The proposal to restrict the teaching of the 1619 Project in Arkansas public schools failed on a voice-vote in a House committee Tuesday (Feb. 9).
Following a two-hour debate and lengthy testimony, members of the House Education Committee voted against HB 1231.
The bill’s author, state Rep. Mike Lowery, R-Maumelle, has argued that the 1619 Project is a “thesis in search of evidence” and should not be taught as factual in public schools. The project examines the consequences of slavery in the U.S.
He told committee members Tuesday it isn’t about banning the teaching of African-American history, but about teaching factual history as part of the curriculum.
Opponents of the bill said the project has historical viewpoints that merit discussion. They also raised concerns about censorship.
“The purpose of social studies is to cultivate leaders, the purpose of history is to tell people what has happened and how to analyze stuff critically,” said Jack Clay, a Bryant High School student speaking against the bill.
“If we want to talk about the true principles on which America was founded, you’ve got to talk about slavery,” said Kymara Seals, the Arkansas Public Policy Director said.
Initially, the bill included all public schools including higher education, but Lowery amended the bill to remove colleges and universities. Part of the proposal would have taken away up to 10% of a school district’s funding if they chose to teach the 1619 Project.
Johnny Key, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Education, said the department didn’t know of any school that included the project in its history curriculum. He said the department was against the bill.
“There have been times that we have deviated in the state from this, but this is still the position of the department, this is something that’s…as far as adoption of curriculum that’s best left to the local elected boards, and the administrators and educators,” said Key.
Before a motion to vote was made, Lowery closed on his bill adding, “You heard one speaker talk about that – if you adopt this, made a reference to Stalin and wiping out history, well that’s frankly what is happening with the 1619 Project, it is the ultimate cancel culture.”
After the bill failed on a voice-vote, Lowery said he would not present this bill again but was pleased with the conversation.
“Sometimes, the most we can do as legislators is to bring public awareness to an issue that people may not be aware of,” he said. “It’s one thing to react after something has already taken place, but I think what’s most important is for us to be proactive.”
Lowery also revealed that he plans to pull down another controversial bill.
HB 1218, the proposal to restrict certain classroom instruction regarding division and social justice, will not be presented by Lowery. He said he plans to speak with the co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch. If Stubblefield wishes to run with it as a Senate bill, Lowery said, he will pass it on.
Stubblefield was undecided on the bill as of Tuesday night.
Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is KATV’s senior political reporter.