Nikole Hannah-Jones discussed her 1619 Project on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, and sparked new outrage among critics.
The 1619 Project—founded by Hannah-Jones, whose opening essay in 1619 won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary—launched in August 2019 with a special issue of The New York Times Magazine, including essays and creative works by journalists, historians, and artists. The project illuminates the legacy of slavery in the contemporary United States, and highlights the contributions of Black Americans to every aspect of American society.
The Pulitzer Center is the education partner for The 1619 Project.
In a conversation with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, Hannah-Jones spoke about the 1619 controversy and the importance of understanding and recognizing how slavery as a founding institution came to shape our country and its systems.
Todd pressed Hannah-Jones on the notion that the project frames slavery as uniquely American. She pushed back that while slavery is global, a country founded on the ideals of freedom engaged in one of the most egregious forms of racialized chattel slavery.
Todd then turned the conversation to the discussion of the project in classrooms, asking Hannah-Jones if she had intended for 1619 to become a school curriculum, or to start a debate about how American history is taught.
She acknowledged that what had been envisioned as a journalism project morphed into a body of work that could become a powerful learning tool. Hannah-Jones discussed the decision to team up with the Pulitzer Center as an education partner.
"The New York Times regularly turns its journalism into curriculum, as does the Pulitzer Center, who we ultimately partnered with. They are constantly turning works of journalism into curriculum. It's only become controversial because people have decided to make The 1619 Project controversial," Hannah-Jones told Todd.
But it was her comments about parents’ roles in children’s class curricula that went viral this week.
“... I don't really understand this idea that parents should decide what's being taught,” Hannah-Jones said. “I'm not a professional educator. I don't have a degree in social studies or science. We send our children to school because we want them to be taught by people who have an expertise in the subject area.
“... This is why we send our children to school and don't homeschool because these are the professional educators who have the expertise to teach social studies, to teach history, to teach science, to teach literature. And I think we should leave that to the educators. Yes, we should have some say. But school is not about simply confirming our worldview. Schools should teach us to question. They should teach us how to think, not what to think.”
1619 has become a hot topic in U.S. schools, with angry parents speaking out at school board meetings and some states barring the teaching of critical race theory.
Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe made remarks similar to Hannah-Jones' before losing the state's hotly contested governor's race in 2021. He lost to Republican Glenn Youngkin, who made parents' rights in education a lead issue in his campaign.
Critics had plenty to say about Hannah-Jones' comments.
“... The whole critical race theory debate isn’t really about how children are taught, it is about what they are taught. And Hannah-Jones definitely wants control over what your children are taught,” Washington Examiner commentary editor Conn Carroll writes.
“The idea that parents should broadly surrender their rights to public school officials is both unpopular and misguided,” Robby Soave, a senior editor at Reason, writes.
“Fact is, parents should be given a say in their kids’ education; they’re the ones, after all, ultimately responsible for their kids’ futures. And many (rightly) abhor the idea of having their kids taught the divisive, fact-challenged notions of Hannah-Jones' 1619 Project," the New York Post writes in an editorial.
Hannah-Jones further went on to say that teaching an accurate rendering of history isn’t meant to make white children feel guilty, despite claims from critics of the project.
“Some students may walk away from feeling uncomfortable from some of these lessons as we should. We should be uncomfortable with the hard parts of our past.”
To learn more about the Pulitzer Center’s 1619 education work, including our network of teachers, and resources, please visit: https://1619education.org/