Reimagining or reframing American history is nothing new. Scholars and educators do it all the time. After all, revisionist history is the process of looking back and gleaming something new. But what about the 1619 Project and should parents be concerned that this project is in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County schools? 1619 is the year cited for African slaves were introduced to the colonies.
A recent email from the the Pulitzer Center education arm reads:
Five school districts so far have adopted the project at scale: Buffalo, New York; Chicago; Washington; Wilmington, Delaware; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. These districts, comprising hundreds of schools, are at the vanguard of a national movement to change the way slavery is taught in the U.S. Teachers from all 50 states have downloaded our free resources and asked for more.
A definition of the project notes:
It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.
Byron York penned a piece in August noting that one of the goals of the 1619 Project is to introduce it into the schools. He also describes the effort to link slavery and capitalism. His title: “New goal for New York Times: ‘Reframe’ American history, and target Trump, too.”
Slavery is a tremendous sin and stain on American history, just as it is throughout so much of world history and up to today. But is 1619 our true founding or is it 1776? Arthur Milikh brilliantly answers that question in a recent piece for City Journal. Along with York’s piece, it’s a must read.
There are a lot of layers to this project and it may not be deserving of outright flame-throwing or bombastic opposition. Learning about the black experience, particularly the American Civil Rights Movement played a prominent role in my own education and calling to seminary. Learning more about slavery and the American experience to abolish it are good things. It should never be ignored. Particularly when it brings to light truth about human dignity and the struggle for liberty.
In college, reading figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy offered me a deeper understanding of the Declaration of Independence and natural law. In fact, most of the American Civil Rights leaders borrowed heavily from America’s founding documents to extend freedoms to our fellow Americans suffering under racism and segregation.
However, linking slavery to modern free markets is clearly problematic. Particularly given slavery in America and elsewhere reflects more of a mercantilist and agrarian system in opposition to market forces, as well as being in opposition to moral and technological innovation in a free economy. Markets, rightly oriented, meaning filled with moral actors and agents, elevate the human person and freedoms everywhere.
As for the project, while it may be wishful thinking given our current culture in education, hopefully the project, curriculum, and most importantly the schools all across North Carolina continually champion our founding documents and the spirit of 1776. We should push back against efforts to downplay or attack those ideals. While our nation and even the founding period is not perfect, it remains the best blueprint for not only resisting rising tyranny, but offering Americans a kind of system where they remain masters and not servants of the government.
Parents with kids exposed to the 1619 Project should delve into the curriculum and discuss not only the stains from America’s past, but the great promises our founding offered for human freedom, and not just here, but around the world. Our founding documents and those principles remain the best truths not only of our past, but our ability to move North Carolina and our nation forward.