- Right-leaning lawmakers in at least five states — Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi — have introduced legislation that would prohibit schools from teaching The 1619 Project or cut funding from those that do. The ongoing long-form journalism project was published by The New York Times in 2019 and explores the impact of slavery and contributions of Black Americans to the formation and growth of the United States.
- While most of the bills are unlikely to advance — Mississippi's legislation already is dead — Iowa this week advanced its proposal, which says curriculum inspired by the project "attempts to deny or obfuscate the fundamental principles upon which the United States was founded."
- Those supporting the project say attempts to ban curriculum based on it are a form of censorship and prevent students from engaging in important discussions.
The 1619 Project won a Pulitzer Prize in May. The brainchild of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the project is described by The New York Times as aiming "to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative."
"The central thesis of the project is that African Americans have strengthened America by pushing the country to live up to its democratic ideals," former social studies teacher Paula McAvoy wrote in an email to K-12 Dive. McAvoy, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, researches teaching controversial issues.
The Pulitzer Center offered curricular resources based on the project after its publication. It is also offering grants to 40 educators in 2021 to develop standards-aligned units meant to engage students with the project or related content, among other things. Since The 1619 Project was published in August 2019, related curricular materials have reached approximately 4,500 classrooms, according to the Pulitzer Center's website, and at least five school systems adopted it districtwide, including Chicago Public Schools and District of Columbia Public Schools.
Efforts to curb the project's impact in classrooms reached the federal level in the months leading up to former President Donald Trump's departure from the White House. Trump said at a White House conference in September that the project "rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom." By contrast, Trump pushed for a 1776 Commission that encouraged communities "reasserting control of how children receive patriotic education in their schools."
While social studies curriculum has always been politically contested, McAvoy said, The 1619 Project "challenges tenants commonly endorsed by both parties, but particularly Republicans — American exceptionalism and faith in the free market."
"I believe that some of the controversy comes in that many people see this as a desire to totally rewrite American history. It is not," India Meissel, former president of the National Council for the Social Studies, wrote in an email to K-12 Dive. Meissel added while the project is not the only resource being used to teach America's history, it is "an important one" that incorporates in the curriculum traditionally underrepresented Black voices.
Anton Schulzki, the president-elect of NCSS, said social studies educators and their insights are often overlooked by "well-meaning, but oftentimes ill-informed" lawmakers pushing what should be taught in classrooms.
"The kerfuffle over the 1619 Project, in particular, is the latest attempt to wade into what should be taught in schools. Rather than allowing educators to make the best decisions for appropriate curriculum materials, there seems to be a rush to judgment about one set of resources," he wrote in an email to K-12 Dive.
Schulzki said "the vast majority" of social studies teachers use a balanced approach in their classrooms, which provides for different perspectives. "Indeed the hallmark of quality social studies education is to examine a variety of sources and to teach students to read, write and think critically about those sources," he added.