December 3, 2021
By Ryan McDonald
Recently, the New York Times Magazine and Nikole Hannah-Jones doubled down on their attempts to turn American history on its head, releasing two new books under the banner of the 1619 Project. The first book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, includes the original 1619 Project essays, layers on seven new ones, and adds a set of poems and fictitious short stories. Although the essays and stories have been slightly modified to fit current events, the goal of the original remains the same: “reframing”—that is, re-writing—American history to depict slavery as the foundation on which the country is built. The second book, Born on the Water, is a lyrical picture book for young children designed to convince kids of just that.
The 1619 Project and these new books contend that America was founded on white supremacy and that our country’s history began in 1619 (the year the first African slaves arrived in the colonies), not in 1776. Even more astounding, the 1619 Project has contended that among the central reasons colonists fought for independence from Great Britain was to preserve the institution of slavery.
Somehow, it gets even worse.
One essay in the 1619 Project states, “Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery – and are still believed by doctors today.” On the country as a whole, a different essay says “America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more powers than others.” John Davidson sums up the work’s central thesis—that America’s founding ideals were false when written, and little better today—perfectly: “It is certainly bold and sensational, but as history it is complete garbage.”
While historians have continuously fact-checked and challenged this historical accuracy of the 1619 Project, these new books appear to double-down on their original claims. When pressed by scholars, the editor of the project denied there were any errors in the essays. In fact, he even admitted that the main purpose of the project was not even to bring a new understanding to American history, but to use that retelling of history to advance political arguments of the present. While the claims in the new books remain relatively the same, their presence in the classroom and its impact on curriculum may very well be on the rise.
The New York Times and supporters of the 1619 Project have always wanted these essays and materials to make their way into the classroom. So much so, they even promote a section of their website specifically for teachers. The Times curriculum partner, The Pulitzer Center, proudly developed free resources and curriculum materials that include the 1619 Project essays. These include activities for children such as creating alternate timelines that reevaluate U.S. history—e.g., placing 1619 as the focal point of the nation’s origin—or even creating an infographic that shows how slavery contributes to a contemporary problem in our country. Last year, the same website suggested a project for students to blackout whole sections from the Declaration of Independence to “transform” the document into something unrecognizable from our founding charter.
With two new books available in print, it is likely we will see these resources continue to seep into classrooms around the country. With the increasing likelihood of these books being added to syllabi and course materials, parents now more than ever deserve the right to know what is being taught to their children.
That is why the Goldwater Institute has developed the Academic Transparency Act, which would require each public school in a state to disclose a listing of the actual instructional materials used during the past academic year on a publicly accessible part of its website. This would allow parents easy access to the materials being taught to their children to review prior to enrollment. No longer should instructional materials—whether the 1619 Project’s new books or its lesson plans from the Pulitzer Center—be taught to children in secrecy.
Now, more than ever, we need transparency in our educational system.
Ryan McDonald is a Koch Institute Fellow and Government Affairs Analyst at the Goldwater Institute.