A Review of the 1619 Project Curriculum

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Professor Lucas Morel argues that the 1619 Project’s curriculum promotes numerous historical errors regarding the relationship between slavery and American history, especially the dubious claim that America was founded on slavery. The curriculum, Morel maintains, presents a one-sided, politicized narrative that will encourage students to focus only on present-day politics, rather than fostering a genuine understanding of the history of slavery in early America.  

Professor Lucas Morel examines the curriculum produced by the Pulitzer Center in conjunction with the New York Times’s 1619 Project, a series of essays and other resources overseen by Nikole Hannah-Jones arguing that America was founded on slavery and continues to be defined by racism.

Already being used in 4,500 classrooms by May 2020, the curriculum uses the 18 original essays that the 1619 Project produced to teach children about slavery in America. Morel worries that students will accept the narrative that America was morally corrupt from the start and should be fundamentally changed in order for justice to be secured for all Americans.

The 1619 Project, Morel finds, is “a political project riddled with factual errors.” Hannah-Jones takes a “zero-sum approach” to history, in which “highlighting black American contributions required subtracting white American contributions.” It is not history so much as political ideology. Hannah-Jones’s claim that America was founded on slavery has been rejected by many distinguished historians since her essay was published. She omits historical details that would provide a more complete picture of slavery and early American history.

Morel finds that the curriculum’s study-guide questions are “infected with bias,” as they reinforce the claim that “America equals oppression and black Americans equal resistance and liberation.” He also notes that the Pulitzer Center should have used the proper Common Core American history standards, which would have prepared students to interpret the quality of the arguments being made in the essays rather than simply understand the arguments themselves.

Read the full report here.