Senate Republicans wrote Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Friday expressing “grave concern” about the Biden administration’s plans to push the controversial ideas of the “1619 Project” in the nation’s classrooms.
The project, a New York Times series, expresses widely disputed views and includes historical inaccuracies, including that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery.
In his letter to Mr. Cardona, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, wrote that emphasizing the project’s ideas would further divide the country and give a distorted view that ignores the gains the nation has made.
“This is a time to strengthen the teaching of civics and American history in our schools. Instead, your Proposed Priorities double down on divisive, radical and historically dubious buzzwords and propaganda,” Mr. McConnell wrote Mr. Cardona, in a letter signed by 38 other Senate Republicans.
“Families did not ask for this divisive nonsense. Voters did not vote for it. Americans never decided our children should be taught that our country is inherently evil,” the senators wrote.
The Education Department last week said it plans to offer grants to K-12 history classes that incorporate the Pulitzer Prize-winning project in their teaching.
An Education Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the Department of Education saidin proposing the grants that the project’s viewpoint is important because COVID-19 has had a “disproportionate impact on people of color.” The department also said the U.S. is undergoing a “national reckoning with systemic racism [that] highlighted the urgency of improving racial equity throughout our society, including in our education system.”
The grant program was listed in the Federal Register last week as a proposed rule, which is open to comment until May 19. The rule touts the teachings of Ibram X. Kendi, a Black professor and pioneer in critical race theory. The crux of the theory is that White people are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism, regardless of their thoughts or actions. Part of the remedy, according to some proponents of the theory, is an unspecified period of reverse discrimination to smash entrenched White supremacist institutions.
The 1619 Project, which received a Pulitzer Prize, has been criticized by Ivy League professors and Pulitzer Prize-winning historians as bogus history because it makes slavery the defining characteristic of the American experience.
The senators’ letter comes after remarks by Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, on Wednesday flared the ongoing debate over whether or not the remnants of racism in the nation’s past continue to make the nation racist.
Mr. Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican, insisted in the Republican response to President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress that “America is not a racist country.”
He said that “it’s backward to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”
On Thursday, Mr. Biden responded that he does not think the American people are racist, but that the United States’ history of racial oppression should not be swept under the rug.
“No, I don’t think the American people are racist,” Mr. Biden toldNBC News. “But I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they are so far behind the eight ball in terms of education [and] health, in terms of opportunity.”
In their letter to Mr. Cardona, the senators said that teaching the 1619 Project would not acknowledge the strides the nation has made on race.
“Young Americans deserve a rigorous understanding of civics and American history. They need to understand both our successes and our failures,” the senators wrote.
“But acknowledging that America’s journey has been a work in progress throughout our history cannot mean ignoring the tremendous strides we have made together. Our nation’s youth do not need activist indoctrination that fixates solely on past flaws and splits our nation into divided camps.”
• James Varney contributed to this story.
• Kery Murakami can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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