Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the far-left “1619 Project” – which has been widely criticized by historians – said during a segment on Sunday that she did not understand why parents should get a say in what their children learn in school.
Jones made the remarks during a panel on NBC News’ “Meet The Press,” when pressed on how parent’s involvement in education shaped the governor’s race in Virginia.
“Well, I would say the governor’s race in Virginia was decided based on the success of a right-wing propaganda campaign that told white parents that they needed to fight against their children being indoctrinated as race – as being called racists. But that was a propaganda campaign,” she claimed without providing any evidence.
“And I don’t really understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught,” she later added. “I’m not a professional educator. I don’t have a degree in social studies or science. We send our children to school because we want them to be taught by people who have an expertise in the subject area. And that is not my job. When the, when the governor or the candidate said that he didn’t think parents should be deciding what’s being taught in school, he was panned for that. But that’s just the fact. This is why we send our children to school and don’t homeschool, because these are the professional educators who have the expertise to teach social studies, to teach history, to teach science, to teach literature. And I think we should leave that to the educators.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones: Parents shouldn't be in charge of their kids' schooling: "I don't really understand this idea that parents should decide what's being taught. I'm not a professional educator. I don't have a degree in social studies." Yet she wants the 1619 Project in schools. pic.twitter.com/UAjFTCvVmg
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) December 26, 2021
CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. When The 1619 Project was published by The New York Times, it became an object of both admiration and criticism. The series of essays was named for when African slaves were first taken to these shores and it places slavery and its legacy at the center of American history. Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for the project, but also came under criticism for suggesting that the American Revolution itself was fought to preserve slavery. Few people have spent more time researching, thinking and writing about race in America than Nikole Hannah-Jones, and she joins me now. Nikole, welcome to Meet the Press.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Hi. Thanks for having me.
CHUCK TODD: Let me just start with this. Describe in your own words what The 1619 Project is and its mission.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: The 1619 Project is a book now. It began as a magazine and a special section of The New York Times. And what it is is it marks the advent of African slavery in the original 13 colonies. So 1619 is the year the first Africans were sold into slavery in Virginia. And what the project argues through a series of essays is that very little about American life today has been left untouched by the legacy of slavery and the anti-Blackness that developed in order to justify it. So it is trying to place the leg – slavery as an institution, which is one of the oldest institutions in America, really at the center of the story that we tell ourselves about our country, and to explain so much about American life through that lens.
CHUCK TODD: Did you intend for The 1619 Project to become public school curriculum? Or did you intend it to start a debate to improve the curriculum of how we teach American history?
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Well, when I first pitched the project, I simply pitched it as a work of journalism, which it is. I mean, I’m a journalist at The New York Times, and I pitched a project to run as a piece of journalism in The New York Times. Now, some months in, as we were working on the project, we began to talk about – that this could be a great learning tool for students. Particularly we were thinking about the broadsheet that ran in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture that talks about — teaches slavery through objects found in that museum. Now, The New York Times has an education division. The New York Times regularly turns its journalism into curriculum, as does the Pulitzer Center, who we ultimately partnered with. They are constantly turning works of journalism into curriculum. It’s only become controversial because people have decided to make The 1619 Project controversial.
CHUCK TODD: I think in the last two years, a lot of people have come to realize that our teaching of of history has been — has been incomplete, to be generous, particularly on I would say whether it’s Reconstruction – I mean, we start – talk about glossing over that. Or specifically, think about the Tulsa Massacre and how so many people have said, “I didn’t get taught that.” I grew up in Miami, Florida. I didn’t get taught about Ax Handle Sunday in Jacksonville. When you look at our public schools, eight in ten public school teachers are white. Yet, half of the public school students are students of color. How do we improve that aspect of education in America?
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: So I don’t think that, you know, we have to have — we should definitely have more Black and Latino educators because that is what our country looks like. But I don’t think you have to be Black or Latino in order to teach a more accurate history. The problem is that our teacher preparation programs are not equipping educators with the knowledge that they need to teach this history better. When you look at the survey by Teaching Tolerance, they found that about half, or slightly more than half of American educators say they don’t feel equipped to teach about slavery. And they really struggle to teach about slavery. It’s kind of ironic that we’re seeing these bills being passed, these anti-history laws, to make it more difficult to teach about slavery and racism and our country’s long history of racism, when in fact, we have educators who are struggling the opposite way. They’re having — holding mock slave auctions in their classrooms. They’re having students do assignments where they have to list the pros and cons of slavery because they really don’t know how to teach this very well. And that’s because as a country, we have not honestly grappled with the truth about our history. And the history we learn is often about national and patriotism, but not about telling —
CHUCK TODD: Where should that —
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: – the unvarnished truth.
