Arkansas Bill to Ban 1619 Curriculum in Schools Fails in Republican-Led Committee

February 10, 2021 Updated: February 10, 2021

A Republican bill seeking to ban the teaching of the revisionist 1619 curriculum in Arkansas was rejected on Tuesday by a state legislative committee.

House Bill 1231 would restrict state funding from going to Arkansas’s public schools that teach a curriculum based on the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which portrays the United States as an inherently racist nation founded upon slavery. The 1619 curriculum, developed by Pulitzer Center, was embraced by many public school districts across the nation, notably in Chicago, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; Newark, New Jersey; and Washington.

The proposed legislation failed to pass the Republican-led House Education Committee, after Democratic and Republican members voted against it, citing different reasons.

Democratic state Rep. Reginald Murdock, the vice-chair of the committee, argued during the meeting that the bill would eliminate the very opportunity of teachers leading discussions and debates about the 1619 Project, including its inaccuracies and fallacies.

“We can discuss, debate, listen, and make out own conclusions from a thesis or theory,” Murdock said, adding that he opposed the proposal not because it was anti-1619 Project, but because it would “kill a process of education.”

Murdock was joined by Republican state Rep. Charlene Fite, who expressed concerns that the bill would open a gate for lawmakers to dictate what should be taught at schools.

“I’m concerned when we as a Legislature begin to list things that our schools cannot teach and punish them for doing so,” she said.

Republican state Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh, himself a former teacher, said teachers usually interpret bills like this one as a sign of distrust in their ability to prepare their own curriculum and do their own jobs right.

Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key, a Republican, also addressed the committee, saying that while his department neither endorses nor opposes the 1619 Project, the agency already has a process to determine whether teaching materials meet its curriculum standards. He echoed Deffenbaugh in saying that teachers, school boards, and administrators should decide how and what to teach their students.

“This is something, as far as adoption of curriculum, that’s best left to the local elected boards and administrators and educators,” Key said.

Republican state Rep. Mark Lowery, who proposed the ban, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he will not bring up HB1231 up again. Lowery also co-sponsored the House Bill 1218, which prohibits public schools and colleges from offering courses, events, and activities that promotes the division or resentment between groups of people based on race, gender, political affiliation, and social class.