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1619 Spreading in Oregon
ODE sponsored Nikole Hannah-Jones “1619 Project” webinar

Editor's note: This article first appeared as a blog post on the Oregonians for Liberty in Education website.

February 2020 may seem like forever ago, but it was then, in an “Education Update,” that Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill first publicly praised the New York Times “1619 Project.” “Systemic racism in the United States dates back long before the American Revolution. If you haven’t yet read the 1619 Project by the New York Times, I can’t recommend it highly enough.”

Since then, the “1619 Project” and “systemic racism” narratives have spread faster than a virulent COVID-19 variant, infecting those most vulnerable to it: Oregon’s schoolchildren.

Fast forward to May 2021, when ODE sponsored “An Evening With Nikole Hannah-Jones,” and invited Oregon’s teachers statewide. The 90 minute webinar is worth a listen. Not to learn more about the “1619 Project.” The event, billed as “1619: Centering Black History and Black Futures in Oregon,” had surprisingly little to do with actual history, or even the “1619 Project” itself.

But the webinar does reveal quite a bit about ODE and the elite panelists driving the narrative, what they believe are the problems, and what they propose as the solutions. The bottom line: the purpose of the “1619 Project” is less about “correcting” America’s history and more about controlling America’s future.

Let’s address ODE first. Director Gill introduced the webinar explaining that “the experience of black students and families can and must be centered in our state, including the fullness of black histories and black futures.” A bit of background: the Department’s five-year-old African American/Black Student Success Plan hasn’t budged graduation rates, test scores, or disciplinary incidents. (Perhaps prioritizing activism over achievement isn’t the answer.) Now ODE’s new tack: jump on the “1619” and “systemic racism” narratives bandwagon to shift blame for the gap.

Other goals for the webinar (according to pre-event advertising):
  1. How to use “1619” as a “supplemental instructional resource supporting the 2021 Oregon social science standards that include newly adopted K-12 ethnic studies standards.”
  2. How the “inclusion of 1619 historical events into our educational system will further Oregon’s efforts at breaking down systems of oppression.”
Gill concluded his opening remarks: “We look forward to engaging this afternoon and learning more to help guide us forward.”

So now on to the panelists “guiding” Oregon’s teachers on “supplemental instructional resources” and “breaking down systems of oppression.” Nikole Hannah-Jones was the feature. She was joined by Portland State University professor Dr. Ethan Johnson and Oregon Alliance of Black School Educators president Kevin Bacon. KOIN news anchor Ken Boddie moderated. Hannah-Jones’s views on education: “In a country built on racial caste, we must confront the fact that our schools are not broken. They are operating as designed.” Hannah-Jones mentioned that she takes a personal interest in Portland, as she lived in the city from 2006-2012, owned a house in the Woodlawn neighborhood, and worked at the Oregonian. She is the author of the lead “1619” piece, “The Idea of America.” Hannah-Jones explained that “the ‘1619 Project’ seeks to set out slavery as a foundational American institution...and one whose legacy we still see in modern society.” “...it is an origin story told through a very particular lens.”

Johnson, Chair of the Black Studies Department in the School of Gender, Race and Nations at PSU, objected to the term “legacy,” stating:

One of the things I think is really important is to not frame slavery as a legacy but as it’s still here. Legacy suggests that it’s over...no, slavery is right here...If we go from slavery, and we go through Jim Crow, and we go through the criminal justice system...which is kinda the dominate way that black people are controlled today...gratuitous violence is something we experience...I can be killed, murdered, psychically traumaed you know at any time for no reason...just because I’m black. And today our kids are taken away from us regularly...either through CPS, Child Protective Services, or through the criminal justice system, for no reason other than we’re black. They say we did a crime. But the primary reason is because we’re black...I think what needs to be rethought is like that idea, we are in slavery, and that slavery hasn’t ended.

Is this really what Gill thinks will “help guide us forward?”

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

And here’s Hannah-Jones’ response to the question: “Where do you see the legacy of slavery today?”:

When we look at the insurrection on the Capitol January 6th and the belief by a white minority that people of color are not citizens whose votes should count equal to theirs, that’s a legacy of 1619, not the legacy of 1776. When we look at the election of Donald Trump, a fairly open white nationalist, that is a legacy of slavery. When we look at George Floyd and a police officer who believed that he could kneel on a man’s neck for two minutes after he was dead, while he was being filmed, that is a legacy of slavery. When we look at the fact that black Americans are at the bottom of every indicator of well-being in this country and black people have one cent of wealth to the dollar of wealth that white Americans have, when we look at a place like Portland of gentrification and housing segregation and school segregation. All of these are legacies of slavery.

$25,000 per webinar. Endowed chair. Pulitzer Prize. Possibly the legacies of the land of opportunity?

Over the course of the webinar, the panelists connected slavery to current-day problems in Oregon and the U.S. They criticized capitalism, wealth, criminal justice, healthcare, traffic, voting, and cultural appropriation. Framing America’s way of life as problematic is of course the actual purpose of “1619.” The project is a compilation of 18 essays addressing these topics and more in a compelling 100 page New York Times Magazine special issue, published August, 2019. Some of the images and descriptions in the issue are heart-wrenching, and cover important topics. But the publication is primarily propaganda packaged as history. It contains proven factual inaccuracies: it is an artistic and literary piece, not a historical work.

As the webinar continued, it became clear that the “1619” and “systemic racism” narratives of America as primarily a land of oppression rather than a land of hope and opportunity have a purpose. They can be used in Oregon’s classrooms to politicize history and gain youth support for proposed “solutions” discussed by the panelists: wealth redistribution, land reparations, defunding the police, universal healthcare, and progressive changes to urban design, transportation, and education.

“Correcting” America’s history, or controlling America’s future?

Most Americans believe these are radical positions. But the webinar participants represent print media, broadcast media, K-12 education, and higher ed. Seems like a powerful push to teach these views to Oregon’s schoolchildren. Bacon and Johnson both said they mentor K-12 educators. As part of the “1619 Project In Schools” effort, Hannah-Jones said that she’s met with thousands of teachers.

Hannah-Jones explained that “1619” is a continuing effort. Two new books, eight new essays, documentaries, and films are forthcoming. The next batch of essays will address topics such as African diaspora, settler colonialism, and the “excavation of racism” in Philadelphia.

What to do? Parents, teachers, and education-policy makers have a responsibility to ensure that schools educate, rather than indoctrinate. Ironically, perhaps the panelists themselves give us a clue. During the discussion, Hannah-Jones cited the Constitution; Johnson condemned progressive policies. Maybe there’s hope: is it possible common sense could (eventually) prevail?

In the meantime, stop the spread. Vaccinate your kids against the “1619” and “systemic racism” narratives. ODE seems committed to importing radical activism from the New York Times into Oregon’s classrooms. Hannah-Jones will be back on May 13 to deliver another ODE-sponsored webinar, this time speaking directly to Oregon’s schoolchildren.


--Mary Miller, Oregonians for Liberty in Education

Post Date: 2021-05-13 08:47:39Last Update: 2021-05-13 10:46:15



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