“Congress made clear that the purpose of the programs is to advance a traditional understanding of American history, civics, and government. The proposed priorities would do little to advance that goal and, based on the proposal’s support for the ‘1619 Project,’ would endorse teaching factually deficient history,” the letter reads.
“Moreover, the implementation of these priorities will, in practice, lead to racial and ethnic division and indeed more discrimination.”
The priorities in question are two recent suggestions by the USDE to promote racial awareness and media literacy in certain education programs run by the federal government. These programs mostly apply to teachers more than students.
The department’s introduction to these priorities specifically links their inspiration to The New York Times’ 1619 Project — an attempt to redefine America’s founding, both symbolically and historically, around the first importing of slaves to the colonies — and the work of author Ibram X. Kendi, whose bestselling revision of racism defines it through disparity rather than discrimination.
Under the first proposed priority, participants would “take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history” and “encourage students to critically analyze the diverse perspectives of historical and contemporary media and its impact.”
Under the second, participants would learn how to “support students” in “understanding their own biases when reviewing information” and “evaluating sources and evidence using standards of proof.”
Paxton and the other co-signers of the letter mostly took issue with the first priority, saying it would conflict with the law, misrepresent history, and breed racial strife.
“Issues of race and discrimination are complex, but instead of teaching American history and civics, as plainly spelled out in the statute, the proposed priorities would dilute the quality of American history and civics education in America in favor of a hyper-racialized and ahistorical doctrine,” the letter reads.
“They are not focused on promoting truth or a holistic understanding of American history and the ideals that the Founders used to establish our country as required by statute, but instead are being used to promote revisionist American history and principles that lead to more discrimination, not less.”
Specifically, the law at hand is the Every Student Succeeds Act, which determines school accountability at the federal level but also created programs and grants to help educate students and teachers in “traditional American history.”
USDE’s statement says the racial awareness priority will foster harmony and confidence among students.
“Racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically responsive teaching and learning practices contribute to what has been called an ‘identity-safe’ learning environment,” the statement reads.
“According to the authors Dorothy Steele and Becki Cohn-Vargas, ‘Identity safe classrooms are those in which teachers strive to assure students that their social identities are an asset rather than a barrier to success in the classroom.’”
In the letter, Paxton and the other attorneys general point to the effect of critical race theory on certain Boston private schools, where focused discrimination as a replacement for equal treatment ended up booting Asian students off the school’s admissions list. Recently, the Boston Latin School, the Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science temporarily ditched merit-based admissions for a system based on ZIP codes to give priority to needier applicants, culling a large number of high-scoring Asian applicants from the process.
“Thus, the implementation of Kendi’s teachings in Boston, rather than reduce discrimination, instead increased discrimination, especially against Asian Americans, a group that has been recently targeted with particularly vicious hate crimes,” the letter reads.
Similar practices at Harvard and other top universities have led to lawsuits.
On a societal scale, critical understandings of racism define it by tangible differences in status rather than differences in treatment. Equal treatment — whether it be under a school’s admission system or the law — can, under critical meanings, be deemed racist if the outcomes it produces are unequal.
Lately, the academic-born critical theory has met popular culture and politics in a confluence whence flow tributaries like the 1619 Project and Kendi’s work — readable, applicable, and influential packages of theory.
In at least one executive order, President Joe Biden echoes critical notions that systemic racism is widespread and that impartial standards of treatment are ineffective or even counterproductive in the fight against racism.
“Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. But for too many, the American Dream remains out of reach. Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied that equal opportunity to individuals and communities,” the order reads.
“Consistent with these aims, each agency must assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups.”
If implemented, these USDE priorities would not directly affect the Texas curriculum, which the State Board of Education controls. Their main focus would be to shape teaching.
The “participants” named in the priorities would mostly be teachers undergoing training in the Presidential Academy for American History and Civics, a national program, as well as more local programs funded by National Activities grants. Both are meant to help educators better teach civics, government, and history. The only student “participants” would be the limited pool of needy students accepted to the Congressional Academy for American History and Civics.
One public commenter called the racial priority “flawed” and false.
“The Education Department’s citations of curriculum and scholarship for these grants are flawed at best, and both incorrect at worst. The [New York Times] 1619 Project has been heavily criticized by historians as inaccurate; even the World Socialist website notes that,” the comment reads.
“Despite the pretense of establishing the United States’ true foundation, the 1619 Project is a politically motivated falsification of history. It presents and interprets American history entirely through the prism of race and racial conflict.”
Another commenter praised both priorities as a more expansive view of American civics that better prepares students.
“I support providing students with a comprehensive education that views history through a critical lens and the present through an informed one. I support the proposals!”
A bill traveling through the Texas legislature, if passed, would likely prevent teachers from undergoing training at these federally-funded programs should these priorities be implemented.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.