A Republican legislator wants state education officials to defund a Phoenix school district unless it stops using the “1619 Project” in classrooms, arguing the latter encourages a “dangerous ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality.”
In a letter, Rep. John Fillmore, an Apache Junction Republican, told Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman that the district’s use of the “1619 Project” violates a law banning ethnic studies programs.
“The curriculum is grounded in a collection of politically charged essays and various other dubious works that aim to revise the history of America by highlighting the influence slavery has had on pivotal historical events predating our nation’s founding,” Fillmore wrote.
The state can punish districts that violate the ethnic studies ban by withholding up to 10% of their monthly state aid. Fillmore urged Hoffman, who is a Democrat, to do just that.
“While these types of works may be appropriate in a college-level course, where theories and competing viewpoints can be explored and debated, they do a disservice to our younger students who are not prepared to think critically,” Fillmore wrote.
Hoffman spokeswoman Morgan Dick said curriculum is set locally and there hasn’t been any discussions of cutting Balsz’ or any other districts’ funding.
The “1619 Project,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning series from the New York Times Magazine that puts slavery and contributions of black Americans at the center of American history, has come under heavy criticism from conservatives who accuse it of encouraging anti-American views, even leading former President Donald Trump to establish a “1776 Commission” to issue a response. Many conservatives view it as a flawed reading of history, arguing it paints America as a fundamentally racist nation.
Fillmore and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, criticized Balsz’ decision in December to start using the project in classrooms.
“This is the reality of what America is,” Balsz Superintendent Arleen Kennedy told the Arizona Republic at the time, saying it would present a more honest view of American history. “And whenever you say that, people automatically go to the negative, and say, ‘Well, you’re calling America bad.’ What we’re doing is we’re trying to put context to what it means to be American, make no bones about it.”
Fillmore cited the 1619 Project, among several other factors, in his explanation during a House Government and Elections Committee meeting last week of why he was voting against HB2590, a resolution declaring the third Tuesday in January “National Day of Racial Healing” in Arizona. House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, sponsored the legislation. Fillmore said America had been making progress on race relations since the 1960s until Barack Obama’s presidency when, he said, the country became more divided. He also said he had at times felt reverse discrimination as a white person due to affirmative action programs.
“When I hear things like ‘Black Lives Matter’ but I can’t say ‘All Lives Matter,’ and I see this kind of stuff, it just tears at my head,” Fillmore said at the Feb. 18 hearing on Bolding’s bill. “And I hate to quote Rodney, but, ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ Because this kind of stuff aggravates at us.”
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, voted for Bolding’s bill, which was enough to get it out of committee, but it remains to be seen whether it will make it to the House floor. At Thursday’s House GOP caucus, several members argued against bringing the bill forward and accused the Democrats of using the debate to paint Republicans as racist. Kavanagh, who heads the Government and Elections Committee and who decided to hold a hearing on it in the first place, said he believes Bolding’s intent is innocuous and he would support it if the Democrats don’t use it in an inflammatory way.
“But if they’re going to use this as a vehicle to make divisive racial statements then it’s going to cause more harm than good,” he said.
Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, predicted the debate would “turn out to be a circus” and that he, as the only black Republican in the Legislature, would be thrust into the center of it.
“I really don’t feel like having to stand up as the only member of this body with a darker tan than most of you defending something that is ridiculous and a waste of time, and as long as we placate to this narrative that we are going to be wasting time (on) doing the things we really need to do,” he said. “I can say with personal experience that there’s nothing wrong with our society when we are talking about racial injustice and they’re just going to play on it and then the camera’s going to be on me.”