Mitch McConnell: Don’t Teach Our Kids That America Is Racist

content-header__row content-header__hed” data-testid=”ContentHeaderHed”>Mitch McConnell: Don’t Teach Our Kids That America Is RacistThe Senate Minority Leader continued to deride the New York Times’ 1619 project, while founder Nikole Hannah-Jones called his opposition an effort to give children a “propagandistic, nationalistic understanding of history.”

May 4, 2021

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., conducts a news conference on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is somehow still taking every opportunity to attack the New York Times’ 1619 project, most recently using a visit to the University of Louisville’s Regional Biocontainment Lab to dismiss not only the importance of addressing systemic racism in school, but the entire historical moment after which the project—a Pulitzer-winning initiative that re-examines the nation’s founding through the lens of slavery—is named. In his remarks, McConnell said he “simply disagree[s]” that 1619, i.e. the first time African slaves were brought to the United States, is a pivotal year in American history. He added that racial discrimination is an issue the country has “been working for 200-and-some-odd years” and is “still working on,” but is somehow not “part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about.” 

McConnell’s argument was an extension of a letter sent last week to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, in which he and 38 other Republicans opposed the Department of Education’s new proposed priorities for racial education programs. The letter took specific aim at the Times’ initiative—cited in the Biden administration’s proposal as a positive example—blasting it as “debunked advocacy” focused “on spoon-feeding students a slanted story.” Taxpayer-supported education programs addressing systemic racism would “double down on divisive, radical, and historically-dubious buzzwords and propaganda,” McConnell said, adding: “Americans never decided our children should be taught that our country is inherently evil.”

Debate over the 1619 project has been ongoing essentially since it was published, but McConnell and Co. kicked things into high gear now that the program may become eligible for federal grant programs. Not that the federal government is involved in curriculum planning—according to CNN, much of that work takes place at the state level, as Cardona also noted in his response to McConnell’s letter this week. “I’m not overly concerned because the Education Department doesn’t dictate curriculum,” Cardona said during an interview with Fox 5 Atlanta on Monday. “I’m signaling that we need a curriculum, or that we need to allow educators to develop curriculum, where students see themselves in it and where diverse perspectives are shared.” 

The attacks are part of a larger conservative backlash against racial equity work in U.S. school systems—efforts prompted in part by the national reckoning over race. They include fostering more inclusive classrooms and taking marginalized students’ perspectives into account in history lessons, the Washington Post reports. Conservative critics have claimed such curriculums are an application of critical race theory, the academic movement that positions race and racism as embedded in American institutions. “The moment you make racism more than an isolated incident, when you begin to talk about it as systemic, as baked into the way we live our lives … people don’t like that,” National Academy of Education President Gloria Ladson-Billings told the Post. “It runs counter to a narrative that we want to tell ourselves about who we are.” Former President Donald Trump suggested as much in his attempt to create a now-disbanded commission pushing a more “patriotic” view of national history.

The creator of the project, New York Times Magazine staffer Nikole Hannah-Jones, has been outspoken about its merits from the start. She responded to McConnell via CNN on Monday, telling the network, “What Mitch McConnell and others like him want is for our children to get a propagandistic, nationalistic understanding of history that is not about facts, but is about how they would want to pretend that our country is.” She added, “There’s no single line or argument in the 1619 project that claims that this country is an evil country. It’s frankly a ridiculous assertion,” and noted that her opening essay actually makes the opposite case—“that despite everything that this country has done to Black Americans, that Black Americans have seen the worst of America, and yet still believe in its best.” In fact, Hannah-Jones argued that the rhetoric of McConnell and others attempting to pass legislation that would prohibit the teaching of the 1619 project reveals “this is fundamentally a free speech issue.”

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