LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas House panel on Tuesday rejected legislation that would have banned schools from teaching a New York Times project on slavery’s legacy, one of several attempts in Republican states to limit how race is taught.
The proposal banning schools from using the Times’ “1619 Project” failed on a voice vote after drawing opposition from teachers, civil rights leaders and the state’s top education official. Similar bans have been proposed in Mississippi and Iowa, and critics have called it an effort to whitewash crucial parts of the nation’s history.
“What you’re doing is censoring and you’re taking away the ability of those who have been trained to stand before our students and teach and provide trained guidance in curriculum development,” Democratic Rep. Reginald Murdock said during a roughly two-hour hearing on the proposal.
The project, which examined slavery and its consequences as the central thread of U.S. history, was published in 2019, the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of African slaves. The project was also turned into a popular podcast and materials were developed for schools to use.
Republican Rep. Mark Lowery, who proposed the ban, said the project portrays a misleading narrative of American history and cited some historians’ criticisms of parts of it.
“(Slavery) is an awful stain on our history and it should be discussed in our classrooms, but the 1619 Project is not the vehicle for that,” Lowery told the panel.
The Pulitzer Center, which partnered with the Times to develop 1619 Project lesson plans, said it’s heard from more than 3,800 K-12 teachers and nearly 1,000 college educators who planned to use them. Of those, only about two dozen were from Arkansas.
The proposal drew objections from both Democrats and Republicans on the majority-GOP panel who said concerns about materials should be addressed at the local level and not through a statewide mandate.
“This is something, as far as adoption of curriculum, that’s best left to the local elected boards and administrators and educators,” State Education Secretary Johnny Key told the panel.
Lowery acknowledged he was unsure how the prohibition would be difficult to enforce. The bill called for reducing funding for schools that violate the ban in an amount equal to the cost associated with teaching the project.
The proposal is one of two bills Lowery has proposed limiting how race and slavery is taught. But Lowery indicated he’s likely to rework his other bill, which calls for banning courses that promote social justice for one racial group, to instead allow parents to choose whether their children can take those courses.