In an early-morning Twitter announcement Sunday, President Donald Trump said that the Department of Education was considering investigating whether schools are teaching The New York Times’ controversial re-framing of the Revolutionary War and America’s founding, the “1619 Project.” He also suggested that schools using the curriculum could face a loss of federal funding.
The “1619 Project,” which won a Pulitzer Prize last year, but which has also been widely criticized by prominent historians, suggests that America’s founding did not occur in 1776, but rather in 1619, when the first slaves arrived in the new world. The project claims that “capitalism” was at the root of the Revolutionary War, and suggests that the Founding Fathers fought to preserve a slave economy from the British Empire, which, at the time, its author, Nikole Hannah-Jones claims, was on its way to abolishing the practice.
The project itself forces teachers and students to view the Revolutionary War through the lens of racial oppression and aims to put “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” even if such reframing is, according to some scholars, historically questionable.
“The project, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones, was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary,” Fox News notes.
“However, multiple historians have criticized the series of articles for multiple inaccuracies, including the argument that the American Revolution was fought not to achieve independence from Britain, but to preserve the institution of slavery.”
In a letter to The New York Times itself, a number of prominent historians said that while they “applaud all efforts to address the foundational centrality of slavery and racism to our history,” the “1619 Project” twists “matters of verifiable fact” in ways that “cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing’” and exhibits a complete “displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”
“These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing,’” the historians wrote. “They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only ‘white historians’ — has affirmed that displacement.”
A number of schools in California, New York, and Illinois, have already pledged to work the “1619 Project” into their history curriculum, spawning, according to the president, a Department of Education review of their history curriculum. Chicago’s and New York City’s school districts have both adjusted their history curriculum requirements to add aspects of the “1619 Project.”
“Department of Education is looking at this,” Trump tweeted in reference to the situation in California. “If so, they will not be funded!”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is a step ahead of the president, announcing in July that he was drafting a bill that would prevent schools from using the “1619 Project,” and his bill would also deny federal funding to those schools that choose to teach the curriculum, regardless. In a speech to the Senate earlier this summer, Cotton called the Project “a racially divisive, revisionist account of history that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded.”