CHUCK TODD: – come from? You know, I’ve thought about this and, you know, I know that if government says, “This is our history,” people are going to say, “Huh, I’m not letting government historians decide what our history is.” This seems to be a real challenge in an open society, is how do we get agreement on this, especially when parents want to have — look, the Virginia’s governor’s race was arguably decided on the strength of how influential should parents be on curriculum? How do we do this?
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Well, I would say the governor’s race in Virginia was decided based on the success of a right-wing propaganda campaign that told white parents that they needed to fight against their children being indoctrinated as race – as being called racists. But that was a propaganda campaign. And there are a lot of Black parents in Virginia. There are a lot of Latino parents in Virginia. And they were not being featured in that coverage. And what they wanted for their kids’ education, which is more teaching about race, more teaching about the history of racism, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. So I think we should frame that question properly. And I don’t really understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught. I’m not a professional educator. I don’t have a degree in social studies or science. We send our children to school because we want them to be taught by people who have an expertise in the subject area. And that is not my job. When the, when the governor or the candidate said that he didn’t think parents should be deciding what’s being taught in school, he was panned for that. But that’s just the fact. This is why we send our children to school and don’t homeschool, because these are the professional educators who have the expertise to teach social studies, to teach history, to teach science, to teach literature. And I think we should leave that to the educators. Yes, we should have some say. But school is not about simply confirming our world view. Schools should teach us to question. They should teach us how to think, not what to think. –
CHUCK TODD: At what age?
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: – And I wouldn’t want my child to go to a school —
CHUCK TODD: Is there an age restriction in your mind?
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: About teaching what?
CHUCK TODD: Teaching sort of — when it comes to teaching our past, you know there’s this, and I think this is coming basically through a racial lens, but there’s this, you know, — parents are saying, “Hey, don’t, don’t make my kid feel guilty.” And, you know, and I know a parent of color is going, “What are you talking about? You know, I’ve got to teach reality.” When do you do it, and how do you do it?
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Well, I think you should just think a little bit about your framing. You said “parents,” and then you said “parents of color.” So the white —
CHUCK TODD: Right, its white parents —
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: – is silent –
CHUCK TODD: – and parents of color. You’re – no. Fair point. Yeah.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Right. White parents are not representing — as a matter of fact, white parents are representing fewer than half of all public school parents. And yet, they have an outsized voice in this debate. I have a child who, just by watching the news when she was eight years old, she saw Laquan McDonald, a teenager in Chicago, get shot 16 times by police on CBS in The Morning Show. And she asked me, “Why did that — why did they kill that boy?” So I can’t wait to have these conversations with my child. And I don’t think that we should be asking, “What is the appropriate age?” I think we should be asking, “What are the appropriate conversations at that age?” But our children are being raised in a racialized society. They are noticing things. They have questions. And I don’t think teaching an accurate rendering of history is about making white children feel guilty. I don’t know an educator — I’ve been covering education for two decades. I’ve never seen a teacher of any race tell a white child, “You are responsible for what happened in the past.” I just don’t think that that’s happening. And even all of the people who have claimed that that has happened have not been able to produce a shred of evidence that that’s true. I think some students who are white probably walk away from some of these lessons feeling very uncomfortable, as we should. We should be uncomfortable with the hard parts of our past. And a master educator knows how to give those lessons without making students internalize this — these feelings of racism.
CHUCK TODD: At the end of the day, this politicizing of this, it’s clearly been weaponized. You’ve described it I think pretty well on the weaponization of it. Do you think simply time will get us past this? How can we get over this hump?
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: I don’t know, honestly. I’m quite concerned about what’s happening in our country because, as you know, my project, which is a work of journalism by The New York Times, is banned by name in Georgia, Florida, in Texas. There are efforts to ban the teaching of this history in Oklahoma, in South Dakota, in Tennessee. And when we think about what type of society bans books or bans ideas, that is not a free and tolerant democratic society. That is a society that is veering towards authoritarianism. So unless people who believe in free speech, who believe in our children being intellectually challenged, begin to get organized and speak up, I think we’re going into a dark age of repression and suppression of the truth. And really, these laws are paving the way for the taking of other political rights like voting rights, like women’s reproductive rights, like rights for LGBTQ people. So we’re going to have to decide what kind of country we want to be.
CHUCK TODD: Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times. Really appreciate you coming on and sharing your perspective with us. Thanks for this.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Thank you.