Defunding public schools to ‘Save American History?’

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Recently, Angela Burks Hill, a Republican state senator in Mississippi, introduced a bill called, “Saving American History in Mississippi Schools Act.”

The obvious question is —Save American history from what?

At first, I thought neglect. In 2012, “Perspectives On History,” a magazine, published a story stating 88 percent of elementary school teachers considered teaching history a low priority. One teacher explained, in the lower grades, the pressure is on teachers to make sure students pass state exams that primarily focus on English and math. Teachers aren’t going to waste time on a subject the state doesn’t test.

My second thought was elimination. In August 2020, CNN reported, Illinois state Rep. LaShawn K. Ford and community leaders called for the immediate removal of history books and suspension of history lessons in their school districts because the current materials produce “White privilege and a racist society.”

Both my thoughts were wrong.

The Saving American History in Mississippi Schools Act was introduced in order to withhold state funds (a reduction of 25 percent) from any school that teaches from the Pulitzer prize-winning “1619 Project.” The 1619 Project was a collection of essays published by the New York Times Magazine in 2019 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Africans arriving in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. The 1619 Project proclaimed that 1619 was the year America was founded and not 1776. The editor of the 1619 Project justified this claim by explaining that the ideas in the Declaration of Independence were false because slavery still existed after the document was signed. Historians on both sides of the political aisle refuted this claim and pointed out other inaccuracies within the 1619 Project.

The Saving American History in Mississippi Schools Act specified:

1) An activist movement is now gaining momentum to deny American history by claiming that America was not founded on the ideas of the Declaration but rather on slavery and oppression. This distortion of American history is being taught to children in public school classrooms via the New York Times’ 1619 Project.

2) The 1619 Project is a racially divisive and revisionist account of history that threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.

3) The state of Mississippi has a strong interest in promoting an accurate account of the nation’s history through public schools and forming young people into knowledgeable and patriotic citizens.

Points 1 and 2 are the usual political objections to the 1619 Project. The veracity of these objections can be debated. The problem is point 3. It states Mississippi has a strong interest in forming young people into patriotic citizens through the public schools. Most American historians will insist that history should be taught without an emphasis on patriotism. Patriotism becomes an objective when the purpose of history—to understand the origins of the present—is no longer a priority. The state senator’s bill is counter-activism disguised as academic concern.

If point 3 simply stated, “Mississippi has a strong interest in historical accuracy and the state will withhold funds from public schools that use material that promote historical falsehoods,” then the bill would sound like an attempt to “save American history” instead of sounding like a bill that punishes schools for being unpatriotic. However, I would still question the decision to defund the schools. According to a 2019 Insider report called: “Here are the states with the best and worst public education systems,” Mississippi was listed as having the fourth-worst public educational system in the nation.

A state senator that threatens to defund public schools in Mississippi is just as irresponsible as activists advocating to defund the police in the city with the fourth-highest crime rate in America.

 

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