On April 26, 2021, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an opinion-editorial piece by Ian Feld, a senior at University City High School in St. Louis, Missouri. The op-ed is titled “University students were captivated, not indoctrinated, by 1619 Project” and details the frustration Feld and his classmates feel about a bill that has recently been introduced in the state House of Representatives. If passed, the bill—Missouri House Bill 1141—would ban public school classrooms in the state from using source material from The 1619 Project in their curriculum design.
The 1619 Project is a multi-platform initiative led by Nikole Hannah-Jones at The New York Times Magazine. The project “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” (New York Times Magazine). The initiative includes essays, poems, and even a podcast, that delve into the social, economic, and political histories of Black Americans, showcasing facets of their stories that have historically been glossed over or ignored in mainstream historical narratives.
Since The 1619 Project launched in 2019, educators have drawn inspiration from the project materials and used them to develop lessons and other curricular materials that make connections between history and the present day. There are examples of curriculum inspired by The 1619 Project, as well as in classrooms like the Advanced Placement language class in which Feld was first introduced to the project as an 11th-grader, on the Pulitzer Center website.
Feld speaks enthusiastically about the impact that The 1619 Project had on him and his classmates in his op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He writes:
“We students were not taught exclusively by it; we were not indoctrinated; but we were captivated. We examined and connected with it, criticized and scrutinized its claims, and we left our junior year of high school with a better understanding of how America feels to people whose generational histories have been left in the margins.”
The students at University City High School connected with The 1619 Project-influenced curriculum and appreciated the opportunity to learn about familiar topics— American history, politics, and culture—in a different way. As Feld notes, “The effects of slavery are not confined to the past, just as tears in the fabric of a quilt are not eliminated by sewing torn pieces back together.” The 1619 Project acknowledges those torn pieces— sometimes imperfectly, as Feld notes, but always in a way that is grounded in “stories from real people about real events.”
Although Feld and his classmates enjoyed the opportunity to learn from The 1619 Project in their classrooms, their sentiments were not shared by the Missouri House of Representatives, who, through House Bill 1141, have moved to ban the use of the project in public school classrooms and curricular materials. Feld notes, critically, “For a party dedicated to preserving the constitutional rights of Americans, a bill that bans source material in classrooms seems hypocritical, unconstitutional, authoritarian, and politically petty.”
Feld compares Bill 1141 to a “modern day book-burning.” He states that he and 25 of his classmates urge “state officials and lawmakers to consider their position.” He says, “We demand that each lawmaker examine and critically analyze their own viewpoints as much as we did last year in the classroom.”
Throughout this op-ed, Feld returns frequently to the discomfort that he and his classmates felt while learning from 1619-influenced curricular material and confronting the messy realities of American history. He urges lawmakers to lean into this discomfort, to step into the student perspective, and broaden their worldview. He says, “Embrace a different perspective. Do not erase it.”
This enthusiasm to explore the unknown is a core value of The 1619 Project. Feld’s impassioned defense of these same principles speaks to the project’s sincere impact on the way students learn and then, in the case of Feld and his classmates, go out into the world and teach, as well.
Curricular material from The 1619 Project is available on the Pulitzer Center website. For more information about the project and resources, including educator webinars, professional development, and other initiatives, visit The 1619 Project Education Portal.