In the natural world, Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
But in the political world, which has become increasingly unnatural, the law seems to have become “for every action, there is an unequal and opposite overreaction.”
On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order disbanding the 1776 Commission, which President Trump had created by executive order in September to support what he called “patriotic education.”
The 45-page report, released in the final days of Trump’s presidency, is a rebuke of decades of historical scholarship on the legacy of American slavery, but primarily was created as a response to the New York Times’ Pulitzer prize-winning 1619 Project, a deep unpacking of the origins and legacy of institutional racism in American history.
The reaction by historians was swift and brutal. Historians noted the report lacked citations and, in many instances, a rehash of conservative opinion pieces dating as far back as 2008.
As an example, in its opening paragraphs, the report sets off two passages in quotation marks but does not provide any attribution for the quotes.
Courtney Thompson, an assistant professor at Mississippi State University, ran the 1776 report through TurnItIn, a plagiarism detection service used primarily by universities and colleges, and claimed 26 percent of the content had been lifted in various ways from other sources without citation.
The report, then, is largely a work of opinion based not only historical facts, but on previous opinion pieces. Its speculation built on top of speculation, a shoddy, rushed work of supposition.
In its discussion of slavery, the report rationalizes the suffering of millions of African slaves by pointing out that slavery existed throughout the world at the time on the nation’s founding. It also characterizes the Civil Rights movement as having lost its way after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, evolving into a movement focused on equality to preferential treatment of Blacks through affirmative action and social welfare programs.
In a section called “Challenges to America’s Principles,” it addresses not only slavery, but progressivism, fascism, communism and racism/identity politics.
Clearly, the 1776 Project Report is a political document, not a scholarly work of history.
Even so, there is some real threat that the report may be used in classrooms. Gov. Tate Reeves, in his budget proposal, recommended $3 million to fund “Patriotic Education” in the state’s public schools, clearly with an eye of adopting the 1776 Commission Report, whose commission included former Governor Phil Bryant.
Meanwhile, the Legislature is considering a bill that would strip funds from schools who adopt the 1619 Project as part of its curriculum.
We do not believe that either of these is suitable for K-12 curriculums. The 1619 Project’s goals are worthwhile in telling the story of Black America that has largely been ignored.
But the 1619 project has issues of its own among historians.
The difference between the two retellings of our history is that the 1619 Project sought to right a wrong while the 1776 Report clings to a history that can be loosely described as history of white Americans, by white Americans and for white Americans.
As a curriculum, the 1619 Project is flawed. The 1776 Report is both flawed and sinister.