Integrity of ‘The 1619 Project,’ America’s education system at risk with election

OPINION: Trump’s latest campaign demonstrates the racial blindness of the administration and serves as a preview of what we can expect from four more years

Here is the truth, African Americans built this country for free. 

Yes, I said it. The horrors of the American slave trade contributed to America’s current economic success, military might, and role in shaping global culture. Sadly, these truths have not been part of the curriculum taught in America’s public schools. What students got instead was a whitewashed “history” that downplayed the enslavement and commoditization of Black bodies. 

Read More: Trump attacks ‘1619 Project,’ will sign executive order for ‘1776 Commission’

For the nation’s students, this culturally watered-down history of enslavement has actually done more harm than good. Instead of telling historical truth, our students were subjected to storylines about enslaved people being treated well, and the connection between America’s greatness and Western European enlightenment. 

Well, that was until parents, students, community members and educators raised their voices and forced school districts to teach our young people the truth. 

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One on the south lawn of the White House Thursday en route to Bedminster, New Jersey for a roundtable event with supporters and a fundraiser. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Truth-telling has drastically changed how our students learn American history. After years of campaigning, students are receiving the fullness of the American story! One of the most recent contributions to this education agenda was The 1619 Project — an ongoing initiative of The New York Times Magazine that started in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of American slavery’s beginning. The 1619 Project bursted onto the scene with an invite to serious dialogue about slavery, race and racism.

Once President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos caught wind of the seeds of change, they made it their mission to take us two steps backward. Their latest move would fund efforts to make the public school curriculum more “patriotic.” As Trump and DeVos see it, there’s too much emphasis on what they  call “negative” aspects of American history — what most understand as the realities of America’s dismal past. 

These attempts to rewrite history should not be taken lightly. They should also not be dismissed as too outlandish to be real. Ignoring race and paying little to no attention to racial injustice, as it shows up in public education and other parts of American life, has been a key aspect of the Trump administration.  

Whether it was in Charlottesville, where Trump affirmed the goodness of Neo-Nazis, or during DeVos’ attempt to describe HBCUs as the first chapter in “school choice,” we know where the Trump administration stands on racial equity. While parents, students, educators and the community-at-large seek to advance the cause of equity, truth and racial justice in our nation’s classrooms, Trump and DeVos are doing what they do best—taking us back to the time where racial justice was not part of the national conversation. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the U.S. Department of Education July 8, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By attempting to whitewash American history and exclude centuries of racial injustice visited upon the bodies of Black and brown people, Trump is making it clear that Black lives don’t matter in history, currently or in the future. 

Instead of accepting revisionist and whitewashed history, we must lift up public schools and educators committed to a curriculum that teaches history and challenges students to make meaningful contributions to ending racial injustice. We must also be engaged in the fight to equip school buildings with well-trained educators and enough resources to identify and meaningfully address biases. 

Read More: Trump wants to pull funding from schools that use 1619 Project curriculum

With the election nearly 30 days away, we as people of color have to think about which candidate will take our contributions seriously and make sure that our history is part of the story taught in schools. Now is the time for students to learn the truth about America’s blood-soaked history. That starts with a history curriculum geared toward racial justice and equity instead of an untruthful and less “negative” approach.  

We want schools where history is taught truthfully, resources flow freely, discipline practices are fair, just and equitable, and students achieve their full potential. Trump and Devos have been wrong on most things related to schools and public education. Their latest campaign demonstrates the racial blindness of the administration and serves as a preview of what we can expect with four more years of Trump and DeVos.

Keron Blair is the Executive Director for the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools,  an unprecedented alliance of parent, youth, community and labor organizations that together represent over 7 million people nationwide. Follow him on Twitter, @Keronblair

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