1776 Unites, a group that says it wants to “shape the American future by drawing on the best of its past,” released its first curriculum program this week in part to counter the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
The curriculum, developed by civil rights leader Bob Woodson and American Enterprise Institute scholar Ian Rowe, offers lesson plans, activities, reading guides and other resources to illustrate what 1776 Unites calls a “more complete and inspiring story of the history of African-Americans in the United States.”
“1776 Unites maintains a special focus on stories that celebrate black excellence, reject victimhood culture, and showcase African-Americans who have prospered by embracing America’s founding ideals,” the group writes of the new curriculum.
The New York Times Magazine launched the 1619 Project last year on the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in America. It aims to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
The Times’ project has since expanded into a full-fledged curriculum, with tens of thousands of students in all 50 states using the materials.
The 1619 Project received substantial praise. The director of the project, Nikole Hanna-Jones, won the Pulitzer Prize for her introductory essay.
“Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all,” Hanna-Jones wrote.
But it also has received criticism. A group of historians led by Princeton professor Sean Wilentz wrote a letter to the New York Times that cites multiple factual errors in the project.
“On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain ‘in order to ensure slavery would continue.’ This is not true,” said the letter, which the Times published in December 2019.
In March of this year, Northwestern University professor Leslie Harris wrote in Politico that she “vigorously argued against” Hanna-Jones’ claim that “patriots fought the American Revolution in large part to preserve slavery in North America.”
Following the criticism, the Times issued a correction, changing a passage to make it clear that protecting slavery was a primary motivation for “some of the colonists,” not all of them.
The curriculum developed by 1776 Unites, which launched in February, aims to create an alternative to the 1619 Project.
“Some of the most well-respected historians in the country have overwhelmingly discredited and rejected key elements of the 1619 Project,” Rowe told National Review. “We’re not in competition with them, but it is important to highlight the contrast that exists.”
Some educators, such as Albert Paulsson, a high school social studies teacher in New Jersey, are excited about the alternative project.
“The 1776 Unites curriculum teaches that resilience in the face of opposition defines Black America in particular, and that there is a rich history of Black Americans who rose above the harshest of circumstances by embracing their own personal agency and living out the true founding values of our country,” Paulsson said this week. “These stories continue to unfold all around us today.”
President Trump has been a vocal critic of the 1619 Project, arguing Thursday that it “rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.”
The president said he is creating a “1776 Commission” to “promote patriotic education.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday that she does not think the federal government should have a role in setting the curriculum of schools, but that the 1776 Unites curriculum “sounds really wonderful,” according to Politico.
“Curriculum is best left to the states and local districts at local education agencies, but we can talk about curriculum that actually honors and respects our history and embraces all of the parts of our history and continues to build on that,” DeVos told Rowe on Thursday, Politico reported. “Because we know that if we do not know and understand history, we are bound to repeat it.”