The Pulse

Sen. Thom Tillis: The 1619 Project and critical race theory have no place in nation’s classrooms

By: - May 21, 2021 5:41 pm


Thom Tillis

The New York Time Magazine’s “1619 Project” and critical race theory have no place in America’s classrooms, says U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.

The Republican senator from North Carolina made his remarks in a May 21 letter to Durham activist Paul Scott. Scott had written him to complain about Tillis’s support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s letter asking U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to abandon curriculum that McConnell believes tells a revisionist history of America’s founding.

Tillis explained that he believes school curricula are “best set with as little input from Washington bureaucrats” as possible.

“This is why I have significant concerns with the Department of Education’s recent effort to reorient the bipartisan American History and Civics Education programs away from their intended purposes toward a politicized and divisive agenda,” Tillis wrote. “These proposed changes include implementing new federal grant priority for projects using The New York Time Magazine’s 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory (CRT).”

The senator added: “Americans do not want their tax dollars diverted from promoting the principles that unite our nation toward promoting radical ideologies meant to divide us.”

Critical Race Theory is an academic discipline that examines how racism has shaped the nation’s legal and social systems.

Paul Scott

Scott expressed anger and disappointment at Tillis for signing McConnell’s letter.

“As a lifelong resident of North Carolina, I am outraged over your signing of the letter penned by Senator Mitch McConnell to Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona, which included an objection to the 1619 Project,” Scott wrote.

Scott shared Tillis’s letter with Policy Watch this week as the leadership at UNC-Chapel Hill sought to untangle itself from the controversy it weaved in pursuit of Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of “The 1619 Project,” for a tenured professorship in the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” recipient, was offered the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, a tenured professorship. But after objections from conservative groups and members of the school’s board of trustees, she was instead offered a fixed five-year appointment.

As Policy Watch reported this week, “The 1619 Project” is a long-form journalism undertaking that, as the Pulitzer Center put it, “challenges us to reframe U.S. history by marking the year when the first enslaved Africans arrived on Virginia soil as our nation’s foundational date.” Hannah-Jones, who is Black, conceived of the project and was among multiple staff writers, photographers and editors who put it together.

The UNC Board of Trustees’ decision to pull back Hannah-Jones’s tenure offer set off a firestorm of controversy. Her supporters vigorously voiced their objection.

Scott said in his letter to Tillis that the senator’s support of McConnell’s position is a “sign of blatant disrespect” for African Americans.

“Regardless of the stated intention, your actions and those of the other signees are reminiscent of the Nazi Berlin book burning of May 1933,” Scott said.

HB 324: Further restricting how racial history is taught in NC

The controversy surrounding Hannah-Jones’s UNC professorship comes as Republican lawmakers across the country push legislation to restrict how America’s racial history is taught and discussed in classrooms.

In North Carolina, the Republican-led state House has approved House Bill 324 that restricts what educators can teach students about race and history. The Senate hasn’t taken up the measure, which Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, would likely veto if approved in that chamber.

HB 324 would prohibit teachers from promoting concepts that suggest America is racist or that people are inherently racist or sexist. It would also prohibit teaching that whites or anyone else is responsible for the sins of their forefathers.

Republican legislatures across the country are pushing bills like HB 324 to keep unflattering parts of America’s history from being taught in public schools.

On Thursday, the Durham Board of Education took up a resolution that urges lawmakers to vote down the controversial state bill. “If necessary, the Board urges Governor [Roy] Cooper to veto HB324,” the resolution states.

The school board posted the resolution on the district’s website to give citizens a chance to review the document before the board approves it next month.

The Durham City Council will also consider adopting a resolution that opposes HB 324.

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.