Public schools are incorporating ‘1619 Project’ into history curricula

The New York Times’ reframing of American history—launched as “The 1619 Project”—will now be taught in K-12 schools around the country, according to the Reason Foundation.

School districts in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, New York, have decided to update their history curricula to include the material, which posits that the institution of slavery was so embedded in the country’s DNA that the country’s true founding could be said to have occurred in 1619, rather than in 1776.

“One of the things that we are looking at in implementing The 1619 Project is to let everyone know that the issues around the legacy of enslavement that exist today, it’s an American issue, it’s not a Black issue,” Dr. Fatima Morrell, associate superintendent for culturally and linguistically responsive initiatives for Buffalo Public Schools, told Buffalo’s NPR station.

Buffalo teachers and administrators have already begun studying the 1619 material so they can implement it into their curricula.

But many historians have questioned the accuracy of The 1619 Project.

Five of them penned a letter to The New York Times expressing dismay “at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.” These historians said the project’s contention that the American Revolution was launched “in order to ensure slavery would continue” was flat-out wrong.

Another historian, Phil Magness of the American Institute for Economic Research, has criticized Matthew Desmond’s 1619 Project essay, which claimed that modern American capitalism has its roots in plantation slavery. Magness has persuasively argued that this claim lacks verification, and that Desmond relied on bad data about cotton-picking rates in the pre-Civil War south.

Paired with the project’s inaccuracies is an ideological slant, representing the “American left’s ongoing campaign to rewrite history” and approach history “not as a search for truth but as a vehicle for advancing a political agenda,” according to a top-notch Sunday cover op-ed in the Star Tribune by the Center’s Katherine Kersten.

The 1619 Project aims to recast Americans’ concept of their nation as one founded on freedom, equality and opportunity into one irremediably corrupted by slavery, inequality and racism. Using distortions, half-truths and outright falsehoods, the Times promotes a narrative that our founding ideals, allegedly false from the beginning, remain so, by extension, today.

Incorporating The 1619 Project into K-12 curricula is another example of the politicization going on inside public school classrooms. Ideological claims should not replace historical analysis.