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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Banning the '1619 Project” about the impact of slavery and Black Americans on U.S. history from Iowa schools as a state lawmaker proposes would 'be a threat to public education,” says a Fairfield schoolteacher, echoing concerns of other educators.
House File 222, sponsored by Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, would ban schools, community colleges and state universities from using any history curriculum obtained from the 1619 Project, which was created by an Iowa native.
Wheeler said he has concerns the project is not historically accurate.
His bill, which passed an education subcommittee two weeks ago but has not been taken up more broadly, states that the Iowa Legislature 'has a strong interest in promoting an accurate account of this nation's history through public schools and forming young people into knowledgeable and patriotic citizens.” Public schools that use the project or similar curriculum could receive reduced funding if the legislation passes.
Nearly six dozen organizations, including the Board of Regents, the Central Iowa United Way and the NAACP, are listed as opposing the bill. Four lobbyists, including for the state Department of Education, are listed as undecided. No lobbyist is listed as in favor.
The 1619 Project was created by Iowa native Nikole Hannah-Jones and published in the New York Times Magazine in 2019 for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first known enslaved Africans to America in 1619, 150 years before the United States became a nation. The project won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, and the Pulitzer Center said it has helped connect about 4,500 classrooms with the curriculum.
If the 1619 Project is banned in Iowa schools, Gregory Wickenkamp, an eighth grade social studies teacher at Fairfield Middle School, is among the teachers who are concerned how that would influence what they're allowed to teach.
In his classroom, Wickenkamp said he teaches students how to think critically about the way history has been written and to consider other perspectives, without which students could learn a 'really naive and damaging view of history,” he said.
The 1619 Project 'reframes U.S. history in a more realistic way,” Wickenkamp said.
The teacher refers often to James Baldwin, a Black American novelist whose essays explore race and class distinction. He died in 1987.
'American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it,” Wickenkamp said, quoting Baldwin.
Tuesday, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa held a virtual news conference to 'call out” legislative measures the group said are 'not rooted in justice or equity and that harm communities of color in Iowa.”
HF 222 is 'clearly racist,” said Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance.
Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, a member of the House Education Committee who opposed the bill and spoke during the news conference, said the project is meant to supplement social studies curriculum - teaching students to be critical thinkers and be a tool to teach the 'complexity of our country.”
The Rev. Gary Sneller, retired pastor of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Cedar Rapids, said that 'white domination and expected Black submission” will not change until people are willing and committed to scrutinizing history.
'Truthful and fearless self-examination will not happen if we limit our study of American history to one point of view and pass laws that establish legal ways to discriminate and disenfranchise certain people in America,” Sneller said in the news conference.
The 1619 Project is a resource made available to social studies teachers in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, with other primary and secondary resources, said John Rice, executive director of teaching and learning.
Iowa City High School journalism teacher Jonathan Rogers has used the project's podcasts in his classes.
Brian Voss, a social studies teacher at Marion High School, has also used the 1619 Project to inform his curriculum.
Voss believes teaching history from various perspectives can help students to 'grow up to be good citizens, good employees, good voters and take information to form their own opinions,” he said.
'Iowa has a history of local control in education,” Voss said. 'When you're banning an entire project, you're taking away some of that control. Most teachers want some ability to determine how they teach their curriculum.”
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The Associated Press contributed.