July 17, 2020
Does America’s origin story start in 1776 with the desire for independence from an overbearing king and a commitment to one day live out, politically, the inherent equality and liberty given by God?
Or – as some are controversially portraying – does America’s origin story begin in 1619 with slavery?
The New York Times 1619 Project has made the latter claim – though not without criticism from historians that the claim is ahistorical – and the project has even developed a curriculum now adopted by 3,500 schools nationwide.
More importantly, which version do we want America’s students to learn?
According to new survey results, a majority of parents and school board members want the nation’s birth to stay rooted in 1776, but some of the survey results are surprising – perhaps revealing that a reframing of America’s narrative is already changing.
The Heritage Foundation, in its “Education in America” series, presented results from a nationally representative survey of parents of K-12 students and school board members regarding civic education in the United States and specific claims in The New York Times 1619 Project.
Here are some interesting results from the survey.
- About two-thirds (almost 64%) of parents believe that their children are receiving adequate instruction in civics education, while it’s just the opposite for school board members. Two-thirds (64%) of school board members feel that school does not provide enough civics education.
- Almost 50% of parents and 70% of school board members would prefer that school materials not be centered on the idea that slavery is at the center of our national narrative (in 1619 with the first slave brought to America).
- However, 4 in 10 parents responded that they would want school materials that put slavery at the center of America’s narrative.
- On the whole, most parents (roughly 59%) believe that schools should teach that the birth of our nation was in 1776 rather than 1619. School board members overwhelmingly believe (roughly 72%) that the birth of our nation should be taught as 1776.
- However, among younger parents – ages 18-39 – more believe we should teach that the birth of our nation was in 1619 (roughly 49%) than those who believe it should be taught as 1776 (39%).
- Further, 54% of parents responded that they believe schools should incorporate into their classrooms the idea that white supremacy culture is the primary root cause of institutional racism, structural racism and white privilege. However, 53% of school board members said that schools should not.
- Still, 70% of parents said they believe that American slavery was a tragedy but that our nation still stands as a beacon of hope, after they were asked whether the ideals of liberty and equality were false at the time they were written and must be reframed, or whether slavery was a tragedy but America still stands as a beacon to those wanting to immigrate here. And 73% of school board members believe this as well.
It’s clear that there is a difference between parents and school board members in these results, with parents having more progressive preferences than school board members. This might be due to parents being generally younger than elected school board members and/or having been educated in a different era.
But it’s also worth considering whether and to what extent a reframing of American history is already taking root – and more importantly, how we can restore robust, accurate history and civics education in the United States.
National attention on the state of civics and history knowledge is surging – and it can help states improve civics and history education.
“Americans know we need real change. You want to be in charge of your health care without asking Washington politicians or health insurance bureaucrats for permission.”
“We have a crisis in civic education that can no longer be ignored….It is really a crisis of understanding and devotion. Too many young people do not understand the principles of our Founding or see America’s history as the story of our struggle to live up to those principles of freedom.”