Staff Editorial

Iowa bill would whitewash history

An empty classroom is seen at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
An empty classroom is seen at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

The study of history should involve gathering knowledge from a broad range of perspectives. The New York Times’ 1619 Project offers a bold new perspective on American history, placing Black Americans, slavery and the stubborn systemic racism they still face front and center.

The project, led by Waterloo native Nikole Hannah-Jones, forces Americans to consider the central role racism has played in America’s story, from its early settlement to today. It’s drawn praise and criticism. But above all else it has sparked an important discussion and debate over our history and founding principles.

State Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, wants to stop that robust discussion from occurring in Iowa classrooms. He’s sponsored legislation, House File 222, banning the use of the 1619 Project or “any similarly developed curriculum” from Iowa’s public schools, community colleges and universities. Schools that use the project would lose a portion of state funding. His bill cleared a subcommittee this week.

Wheeler believes the 1619 Project is leftist propaganda that seeks to “tear down America” and would turn grade-schoolers “into activists for leftist policies.”

This is, of course, hysterical nonsense. Lawmakers have no business micromanaging history curriculum or censoring journalism. Wheeler’s inclusion of “any similarly developed curriculum” is meant to have a chilling effect on educators contemplating the use of politically controversial materials in classrooms.

Wheeler would whitewash our history to fit his politics.

Iowa students would, remarkably, not be allowed to consider the perspectives of an Iowa native. Instead of allowing educators to offer the 1619 Project among a broad array of historical narratives, Wheeler would use the threat of lost funding to narrow the curriculum offered to students and disrupt teaching and research at the university level. It’s irresponsible, and likely unconstitutional.

“America is about the opportunity to have diverse thought and rigorous debate about what it means to be American,” said Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, who opposed the bill in subcommittee. We agree.

As with so many really bad ideas

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at the Statehouse, Wheeler’s bill is part of a national conservative effort to erase the 1619 Project. Similar

bills have been filed in Arkansas and Mississippi.

But earlier this week, the Arkansas House Education Committee voted down the 1619 bill. Opponents compared the measure to the efforts of authoritarian regimes to wipe out history.

Wheeler’s bill should suffer the same fate in Iowa.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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