In the 1990s, academics coalesced around a claim that Western education was Western-centric. (Why shouldn’t it be?) Some academics went along thinking that the result would be balance, but the space was filled with anti-Westernism. The results are ignorance, cultural drift, loss of identity, loss of cohesion, and divisiveness.
In 2000, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) reported that 81 per cent of undergraduate students in their final year at 55 top American colleges and universities scored grades of D or F on a high school curriculum (such as basic principles of the US Constitution). In 2016, the ACTA found that only 18 per cent of liberal arts colleges require an American history course.
With anti-Western history comes Marxist critical theory. The woke pretend to be exceptionally informed and insightful, but in practice they are evidence-free and dishonest. The West is losing not just its history but its enlightened ways of thinking: logic and facts are replaced with prejudices and labels.
Take America’s “Advanced Placement” examinations for World History, European History, and US History (equivalent to A-levels, taken by more than 900,000 students each year). Since 2014, these examinations have exaggerated socio-economic revolution, white racist violence, and the “continuity, innovation, and diversity” of non-white empires. The examinations have minimized the role of nation-states, classical liberalism, religion, and whites (including Christopher Columbus and Winston Churchill).
In 2019 came the “1619 Project.” Despite its pretentions, it is not an academic project. It is a political campaign, started on the pages of The New York Times, subsequent to its hijacking by youthful partisans who can force their editors to ditch a conservative columnist by signing letters of protest in their hundreds.
The lead author of the “1619” campaign was Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for The New York Times Magazine. According to her Twitter account at the time, she was “covering race from 1619-present, AKA The Beyonce of Journalism.”
Radical progressives justify censorship of history by misrepresenting their targets
Her lead essay was entitled: “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” She sought 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.” She denies the conventional dating of the American founding (4th July 1776 – the Declaration of Independence). She asserts that America started with the first slave ship to arrive from Africa (20 August 1619). She claims that the primary motivation of American independence was to maintain slavery. She traces America’s sugary diet and traffic jams back to the slave trade.
Hannah-Jones refuses to engage with her detractors (save unilaterally on Twitter). The New York Times barely engages. In March 2020, an independently contracted fact-checker revealed that she had recommended against publication, particularly given the unevidenced claim about the motivation for independence. That same month, the editor-in-chief (Jake Silverstein) published a statement:
We recognize that our original language could be read to suggest that protecting slavery was a primary motivation for all of the colonists. The passage has been changed to make clear that this was a primary motivation for some of the colonists. A note has been appended to the story as well.
Critics continued to draw attention to the phrase “our true founding.” How could the dating of the first arrival of a slave ship be used as evidence for America’s founding? As best, it is evidence for the start of American slavery.
In September 2020, President Donald Trump’s administration curbed federal participation in diversity training that challenges America’s founding. Hannah-Jones suddenly went on CNN to deny that she had sought to displace 1776 as the true date. She Tweeted: “The #1619Project does not argue that 1619 was our true founding. We know this nation marks its founding at 1776.”
In fact, a week after her lead essay went online in August 2019, she had Tweeted: “I argue that 1619 is our true founding.” She repeated that claim repeatedly. The newspaper’s website had introduced the article similarly:
The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
By October 2020, The New York Times had unadmittedly edited this introduction:
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. 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.
By then, The New York Times had partnered with the Pulitzer Center (no relation to the prize-awarding committee) to develop the 1619 Project into curricula for every level of education from kindergarten to secondary. Some 3,500 American classrooms had used the materials, including in large city school districts (Chicago, Newark, Buffalo, and Washington).
On 2 November 2020, Trump signed Executive Order 13958, which established a President’s Advisory 1776 Commission. He explicitly intended to rescue the study of American history from “critical” theory. “In recent years, a series of polemics grounded in poor scholarship has vilified our Founders and our founding … This radicalized view of American history lacks perspective, obscures virtues, twists motives, ignores or distorts facts, and magnifies flaws, resulting in the truth being concealed and history disfigured.”
Trump wanted the Commission to “enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.” Education should be “accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling.”
The Commission would “advise agencies on prioritizing the American founding in Federal grants and initiatives.” Specifically, the Commission would advise the Department of Education on its “American History and Civics Academies and American History and Civics Education National Activities.” The Commission would ensure that American history was presented accurately at national sites, such as the Washington Monument, and through federal government operations anywhere.
Eighteen commissioners were appointed. The chair is Larry P. Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, a self-consciously classical liberal university, free of government funding. Victor Davis Hanson is another historian at Hillsdale. The Commission’s executive director is the Dean of Hillsdale’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government.
The report admits America’s “share of missteps, errors, contradictions, and wrongs,” and that American has not “perfectly lived up to the universal truths of equality, liberty, justice, and government by consent.” Nevertheless, America has these principles written into its institutions, and these principles were leveraged against slavery and other injustices.
The report quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Winston Churchill (who was half American, after all). The report calls for non-partisanship in education, free speech in universities, and a civics education that fosters reverence for the founding principles and laws.
The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post welcomed the report, but most media, including The New York Times and Washington Post, reported negatively. Most republished a report by the Associated Press, which quoted the report’s critics more than its authors. CNN described it as “myth and propaganda … right-wing pseudo-history.” Both the AP and CNN falsely reported that it offers no source material. NBC News falsely reported that it denies the contradiction between slavery and the equality principle, and that it “misappropriates quotes from King.”
Brace yourself for at least four years of the most accelerated war on Western history yet
NBC News subsequently published the most revealing hatchet job. The report was “compiled by … mostly male conservative educators (no historians),” writes a sociologist (Robyn Autry). She equates its authors with the invaders of the Capitol, because some of the latter supposedly shouted “1776.” She writes at length on what “seems” to be the commission’s motivations and intents. She describes the report as “dangerous alternative history” and “thinly veiled propaganda … selectively mining the past for symbols and anecdotes that can help them [conservatives] legitimize their power.” Ironically, she quotes only five words from it.
In theory, a President’s Advisory Commission could serve any President. The report was published two days before Joe Biden took over the Presidency, when he abolished the Commission, by executive order. The report was taken down from the White House website. Officials said the report “sought to erase America’s history of racial injustice.”
Once again, radical progressives justify censorship of history by misrepresenting their targets. Now they are in the White House. Brace yourself for at least four years of the most accelerated war on Western history yet.
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