1619 Project’s Nikole Hannah-Jones Says Parents Shouldn’t Decide What Schools Teach

By Bill Pan
Bill Pan
Bill Pan
December 27, 2021 Updated: December 27, 2021

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the leading author of The New York Times’ revisionist “1619 Project,” says that parents shouldn’t decide what is being taught in schools.

During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Hannah-Jones was asked about the debate on how much control parents should have over what their children learn in school. The issue became prominent in this year’s Virginia gubernatorial race, which, as host Chuck Todd noted, was “arguably decided on the strength of how influential should parents be on curriculum.”

“I don’t really understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught,” Hannah-Jones replied, adding that she isn’t a professional educator, nor does she have a degree in social studies or science. “We send our children to school because we want them to be taught by people who have expertise in the subject area. And that is not my job.”

She then spoke sympathetically of former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat whose failure to secure another term has been widely attributed to his stance on education.

McAuliffe in 2016 vetoed what was known as the “Beloved” bill, a measure that would have made Virginia the first state to require schools to warn parents when assigned books include sexually explicit content and to provide an alternative book at a parent’s request. When his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, brought the matter up during a debate, McAuliffe defended the veto, saying, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

“When the governor or the candidate said he didn’t think parents should be deciding what’s being taught in school, he was panned for that, but that’s just the fact,” Hannah-Jones said, referring to McAuliffe.

“This is why we send our children to school and don’t homeschool, because these are the professional educators who have the expertise to teach social studies, to teach history, to teach science, to teach literature,” she said. “I think we should leave that to the educators. Yes, we should have some say, but school is not about simply confirming our worldview.”

Although she said teachers should decide what to teach in history classes, Hannah-Jones has suggested on many occasions that U.S. history has been taught in a biased way that downplayed the role of slavery in the nation’s founding.

“Everyone in high school knows about the Mayflower, but nobody has been taught about the other ship, the White Lion,” she said in a December 2019 event at Harvard University, referring to the ship that brought African slaves to the British colony of Virginia in 1619. She repeated that talking point in a more recent NPR “Fresh Air” interview, saying that the absence of the White Lion story in history classes is “symbolic of how history is shaped by people who decide what’s important and what’s not.”

A K–12 curriculum based on the “1619 Project” is meant to change that. According to the curriculum, the primary reason the Revolutionary War was fought was to preserve slavery, and that the Founding Fathers were frauds who didn’t believe the words they wrote in the founding documents to be true.

Despite overwhelming criticism by prominent scholars from across the political spectrum who say the project has many flaws and historical distortions, the “1619 Project” curriculum has been embraced by at least 4,000 classrooms across the nation, where students “examine what it would mean to reframe U.S. history by considering 1619 the country’s founding date” and “learn about the ways in which slavery’s legacy persists in U.S. systems.”

The “1619 Project” and the curriculum derived from it have been explicitly banned from public school classrooms in a handful of states, including Texas and Florida. Under the latest guidelines by the Florida Board of Education, teachers aren’t allowed to utilize materials from the project, because it describes the American founding as something other than the “creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

Bill Pan