Feb 12, 2020, 5:25:33 AM2/12/20
Although criticism of The New York Times’ 1619 Project has not yet
the project’s success, giants in the conservative world are beginning to
forge a tactical and strategic response that will outflank the project’s
stated purpose of reframing the country’s history.
The 1619 Project is a series of essays about slavery and racial issues.
Its primary claim is that racism has tainted every aspect of America’s
founding and development. The project contains 18 essays, a collection of
original stories and poems, a photo essay, a five-episode podcast, as
as other elements. The Pulitzer Center has also provided free reading
guides, copies of the magazine, and lesson plans to educators.
In conjunction with the Pulitzer Center, The New York Times has already
written and disseminated curriculum to public schools with the intention
of reframing the country’s history by demonstrating that 1619, the year a
slave not owned by Native Americans set foot on U.S. soil, is our true
founding. Despite criticism from renowned historians, academics, and
conservatives, the project continues to gain momentum.
The project was the dream child of Nikole Hannah-Jones, who is also the
author of the project’s flagship essay, which argues, “Our democracy’s
founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have
fought to make them true.” Hannah-Jones has shared that a fundamental
restructuring of society must include financial reparations because “It’s
not enough to simply have political power if you don’t have economic
Rapidly Spreading False Ideas
In only seven months the project has made great headway. Demand for the
1619 Project print edition of The New York Times Magazine was higher than
all others since President Obama’s 2008 victory edition, reports NPR.
According to the Pulitzer’s Annual Report, they have successfully brought
the 1619 curriculum to 3,500 classrooms around the nation.
The Pulitzer Center reports, “Educators from hundreds of schools and
administrators from six school districts have also reached out to the
Center for class sets of the magazine.” The project does not just aim to
infiltrate history classes, but seeks to reframe the way students see a
vast array of topics from economics to health care, traffic, and music.
The Pulitzer Center states:
The 1619 Project tackles the subject of enslavement in a way
that will be new to many American students. Scholars, reporters,
and poets examine the legacy of slavery as it manifests in our
present day, from the brutality of U.S. capitalism to the spread
of sugar in diets around the world.
According to John Murawski of Real Clear Investigations, five public
school systems, including Chicago and Washington, D.C., have adopted the
1619 Project’s companion curriculum district-wide. In most cases the
curriculum has not been vetted through a normal textbook review process,
but is being implemented by what Murawski calls “administrative fiat.” In
most of the school districts the 1619 curriculum is meant to be
supplemental, but in January the school district of Buffalo, New York
adopted it as mandatory for seventh through 12th graders, reports NPR.
What’s Wrong With the 1619 Project
Many major publications have pointed out the project’s historical,
factual, and logical inconsistencies. Some of the best have been Joshua
Lawson’s article in The Federalist, which pointed out that slavery was
unique to the United States and worldwide abolition lagged behind that of
the northern states, and Lucas Morel’s work in the American Mind that
argued American history should not be interpreted as a zero-sum narrative
where the accomplishments of African Americans must displace the
achievements of the Founders.
Twelve Civil War historians responded to the project with a letter to New
York Times Magazine. The letter states: “As historians and students of
Founding and the Civil War era, our concern is that The 1619 Project
offers a historically-limited view of slavery, especially since slavery
was not just (or even exclusively) an American malady, and grew up in a
larger context of forced labor and race.”
The historians go on to point out numerous historical discrepancies as
well as instances where authors blatantly misinterpreted events to fit
their narrative. Although the editor of the New York Times did respond to
the letter, he neglected to publish it or to make any recommended
In a separate letter, five historians, one of them Gordon Wood, also
a letter to the New York Times in response to the 1619 Project. It states
the group has strong reservations about important aspects of the 1619
Project. While the professors praise the project’s aim of addressing the
central role slavery played in American historical development, they
criticize the gross factual errors that the project’s essays rely on to
make their points. They write,
These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as
interpretation or ‘framing.’ 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.
Counteract Falsehood with Truth
Although these efforts have been noble, they have had little impact on
1619 Project’s advance. So others are rising to respond. One such
is a new free online course being offered by Hillsdale College
(Disclosure: I am employed by Hillsdale College, but have not had a hand
in the development of this course).
The class’ title is “The Great American Story: A Land of Hope” and will
taught by Hillsdale President Larry P. Arnn and Wilfred M. McClay. The
course is based on McClay’s book, “Land of Hope: Invitation to the Great
American Story,” winner of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s book
the year for 2019.
“The last thing we need, I think we all agree, is another history book.
What we do need, what we’ve long needed is a clear and compelling
narrative of the American story. An honest account that is also
and inspiring for students… And I think we have one,” said constitutional
scholar Dr. Matthew Spalding of McClay’s book.
The purpose of the course is to counter narratives like the 1619 Project
and to restore civic knowledge that leads to informed patriotism.
According to Arnn, The 1619 Project is “an ideological campaign to
undermine Americans’ attachment to our founding principles and to the
Constitution by making slavery – rather than the principles of liberty
that ended slavery and preserved our liberties for nearly 250 years – the
principal focus of American history,” reports KPVI. The course is set to
launch on February 12 and will encompass 25 lectures.
Truth Includes Both Good and Bad
According to Hillsdale College’s website, the course will explore the
history of America as a land of hope founded on high principles. It
that the course will present the nation’s great triumphs, achievements,
shortcomings, and failures.
Hillsdale’s strategy for combating the 1619 Project’s narrative is by far
the most strategic. Although fact-checking Hannah-Jones and offering
intellectual criticism is important, it is not the most effective
for winning the hearts and minds of America’s educators and students.
Hillsdale’s online class is a true threat to the 1619 narrative because
will also offer a narrative. It is part of human nature to love and learn
from stories. In the introduction to his book, McClay writes,
We need stories to speak to the fullness of our humanity and help
us orient ourselves in the world. The impulse to write history
and organize our world around stories is intrinsic to us as human
beings. We are at our core, remembering and story-making
creatures, and stories are one of the chief ways we find meaning
in the flow of events.
McClay’s book and thus his class will be about the American story, a
with instances of both good and bad, beautiful and ugly, tragic and
joyful. The 1619 Project paints in one color, while the true American
story is a coat of many colors. It is nuanced and complicated.
Hillsdale, a college that opened its doors to women and African Americans
long before doing so was fashionable, is the perfect institution to make
this stand against the revisionist history of the 1619 Project.
:Krystina Skurk is a research assistant at Hillsdale College in D.C. She
:received a Master's degree in politics from the Van Andel School of
:Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. She is a former fellow of the John
:Jay Institute, a graduate of Regent University, and a former teacher at
:Archway Cicero, a Great Hearts charter school.
Watching Democrats come up with schemes to "catch Trump" is like
watching Wile E. Coyote trying to catch Road Runner.