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Saturday, January 22, 2022

There’s a battle going on in Texas over what can be taught and what books can be read

On the issue of slavery, for example, Texas law prohibits teachers from portraying slavery and racism as “anything other than deviation from, betrayal or abandonment of the true founding principles of the United States.” This is contrary to the views of many scholars who point out that since the founding of America, slavery has been woven into the structure of the nation and the Constitution.

The law singles out one text as prohibited: The 1619 Project by The New York Times. A special issue of the magazine that became a book attempted to place black Americans and the effects of slavery at the center of the American narrative. The project, for which its creator Nicole Hanna-Jones won the Pulitzer Prize, has sparked heated debate among historians and has become an ideological piñata for conservative critics.

State Representative Steve Toth, who supported the bill against critical race theory, declined to be interviewed. But several critics of the 1619 Project are strongly opposed to its ban.

“It’s very problematic to exclude individual works,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, who has written positively about the battles against critical race theory. “I think 1619 is a crappy job, so what? Let the kids read critical articles and fight it.”

Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy in Washington DC, developed the model that led to Texas law. He declined to be interviewed, but in The National Review he opposed blocking the teaching of the 1619 Project. “We should not prohibit the discussion or understanding of concepts, but only the teaching of them as truths to be accepted,” he wrote.

What should schools and teachers do about these counter currents?

Southlake, an affluent suburb near Dallas, offers a petri dish. Racist incidents have prompted previous trustees to embrace the doctrine of racial diversity. The 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis spawned a more assertive movement of young alumni who demanded that students pay attention to white privilege and vet every teacher and school trustee for hidden bias.

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