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On Wednesday, black civil rights veteran Robert Woodson announced a new high school curriculum to counter the “diabolical” influence of The New York Times‘ “1619 Project,” which has released companion curricula for schools. The 1776 Unites Curriculum will counter the 1619 Project’s message that America is a fundamentally racist and oppressive country by telling the stories of persecuted people who used American principles to overcome their circumstances and achieve the American dream. Woodson has worked in crime-ridden neighborhoods for decades, empowering people to overcome their circumstances.
Key American principles have enabled people in those communities “to restore individual lives, rebuild communities, and establish trust,” Woodson said in a Zoom press conference. He noted that in addition to “a legacy of slavery, there has been a legacy of excellence and resilience” in the black community.
Woodson argued that the American principles that have inspired black people to rise above their circumstances are under threat from the 1619 Project, a “very corrosive and very dangerous challenge.”
According to Woodson, the 1619 Project teaches that “America should be defined as a racist society where all whites are culpable and guilty of having privilege and should be punished and all blacks are the victims.”
The 1776 Unites curriculum “is an aspirational and an inspirational alternative to this diabolical message,” Woodson argued. “No nation or individual should be defined by its birth defect or what it’s been in the past.” His curriculum aims to present “inspirational examples of victories that are possible, instead of what 1619 does, only talk about injuries to be avoided.”
Woodson has championed ten American principles to empower black Americans and those looking to rise up from their circumstances: competence, integrity, transparency, resilience, witness, innovation, inspiration, agency, access, and grace. The Woodson Center worked with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to translate these principles into the 1776s Unites curriculum.
Ian Rowe, the former CEO of a network of charter schools and currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Woodson Center, explained that the curriculum has two components: looking back and looking forward.
“The ‘looking back’ component will celebrate black excellence, reject victimhood culture, and showcase African-Americans who have prospered by embracing America’s founding ideals of free enterprise, family, hard work, entrepreneurship, and faith,” Rowe explained. “The look forward component includes units that teach life lessons.”
The 1619 Project “claims that America was founded as a slaveocracy, not a democracy. It also claims that America’s founding ideals were false when they were written. We reject these ideas,” Rowe explained. “As Bob said, America is not defined solely by its legacy of slavery. We want all children to know the excellence alongside the legacy of slavery.”
Rowe argued that inspiring lessons are relevant not only to black children but for all Americans. “There are innumerable examples of individuals and groups that have gone from persecution to prosperity by embracing America’s founding ideals.”
The first three lessons
The Woodson Center released three 1776 Unites lessons on Wednesday, all for high school. The first lesson establishes the Woodson principles. The second focuses on Biddy Mason (1818-1891), who was born a slave but died a millionaire and philanthropist. Mason worked as a nurse and a real estate entrepreneur, and she founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, Calif.
The third lesson teaches the story of Elijah McCoy (1844-1929), whose name might be the origin of the phrase “the real McCoy,” as in “the real thing.” The son of slaves who escaped to Canada, McCoy returned to the U.S. in 1847. He became a groundbreaking engineer, registering 57 U.S. patents, most notably a patent for the lubrication of steam engines.
According to Rowe, people made knock-offs of McCoy’s invention. “People said, ‘I don’t want the knock-off, I want the real McCoy.’” (The origin of the phrase is disputed. The term “The Real McKay” traces back to Scottish advertising in 1856. Regardless of the term’s origin, McCoy’s story is inspiring.)
The 1776 Unites curriculum teaches the stories of “African-Americans past and present — innovative, inventive — who faced adversity, did not view themselves as victims, and chose pathways to be agents of their own uplift,” Rowe explained.
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Why it’s important to counter The 1619 Project
The 1619 Project twists American history to claim that the true founding did not come on July 4, 1776, but with the arrival of the first black slaves in Virginia in 1619 (even the date is a historically inaccurate claim). Using Marxist critical race theory, the project demonizes America and key aspects of American culture such as capitalism and the Constitution, arguably inspiring an unguided and destructive revolution.
When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on the statue. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post “Call them the 1619 riots,” Hannah-Jones, responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots and the defamation of American Founding Fathers like George Washington.
In a November 9, 1995 op-ed, the 1619 Project founder condemned Christopher Columbus as “no different” from Adolf Hitler and demonized the “white race” as the true “savages” and “bloodsuckers.” She went on to describe “white America’s dream” as “colored America’s nightmare.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) expressed a similar sentiment when she called for the “dismantling” of America’s “economy and political system,” in order to root out supposed racist oppression.
Portland activist Lilith Sinclair expressed a similar idea when she said, “There’s still a lot of work to undo the harm of colonized thought that has been pushed onto Black and indigenous communities.” As examples of “colonized thought,” she mentioned Christianity and the “gender binary.” She said she organizes for “the abolition of … the “United States as we know it.”
Marxist critical theory encourages people to deconstruct various aspects of society — such as capitalism, science the nuclear family, the Judeo-Christian tradition, even expectations of politeness (as the Smithsonian briefly taught) — as examples of white oppression. This inspires an aimless and destructive revolution.
The “1619 riots” have arguably oppressed black people far more than the U.S. supposedly does. The riots have destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 26 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black.
For these and other reasons, many black leaders have denounced the official Black Lives Matter movement, the founders of which have described themselves as “trained Marxists.” Over 100 black pastors recently condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and urged Nike to distance itself from it.
The 1776 Unites curriculum provides a key resource in the effort to counter the noxious Marxist ideas of the 1619 Project. Americans of all races should learn the true inspiring stories of black Americans who rejected victimhood and achieved their American dreams.
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Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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