Education is a vital aspect in ensuring a progressive and adaptable society. In the United States, education about the country’s past has been an uncomfortable topic, especially because of the racial conversations that are necessary to encourage a comprehensive understanding of historical events. Unfortunately, because of this division, American history education has become highly politicized. American history is full of painful topics, but avoiding education about those topics perpetuates the racist ideology that restricts more inclusive education in American society. Furthermore, this ideology contributes extensively to social unrest that can lead to hate and violence.
The 1619 Project is an initiative of the New York Times that strives to frame education around the difficult aspects of American history and encourages concepts like Critical Race Theory to combat racism. The 1619 Project has been called “propaganda” and is seen as controversial because it suggests that one of the main reasons for the American Revolutionary War was to preserve slavery in the American colonies. Of course, historians acknowledge that other factors contributed to the war, but the 1619 Project suggests that America has more to atone for in terms of its racist past, and that students should be exposed to this difficult history. Proper education about America’s racist past benefits students of all races, but this revisionist account is especially vital for white students to understand. The 1619 Project provides a space for educators to break down inaccurate interpretations of historical figures, teaching students that American “heroes” might not be the heroes we should look up to.
Many American politicians criticize the project and claim it is an erasure of American history. Senator Cotton of Arkansas proposed a bill to prohibit education like that of the 1619 Project. Cotton’s bill inspired others, most notably former President Trump, on a crusade to “protect” American history. Trump’s 1776 Campaign was thoroughly against the ideas of the 1619 Project, unwilling to advance the teaching and understanding of American history to incorporate all aspects of the country’s past. But does American history need protecting, or is our society ready to embark on an educational journey that would encourage inclusivity and end the cycle of racist ideology?
Currently, American lawmakers are trying to pass bills that would restrict the incorporation of ideas like the 1619 Project into the education system. Not only do these efforts keep educators and students from learning and teaching an accurate account of American history, but they also allow systemic racism to continue. Education contributes significantly to social attitudes, and when students are not aware of racism in their country’s past, they are less willing to acknowledge the racist institutions that exist in their lives in the present, which contributes to violent actions motivated by underlying racism. Furthermore, these attempts to constrict American education also undermine historical accuracy, a value that should be a priority for policymakers because it affects the way they interpret history in their own professions.
The ability of American lawmakers to restrict access to proper, accurate, and progressive education is extremely telling of the state of the country right now. Lack of education about America’s racist past directly correlates to the continued systemic racism that allows lawmakers to block reform like the 1619 Project. This seemingly never-ending cycle perpetuates racist ideology throughout America. And, the cycle plays right into the hands of policymakers who are reluctant to adapt American curriculum because they fear they might lose power if new, “idealist,” versions of American history are taught.
Education is the basis for progress, not just in America but in any society. However, for Americans specifically, proper education could make a significant difference in ending the cycle of systemic racism. In the past year, racially motivated violence has had a terrifying presence in the United States, and many attempts to advocate for racial justice have fallen on deaf ears because the root of a majority of racist ideology lies in a lack of understanding and acceptance. Education has far-reaching abilities, and it is essential that America allows history teachers to present students with accurate historical accounts. Not only would a proper understanding of history improve students’ abilities to contribute to society positively when they graduate from the school system, but it would also increase students’ enjoyment of history class by advocating for inclusivity. History is not the rigid discipline that some curricula depict it as, and it is important for students to learn how to interpret historical events and view historical figures from different perspectives. When these changes happen in the classroom, it is more likely that students will be able to break the cycle of systemic oppression and racism, contributing to a more peaceful American society that respects others.
In order to contribute to ending the racist cycle that is allowed to continue because of improper education, teachers should be given the resources to teach concepts like the 1619 Project. Because the 1619 Project receives continued criticism, not just from unhappy parents who claim it is “unpatriotic” but also from policymakers in the United States, it is essential that teachers are provided with the proper support to make those changes in the curriculum. This support could come from school districts and school leaders who recognize the importance of teaching about difficult history. Teachers have the important role of breaking down the racist concepts that currently plague our education system, and it seems like they will need to receive support from those in positions of authority within the school rather than from the government.
When education is threatened, it is because governments see educational change as a threat to the “stability” of the country. Threatening the accuracy of education and removing the ability of students to form their own interpretations about historical events is a power held by governments that can lead to social unrest and violence. When education is free, students have a more well-rounded understanding of history and have the ability to articulate peaceful solutions to social issues based on their newfound understanding of events. It can be viewed as a positive that the 1619 Project has received so much criticism, because that suggests that the initiative has the power to create real change in the way students view their country and the way students act as they become contributing members of society. Understanding America’s racist past is the first step to healing and stopping racist ideology in the present, and education is our main tool against that systemic racism.
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