Proposed Iowa bill would reduce funding in schools if the ’1619 Project’ is taught

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 7:49 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A woman from Waterloo created a Pulitzer Prize-winning project. And a bill in the legislature aims to, essentially, keep it out of Iowa classrooms.

House File 222 would reduce funding for public schools each day the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project was used as part of a history class’ curriculum. The bill is similar to other pieces of legislation introduced in Mississipi and Arkansas. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) also introduced a federal version of the bill as well.

Some states also considering similar bills
Some states also considering similar bills(None)

The 1619 Project, which is a piece of magazine journalism and a podcast, is an effort to reframe United States history through slavery and shows its’ effects on the nation today. Nikole Hannah-Jones, who created the project, said there is something wrong with how people learn history today because slavery is treated as a side issue.

“Slavery was a foundational institution to the country,” Hannah-Jones said. “And so much about the America we have today can be traced back to slavery and we’re just simply not taught this history very well.”

Hannah-Jones is from Waterloo and writes about how the history of American slavery affected her life in Waterloo.

“I have very deep roots in Waterloo and I also had an experience that shaped by the legacy of slavery,” Hannah-Jones said. “I was part of Waterloo’s busing program for school integration. It was called open enrollment the entire reason we had school integration programs was because the descendants of American slavery were being separated into different schools.”

Hannah-Jones said her family was also apart of the great migration and these experiences are not unique to her family, but the story of thousands of Black people.

“The beauty of the black experience in some way is that it’s such a shared experience no matter what part of the country you live in no matter where our ancestors came from,” Hannah-Jones said. “So I tell my story, but Black people can see themselves in the story of my family.”

Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City) is the legislator who introduced House File 222. He said he became interested in the 1619 Project after the protests related to Black Lives Matter in the Summer. Wheeler said the project is dangerous.

“This is a project that tells kids, tells students that our country was founded on slavery and bigotry well before 1776, not founded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Wheeler said. “And how dangerous that has been for our country, but for our divided country as well.”

Wheeler said he also believes part of the project is inaccurate. He points to the project’s assertions, which includes that the country’s true founding was in 1619 when the first slaves were sold and the American Revolution was fought over slavery.

“The argument on hand is, do we use state dollars to teach kids to hate their country,” Wheeler said. “No, we don’t use that for history curriculum if it’s full of factional errors.”

At the same time, Wheeler acknowledges there are gaps in the state’s social studies standards and believes the 1619 Project should be discussed in higher education.

Rep. Ras Smith (D-Waterloo) is against banning the 1619 Project. He’s been trying to gather signatures on Twitter for a petition.

Hannah-Jones said she believes the project is accurate. She said the 1619 Project is not a replacement of the history we learn, but an addition to the history we learn.

Hannah-Jones said her opening essay is one of the most patriotic pieces of writing and she’s not been surprised about the efforts to practically ban her work. However, she’s disappointed her home state is trying to erase it.

“But I will say, it feels particularly disheartening that my home state would bring forth a bill that to prohibit the teaching of a project led by their native daughter,“ Hannah-Jones said. “And I actually was exposed to the year 1619 as an Iowa Public School Student. As I high school student, I began writing for my high school newspaper, Waterloo West High. So the seeds of the 1619 Project were produced out of a great educational system in Iowa.”

Christopher Tims, who is a history teacher from Waterloo at Waterloo East High, said he uses the 1619 project weekly in his Black History class. He said his students were very upset at the bill being proposed when they had a conversation about it in class.

“I’ve had students say they wanna keep us in the dark,” Tims said. “They don’t want us to know our true history.”

Tims said he uses the project so students learn more about systematic racism and the effects of white supremacy. He said he learned most of Black history through his own studies and is thankful the 1619 Project exposes kids to it at an earlier age.

“I don’t think it’s inaccurate at all,” Tims said. “I think it’s a piece of the story that was omitted. It’s as if that patriotic history that they want us to teach, it’s like tearing out the pages of history. Anytime that America has a pitfall or failure, let’s tear out that page and keep the pages that make us look good. Then, we’re not getting the true scope of what it means to be in this country or be an American. It’s a great country, but just like good people, good people have flaws as well.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated Christopher Tims teaches at Waterloo West High. Tims teaches at Waterloo East High

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