Public schools can represent the most socialist aspect of American life. The New York Times is trying to make sure that your child becomes a committed leftist.
Recently, The Times released its “1619 Project.” The web page that the Times produced to support it shows a seascape and begins, “In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Port Comfort, a coastal port in the English Colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.”
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Our True Founding?
Their clear intent is to tell readers that everything that they know about the history of the United States is wrong. Slavery is the real basis of everything; 1619 is “our true founding.” Christopher Columbus in 1492, Jamestown in 1607, or the Mayflower in 1620 – all pale in importance next to the importation of twenty enslaved Africans.
The site points readers to a series of essays, podcasts, and “original literary works.” Together, they present their jaundiced view of the American experience. Slavery is the root of all of modern America’s social ills, as defined by the contemporary left.
The first three titles in this series will suffice to illustrate:
- “Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals Were False When They Were Written. Black Americans Have Fought to Make Them True.”
- “If You Want to Understand the Brutality of American Capitalism, You Have to Start on the Plantation.”
- “They Had Been Forged in Trauma. They Had Been Made Black by Those Who Believed Themselves to be White.”
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Few readers of The New York Times Magazine for August 14, 2019, read all of the essays. The primary audience was far more critical – the teachers of American history, especially those new to the profession.
A Vulnerable Audience
As a retired history teacher who has watched the decay of teaching, I can attest to how projects like 1619 impact the classroom. Neophyte history teachers must teach subjects about which they know little.
Many of their college courses focus on “educational pedagogy” according to the prevailing (and failed) ideology of John Dewey. Buffalo State University in New York is typical. Budding Social Studies teachers are required to take thirteen courses in “Social Sciences,” spread out among U.S. History (2 courses), N.Y. State History (1), World Civilizations (3), Geography (2), Political Science (1), Economics (1), and three electives from any of these fields.
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A new American History teacher may well have only taken two university-level courses in the subject.
Those teachers’ educations are – to use a common expression – “A mile wide and an inch deep.” From that inch, they need to fashion a course. It is a herculean task. New teachers often need to learn the material before they can mold it into lessons. It is common for them to work five to six hours every day to stay a day or two ahead of the students.
This necessity makes them vulnerable to any source of lessons that can give them a “leg up.” Since they know so little about their topics, they are ill-equipped to evaluate these sources. When the purveyor of “all the news that’s fit to print” throws a figurative lifesaver to foundering teachers, they are quick to seize it.
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The Fallacy and the Danger
The project’s version of history came as a shock to some of America’s foremost historians. Pulitzer Prize winner Gordon Wood of Brown University, the author of the highly reputed The Radicalism of the American Revolution, recorded his dismay in a recent interview.
“I was surprised when I opened my Sunday New York Times in August and found the magazine containing the project. I had no warning about this. I read the first essay…, which alleges that the Revolution occurred primarily because of the Americans’ desire to save their slaves…. I just couldn’t believe this.
“At the time of the Revolution, the Virginians had more slaves than they knew what to do with, so they were eager to end the international slave trade.”
James McPherson of Princeton is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom – often regarded as the best single-volume account of the Civil War. He registered a similar surprise.
“I was disturbed by what seemed like a very unbalanced, one-sided account, which lacked context and perspective on the complexity of slavery, which was clearly, obviously, not an exclusively American institution, but existed throughout history.… And in the United States, too, there was not only slavery but also an antislavery movement. So I thought the account… focused so narrowly on that part of the story that it left most of the history out.”
It is foolish to deny that African slavery is one of the great issues of American history. However, the pretense that slavery is the only relevant issue is as dangerous as ignoring it altogether. This emphasis skews the minds of students in the direction of “social justice.” In this scenario, radical leftists become the only principled actors on the political stage.
The Larger Context
The 1619 Project follows in the wake of the trendy A Peoples’ History of the United States by Howard Zinn. This poorly-researched, plagiarized, and slanted account of American history has already done incalculable harm both teachers and students.
Jesse Jackson described the 1619 Project in glowing terms. HIs Chicago Sun-Times editorial says, “Blacks suffered under slavery for 250 years, and brutal racial apartheid for a century more. We have been legally free for just 50. Americans prefer not to face this reality. Our history classes address it gingerly, if at all.”
This affirmation is untrue. In my thirty-four years as an American History teacher, I never treated the subject “gingerly.” Nor did my associates. We did try to provide some balance – to consider those who opposed slavery, and to explain the reasons that finding a solution proved to be so difficult.
The study of history helps students understand the culture in which they live. The 1619 project does not promote that end. It presents a simplistic vision that casts all Americans as either victims or oppressors. Such an analysis may fit the favored narratives of the left, but it does not adequately educate our children.