US President Donald Trump has announced that he is going to withdraw federal funds of public schools that use the New York Times’ 1619 Project. He is not only going to withdraw federal funds supporting these schools. Trump also claims g to penalize any public school that has used the collection about slavery in their curricula. The President released a tweet regarding this matter and has indicated that the Department of Education is already investigating this matter. Earlier this week, President Trump has also removed all ‘critical race theory’ in all Federal training materials. He has claimed these are ‘divisive’ and ‘Anti-American’. The degree to which the government will penalize schools, or if they really could penalize them, remains unclear.
Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded! https://t.co/dHsw6Y6Y3M
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2020
What is the 1619 Project?
The New York Times’ 1619 Project is a collection of works like essays, poetry, photography, and more. Its primary goal is to describe how slavery has shaped what America is today. The project was established in 2019, in commemoration of the quadricentennial anniversary of the August 1619 arrival of enslaved Africans in North America. The first issue was a 100-page long magazine of multiple works from experts, historians, and artists, a majority of which have African descent.
The goal of the 1619 project is to reframe the US history and take back its “birth” to the year 1619. On top of that, its goal is to provide a new perspective on slavery in the US. Since the majority of the contributors are African-American, the collection shows how their perspective, histories, and experiences become an essential element to the project. A good number of Americans descended from slavery. Some of them could not, and may never be able to, trace back to their roots. This is a tough and real truth that all Americans, regardless of race, need to come in terms with.
The 1619 Project Syllabi in School and Other controversies
The 1619 Project, even with its purest visions, has controversies of its own. The first of these would be their claim that US history started in 1619. The US has declared its independence from Britain in 1776. The arrival of African slaves in the US almost a century prior only proves how their existence plays a vital role in the building of America. Now, not everyone is comfortable with that idea. The project gained an even larger following after the Black Lives Matter movement trended a couple of months ago.
This, however, leads to another big issue. Must African-American identity always be defined by slavery, even in these modern times? Not all African-Americans are descended from slavery. In fact, the number of African-American migrants has been increasing in recent years. They may not share the same history but what is important is that they all identify as African.
Another issue is that a small group of historians has pointed out a few factual errors from the project. One of the most controversial statements from the first issue of the 1619 project was the statement:
“one of the primary reasons the colonists decide to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery”.
It seems inaccurate to claim that the American Revolution was centered on the protection of slavery. On top of this, a good number of historians did not agree with the 1619 project’s claim that slavery can be likened to the beginning of capitalism. Also, many historians and experts claim that the 1619 project provides a very limited understanding of slavery. It seems to forget to point out that slavery is not just an American phenomenon. However, many of these scholars request additional, supporting information and not errata or corrections.
Trump against the 1619 Project
Historical revisionism is a problem in many cultures and could be seen in how many world events were written throughout the history of mankind. It is true that many parts of history have been erased, revised, or simply written from a one-sided perspective. Using these new ideas, putting them into the syllabus, and teaching them to children becomes a problematic incident for the government. Incidentally, the Pulitzer center even developed learning materials that teachers can use for free. This is why President Trump seems so riled up about it. Conservative leaders are so burdened to the point that a Republican legislator introduced a bill prohibiting the use of the 1619 project in schools.
A number of incumbent politicians have aggressively criticized the project. Furthermore, they were worried about how much it could change the perspective of Americans on a lot of things. There are claims that the 1619 project sounds like a form of brainwashing and propaganda. Senator Cotton’s bill even claims that the 1619 project undermines the integrity of American history. Also, that it “denies the principles in which the US was founded”.
The good thing is there is a handful of politicians that still supports it. A Democratic senator pointed out that the issues of today’s society could be understood with the help of knowing the truth about history.