A political science professor at Kentucky State University, Wilfred Reilly has come up with the perfect antidote to the kind of woke, pseudo-history peddled by the New York Times in its 1619 Project: historical literacy.
“Instead of taking the Times’ poison-pill offer to make your kids ‘woke,’ ” Reilly concludes, “I suggest instead working to make them bright.”
Reilly’s initial response to the New York Times attempt to “reframe” American history as viciously and inescapably racist was a mixture of scholarly interest, bemusement, and a desire to critique. Then he noticed something:
But, then, the 1619 Project refused to go away, muscling in on my turf of youth education and higher education. 1619 recently began working with the Pulitzer Center to market an educational curriculum — billed as suitable for “all grades” — to as many schools as possible.
The curriculum includes a U.S. historical timeline that begins with the year 1619, when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the British colonies, and focuses primarily on “facts and dates related to slavery.”
It also features a list of classroom engagement activities such as “mapping your community’s connections to slavery” and an index of important American terms that opens with “affirmative action.” Hannah-Jones’ essay, which led off the original 1619 magazine in August, dominates a whole section of the curriculum called Exploring the Idea of America. This sub-unit includes such questions as, “What is national memory? How can we change it?”
Reilly who is involved with the 1776 Project, a group of black leaders and academics who join academics in refuting the Project. I urge you to read his article because it is interesting. But he has the solution, and that is what we really need to consider: the solution is historical literacy. Reilly writes:
From my perspective, our movement has three core theses. First, intelligent citizens need to recognize that many of the core claims of 1619, and more broadly of negative and revisionist social science of the “Howard Zinn” variety, are empirically untrue. Second, historical slavery, while a great and unforgettable evil, is simply not the main thing that defines America today. Virtually every human society included slaves and slaveholders until the modern West ended the practice of chattel slavery in the mid-19th century, and only one of them became the United States of America. A quick and practical way to compare the impact of slavery on America’s fortunes with that of immigration and technology is to note that the GDP of the U.S. has increased 11,796 percent since the last slave was freed.
Finally, and most importantly, 1776 offers an alternative, inspirational view of the United States: the U.S. is a flawed but very good society, where it is frankly not very hard to succeed, given hard work and personal responsibility. Life in America is not perfect, because human beings are not gods and are incapable of perfection.
But the plain fact is that people regularly emigrate to the U.S. from developing countries such as Ethiopia and Vietnam and outperform many or most of our native-born white and Black citizens. In 2015, according to the Census Bureau, three of the five wealthiest income groups in the U.S. were Americans of Indian, Taiwanese, and Filipino heritage. While we Yanks quarrel about the ugly racial fights of a century ago, these sojourners to our shores are much more likely to be inspired by the country’s historic ideals, which still serve today as a light to the world.
Teaching those same ideals anew to our own citizens seems to be the best way to illuminate a path forward together, for all of us.
Instead of taking the Times’ poison-pill offer to make your kids “woke,” I suggest instead working to make them bright.
I would extrapolate a bit and say that it is historical literacy Reilly proposes. That includes being as factual as possible about American history.
In addition to having an agenda, I would suggest that people who have uncritically embraced the 1619 Project don’t know much about history.
The New York Times, by the way, acknowledged some faults and made “an important clarification.” Pathetic.
Historical literacy is our only weapon against such agenda-driven attempts to rewrite history.