As a work of journalism, The New York Times’ 1619 Project is highly problematic. Turning it into a school curriculum is major educational malpractice.
Last week, our Twisted History series featured a range of thinkers outlining the grave distortions. Named for the year African slaves were first brought to these shores, the 1619 Project holds that “out of slavery grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system.”
The American Revolution, in this telling, wasn’t meant to enact a grand experiment in liberty; just the opposite: Project lead Nikole Hannah-Jones insists the revolution’s main goal was to ensure the survival of slavery.
That claim is utterly at odds with the facts, as scholars rapidly pointed out. As Berkeley’s Steven Hayward put it, the American Founding had an “indispensable role in making slavery a central political problem for the first time in human history.”
At Politico, black Northwestern University historian Leslie M. Harris reports that she warned Hannah-Jones that she had this utterly wrong;: “Far from being fought to preserve slavery, the Revolutionary War became a primary disrupter of slavery in the North American Colonies.”
Yet Hannah-Jones — a journalist, not a historian — went ahead anyway. And she still won’t back down: Her only concession is that not all the Founders fought to preserve slavery.
Nor do the lies end there. Hannah-Jones claims, for example, that President Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, “opposed black equality” and contends that after the Civil War, African Americans fought for equal rights “alone.” The project barely mentions great black freedom fighters such as Frederick Douglass — and, indeed, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the entire civil-rights movement — because they don’t fit its agenda.
Allen Guelzo proved her wrong in Wednesday’s Post, noting that Lincoln called for black voting rights and was hailed by Douglass as “emphatically the colored man’s president.”
Rather than do journalistic due diligence — seeking out alternative views and incorporating constructive criticism — the Times has enlisted the Pulitzer Center (no relation to the prizes) turn the project into a classroom curriculum.
Hannah-Jones claims the goal is to “get these kids to ask questions.” But as David Bobb argued in Friday’s Post, “all it really does is give students prepackaged, ready-made answers.” Instead of “treating history as inquiry,” this “history in a box” actually “uses history for crude ideological ends.”
If this effort succeeds in shaping the nation’s youth — tomorrow’s leaders — it will be a grievous blow to this country’s noble experiment in liberty, in which Americans have always fought to make the promises of the Declaration of Independence true for all its citizens.
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