Senate Republicans balk at plan to highlight Black history in US schools

Dozens of Senate Republicans have called on the Biden administration to withdraw what they say is a “divisive” proposal that would place greater emphasis on slavery and the contributions of Black Americans in history and civics lessons in US schools.

The lawmakers zeroed in on the proposal’s mention of the New York Times’ Pulitzer prize-winning 1619 Project.

The project, which traces US history from the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in colonial Virginia, was a frequent target for the Republican right in Congress and Donald Trump, who sought instead to promote “patriotic” education.

In the latest salvo of a burgeoning culture war over race, 39 Republicans led by the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said proposed education department policy would divert established school curricula toward a “politicized and divisive agenda” fixated on the country’s flaws.

“Young Americans deserve a rigorous understanding of civics and American history,” the Republican senators wrote in a letter to the education secretary, Miguel Cardona, released on Friday.

“They need to understand both our successes and our failures. Americans do not need or want their tax dollars diverted from promoting the principles that unite our nation toward promoting radical ideologies meant to divide us.”

The proposed policy would support teaching that “reflects the breadth and depth of our nation’s diverse history and the vital role of diversity in our nation’s democracy”, according to a notice posted on a government regulation website.

It would encourage schools to adopt projects that incorporate “the systemic marginalization, biases, inequities and discriminatory policy and practice in American history”.

A spokesman for the US education department said institutions were acknowledging America’s “legacy of systemic inequities” and noted that the department welcomes comments on the proposal until 19 May.

The Republicans’ letter came two days after Senator Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, declared that “America is not a racist country” in his response to Joe Biden’s address to Congress. Scott also defended a Republican voting law in Georgia Democrats have denounced as a return to Jim Crow segregation.

The Republican party, which remains fractured after Trump’s false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, has sought to brand Biden as a divisive leader controlled by leftists.

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