Letters From an American, May 2, 2021Roundup
tags: history education, curriculum, teaching history, Mitch McConnell, 1619 Project
Heather Cox Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College and author most recently of How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America.
On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 36 Republicans sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona accusing him of trying to advance a “politicized and divisive agenda” in the teaching of American history. This is a full embrace of the latest Republican attempt to turn teaching history into a culture war.
On April 19, the Department of Education called for public comments on two priorities for the American History and Civics Education programs. Those programs work to improve the “quality of American history, civics, and government education by educating students about the history and principles of the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights; and… the quality of the teaching of American history, civics, and government in elementary schools and secondary schools, including the teaching of traditional American history.”
The department is proposing two priorities to reach low-income students and underserved populations. The Republicans object to the one that encourages “projects that incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives into teaching and learning.”
History teaching that reflects our diverse history and the way our diversity supports democracy can help to improve racial equality in society, the document states. It calls out the 1619 Project of the New York Times, as well as the resources of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History, to note how our understanding of diversity is changing. It notes that schools across the country are teaching “anti-racist practices,” which it follows scholar Ibram X. Kendi by identifying as “any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences—that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group.”
The Education Department invited comments on these priorities. The department does not have much at all to do with local school curricula.
McConnell’s letter in response to this call for comments is disingenuous, implying connections between the teaching of a diverse past, the sorry state of history education, and the fact that “American pride has plummeted to its lowest level in 20 years.” There is, of course, no apparent connection between them.