One of the things you discover quickly when you start homeschooling is the immense gulf in quality between the resources that are available to teach children and the curricula that are used in public schools. Typical homeschooling curricula are teaching kids the equivalent of several grade levels beyond what their peers in public schools are getting. There are so many outstanding curricula choices available that it is hard to choose from. Even Oxford University Press is producing K-12 curricula now. But if you send your child to a public school, they are going to get Common Core junk. A lack of quality content is not why US students test so poorly.
But the real difference is when you get to the humanities. There are homeschooled children who are learning Latin in lower elementary school and can tell you who Hammurabi is. In many public schools (and later in universities), however, the subject of history in particular is being re-written by political actors trying to replace far-left ideologies and propaganda for actual knowledge.
One of the worst saboteurs is the New York Times. The NYT has long tried to leave its mark on classrooms both in K-12 and on college campuses. They reach purchase agreements with schools across the country to have their paper distributed to students. They develop curricula based off of their reporting.
Having school children stay abreast of current events would not be a bad thing, except that the NYT in particular has been a problematic news source for a while.
Back when I was in college, nearly two decades ago, the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core program required students to have NYT subscriptions. (It probably still does.) As the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred while I was an undergraduate, the NYT subscription mandate gave me a front-row seat to the parade of outright lies the paper published at the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much like how the paper outsourced its editorial page to Comey’s corrupt FBI during the Orange Man Bad era of news, the paper had likely outsourced its pages then to a CIA that was hungry for war (and the avalanche of government funding that entailed). The legacy of the NYT’s college crusade was that I started my adult life with a deep distrust of the media, and it has only become more pronounced as journalism has become ever more deranged.
Now that the Russia hoax has exploded, the NYT’s new gambit is identity politics. I challenge you, dear readers, to pick up a Sunday edition of the NYT and count the number of articles that the paper works identity politics into. We did this recently, and counted close to 100 articles with an identity politics angle. It absolutely pervades the newspaper. You cannot read about arts without hearing about how the ballet company is changing up traditional stories to include same-sex relationships. You cannot read about restaurants without digressions on the imperialist mindset. You will start to wonder about the mental health of people who voluntarily subscribe to this content. “Why, yes, I would like holiday recipes that include moral purity tests!”
But any past controversy surrounding the intersection of corporate media and public education pales in comparison to what the NYT is trying to do with its “1619 Project.” For those who are unfamiliar with the project, the NYT Magazine has an on-going series with the ambitious goal of writing an alternative history of the United States where race and slavery are the central movers in literally every event. The project’s name comes from the paper’s thesis that the “true” birth of the United States did not occur in 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, but in 1619, when the first African slaves were brought to the North American continent.
The NYT has partnered with Smithsonian (which is also into woke revisionist history now – Smithsonian Magazine is about as ridiculous as the NYT) and Pulitzer Center Education Resources and Programs to produce a revisionist history curricula for K-12 public schools. Their program has already been implemented in Chicago and other places. So rather than reading books produced by people with an academic background in history, kids are getting materials produced by activist journalists with a explicit political agenda. Your tax dollars at work!
This past week, several prominent historians, including Gordon Wood and James McPherson, wrote a letter to the NYT explaining that what the paper has published under its 1619 Project has included major factual errors and demanded that the paper print corrections. The professors specifically noted that if the paper left the material unchanged, it might be responsible for convincing a generation of school children to believe things about the nation’s history that were demonstrably untrue.
The historians cited, for example, that the NYT now claims that the colonists fought for independence from Britain because they were afraid that Britain would take their slaves away. Gone are the issues of taxation without representation and the like, now the Revolutionary War was fundamentally about slavery.
The NYT claims are laughable on their face for a number of reasons. First, the hyper-literate colonists produced many, many volumes of political philosophy and commentary on why they sought independence. Anyone is a 30-second Google search from hundreds of primary sources on this topic. They don’t suggest that the purpose of the war was “Britain is going to take my slaves away.”
Second, Britain itself had a booming slave trade of its own during the 18th century. It had entire port towns devoted to the sale of slaves. Of the American colonies, those with economies that were becoming increasingly dependent on slave labor contained the most loyalists to the crown. This was not a source of cultural or economic difference between the colonies and Britain.
The professors also question the paper’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as someone who did not fully embrace racial equality. Apparently, the NYT is now portraying abolitionist northerners as just as skeptical of racial equality as pro-slavery southerners in the service of a narrative that African-Americans had to go it alone in pursuing their freedom. Again, the professors explain that there are abundant primary sources on the question of how authentic slaves’ allies were.
I have no idea what might motivate the paper to publish such nonsense except that they run into problems loathing the Republican Party as they attempt to cover American history. The GOP was founded on one issue and one issue alone: emancipating slaves. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to come from what was then the anti-slavery political party. And he paid dearly for it.
The professors point out the irony of the NYT claims: In trying to write the history of slavery, the NYT takes the same ideological position as white supremacists, which is that the founding documents of this nation never spoke to racial equality. It is nearly impossible to separate the race-baiting narrative the NYT is publishing from the arguments made by secessionists ahead of and during the Civil War, which is the notion that “all men are created equal” was always intended to apply only to white folk.
The NYT received this criticism exactly as well as you’d think they would. The journalist presiding over the project made comments on social media that the NYT was not interested in the opinions of “white historians,” and that is why they were not consulted for the project to fact-check their work.
The editor of the NYT explained that while the paper does not employ anyone with any serious background in the study of history, he still prefers his journalists’ production over the work of serious historians. History is always changing and being re-visited, he claims, so what he’s doing is morally justified.
Many critics have interpreted the NYT response to the historians as the NYT claiming that facts don’t matter to what they publish. That is obviously true, as the NYT publishes articles that are not accurate as a matter of fact on a regular basis and frequently gives a platform to bad actors, from corrupt bureaucrats to terrorists to anti-Semites.
But what the NYT’s editor is arguing about history to these historians is far worse than that. He’s suggesting that there are no facts in history, only subjective interpretations that change with the Zeitgeist of those telling the story. And his Zeitgeist is identity politics.
That the NYT is being led by someone with an agitprop worldview explains why the paper publishes so much inaccurate stuff now. They care more about what their political pals say than ever searching out primary sources that might offer contradictory information. They aren’t interested in investigating anything. They aren’t interested in what is true. They just want to stir up trouble.
It says a lot about the state of public education in our country, however, that the NYT can publish stuff like this and have it used as curriculum in a classroom. It’s difficult for academic standards to get any lower than this.