American Education and the 1619 Project
This is an extremely difficult topic to wrap myself around. There is a lot of anger and fear associated with this topic, as well as misinformation. I agree with many of the points made in the 1619 Project, but I also disagree with some of the most controversial points. I understand the reasoning behind the project and support the effort to teach the negative parts of American history, as well as the positive.
I would encourage you to read the 1619 Project so that you know what you are actually discussing. Don’t be afraid. Understanding what is in the 1619 Project makes for a better discussion. I am not going to get into the details of 1619, I will let you do that, but instead, I want to address some of the issues that have swirled around teaching 1619 and concerns raised about what is happening in American education.
Let’s look at the criticism leveled by many on the right that 1619 is indoctrination, teaching a false narrative of America that will make children hate the US, and I am sure, lead to socialism. I tend to blow off the indoctrination attack because all education is indoctrination. We already indoctrinate our children with a less than honest view of America. Most of the textbooks children use in school, especially in the south, barely touch upon slavery and support the idea of a Civil War fought for state’s rights, which is total bullshit. Read the Ordinance of Secession put out by the Confederate States. Read the writings of Confederate Vice President Stephens. Slavery stands paramount. All the Confederate states issued their own articles of secession and while they included a variety of issues, such as state’s rights, taxation, etc. All states also cited the preservation of slavery as the reason to secede from the United States.
It is through indoctrination and a false narrative that half of the country believes states’ rights were the principal reason for the Civil War. The same with the near extermination of Native Americans. We whitewash the terrible things we have done in favor of justifying the bad for the greater good. To be even-handed, all nations do this, we are not unique. But arguing that 1619 is indoctrination is just wrong. The project is an attempt to have Americans understand the impact of slavery on the nation and on the African American community.
I don’t agree with all the points 1619 makes, such as the American War of Independence was fought to preserve slavery. There was no threat to slavery in 1775-1776. However, many political compromises made during this period and beyond were designed to let the South keep slavery in order to achieve short-term gains for the nation as a whole.
Now let us look at an example of how we promulgate a false narrative of America, llet’s take a look at the Puritans (since Rick Santorum - the paragon of mediocrity and stupidity - raised the issue. We have all been taught that the Puritans came to America to avoid religious persecution and to install some sort of religious freedom colony. Once again that is utter bullshit. The Puritans were doing just fine in England. During certain periods of English history, they wielded considerable influence and power within the religious establishment. The problems arose because the Puritans were unhappy with the direction the Church of England was going. Remember, at that time Puritans were not viewed as a separate sect within Protestantism. They were part of the establishment but had stricter, for want of a better word, interpretation of religion. They attempted to enforce this vision on the rest of England but were unsuccessful.
They left England for the new world in order to practice their religious views and oppress other religions. The Puritans who remained in England were somewhat accepting of other religious views within the Protestant mainstream but those in the new world less so. They started out by imposing their religious views on others, limiting the rights of other religions to practice or hold office, the usual. Catholics were particularly despised and discriminated against to the point that they left to found other colonies where they could practice actual religious freedom. There you go, uber Catholic Santorum.
I point this out to show that we already have false narratives of American history. I would argue that the American educational system below college is a disaster when it comes to teaching history, both the history of America and the history of the rest of the world. We do need to fix this problem, part of which is including a more robust curriculum that features slavery, and the experience of other marginalized groups. We need to teach American history in all its glory and ugliness. We need to teach accurate history, not propaganda.
I was watching a show the other night and they were dealing with this very same issue. They pointed out how the German Chancellor once again exclaimed that Germany will bear the responsibility of the Nazis and the Holocaust for all times, unlike Poland that teaches Holocaust denial. Germany teaches this historical period in detail and does not shy from detailing the atrocities that Germany committed. Despite this, Germans do not hate their country, they are proud to be German. They understand the bad things that happened and they are being taught these things so they don’t happen again. German school children, and their parents, are able to process all this with little difficulty. Why can’t we? Are we less mature, less intellectually capable? Are we so fragile that the slightest hint that the U.S. has done something wrong will bring the entire house of cards tumbling down?
I think it can be done and I think we can do it. We have to take ownership of the issue and teach it in a way that shows the wrong that was done, and is being done, and how we can correct it. We can, and should, also teach the good that the nation has done. There is a balance and one does not negate the other. There is no nation that has not done wrong at some point in its history. This is not limited to nations in the west, but all nations. I have lived in and been to innumerable nations and let me tell you, the evil the U.S. has done is not exclusive. However, this does not excuse what we did.
The difference is that we are supposed to be better than that. That has been one of the guiding principles of this nation. We can improve, we can always do better. We strive to do better. When we fail to learn about past failings, we fail in this purpose.
I don’t hold to the idea that everything white is racist or part of white supremacy. That view throws out the baby with the bathwater. There is much good that comes from the West, including the importance of the individual over the state, democracy, freedom of speech, the very idea of questioning things rather than taking them for granted. But there is also much to learn from other cultures. There is great merit in having your preconceived notions challenged. If your ideas are right, strong, then challenging them will only lead you back to the same conclusion. But remember, one of the cornerstones of Western thought is to question. For those of you who refuse to look at other possibilities, who want to deny teaching other viewpoints because it will indoctrinate your children into America haters, you are denying that basic Western idea.
I agree that there will be some people who want to trash America and teach hatred for the country but this number is a tiny minority who do not control the movement to expand education. They are not hard to deal with. You, America, need to take ownership of the issue. You need to work with educators to ensure that the curriculum teaches truth without distorting it, that the bad is taught with the good in such a way that our children learn and there is a positive outcome.
Finally, don’t forget that many of the politicians who are attacking the 1619 Project as some sort of attack on the very being of America, are manipulating you. They are waging culture wars and using race to instill fear in you because they have no real policies other than protecting their donors. They need you to fear this, they need you to see this change as a threat to you and the nation so that you vote for them, despite the fact that they will never do anything for you.
Read for yourselves about the issue. Understand what they want to teach and how you should be involved to make sure it makes sense. Acknowledging and understanding the wrong that was done should not take away from the good that was also done. It is not one or the other. It can be both.