue with that assertion as well.  In the last election, more than 74 million Republicans voted to retain the services of arguably the most “divisive” president and administration in the history of our nation. 

So, they did, in fact, “vote for it.”  

For the record, the 1619 Project’s author, Nicole Hanna Jones, and the New York Times Magazine made it clear about the goal of their project. It was to re-frame American history by considering what it would mean to establish 1619 as our nation’s birth year instead of 1776 and place the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. 

This assertion, of course, has been controversial to say the least.  

But at the center of the controversy is the contention by Hanna-Jones that the defense of slavery was, in fact, the true impetus of the Revolutionary War. She implies that the primary reason the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect and preserve the institution of slavery. 

The Times, through its spokesperson Jordan Cohen, defended the project as “landmark, groundbreaking journalism.”

He wrote, “It deepened many readers’ understanding of the nation’s past and forced an important conversation about the lingering impact of slavery, and its centrality to America’s story.” 

The 1619 Project is doing exactly what it was intended to do, which is to facilitate a national conversation about a significant part of our history that many believe has been distorted.  

Keep in mind there is nothing inherently sinister about revising or revisionist history.  People do it all the time when they find worthy artifacts that help bring additional clarification to what was initially thought or believed.  

I must admit, my view of America has changed significantly after reading and reminiscing on the material included in the 1619 Project.

It has created a whole new level of interest for me and has provided a framework by which to evaluate real-time events happening around me.

My whole perspective of the institution of slavery and the African-American experience has been enriched.  

To me, the 1619 Project is the “but wait a minute” or “but consider this” version of an essential piece of American history. 

I am happy to see it being referenced and legitimized by our governmental institutions, regardless of what certain groups might think or say.  

The bottom line is that McConnell and company see no reason to change how white America views its role in the brutal history of the African slave trade. 

They are uncomfortable with the idea of taking a fresh new look at the African-American experience in this country.  

Then again, many see this attack as just the latest attempt by Republicans to stoke outrage within their conservative base about President Biden’s agenda, which McConnell and company are portraying as a “radical overreach into every aspect of American life.”

As far as I can tell, the Department of Education is moving forward and has no intention of removing or revising language regarding the 1619 Project or any other references in the federal grants program that offend Republicans.  

And that is as it should be.  

Stay safe everyone!

 

(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected].)