Opinion: Truth begins in the classroom

A portrait of celebration of abolition in Washington D.C.

By Sam Barnes

Earlier this year Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, put forward a bill in the state house that would reduce funding for schools for each day they used the 1619 Project or, “something similar,’’ which he condemned as "political propaganda masquerading as history."

The 1619 Project, largely composed by Iowa native Nikole Hannah-Jones, places the very beginning of American history in 1619, the first year enslaved Africans set foot in colonial Virginia. It points to the foundational role slavery played in the American economy, the formation of our government, and the effects that still resonate today.

It would be difficult to argue that those effects have not left a lasting mark on the country. The events that transpired over this summer tragically shined a light on the underlying issues our country has yet to face, and the siege of the capitol by extremist groups on January 6 emphasized the necessity for change this country needs. Yet, rather than address this in his final days in office, former president Donald Trump released the 1776 Commission on January 18, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Wheeler praised the commission, presenting it as a proper alternative to the 1619 Project. In doing this he ignores the commission’s complete lack of citations, the disregard for basic historical accuracy, and the fact that not a single accredited historian was consulted for the commission. In fact, the project claims that colleges and universities are hotbeds of anti-American sentiment and propaganda. In teaching the commission, one is actively discouraging education in pursuit of what they believe to be the truth.

Additionally, the purpose of this legislation is hypocritical. By barring funding from schools that teach the 1619 Project, Wheeler is actively stifling free speech, a pillar of the American democratic system and a liberty that his party overwhelmingly values. While touting the 1619 Project as political propaganda, he overlooks the fact that the 1776 Commission cites “progressivism” alongside “slavery” as a pressing challenge to American values.

This isn’t to say that the 1619 Project is without flaws. It has faced criticism from noteworthy historians and civil rights activists alike, including Robert L. Woodson, a former national organizer for the NAACP. They cite the project’s perspective on history, with many accusing it of distorting facts to better fit with the project’s worldview. Others believe that the project is anti-American and fosters greater divisiveness. Even if this is the case, Wheeler’s legislation will bar funding from schools that teach anything similar.

The first step towards change should begin in the classroom, and Wheeler’s agenda wishes to derail that. Within a state whose classrooms are by a large majority white, exposure to curriculum similar to or with components of the 1619 Project is especially essential. Yet Wheeler wants to prevent any and all aspects of that education, leaving America divided and hundreds of thousands of students' eyes closed to the lasting effects slavery has had on our nation.

Sam Barnes is a sophomore.

This is his first year as a staff writer for The Growl.



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