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Tom Cotton: Schools that teach real history of slavery shouldn't get funding

But the Republican senator has previously argued the government shouldn’t interfere with state and local decisions on education.

By Josh Israel - July 23, 2020
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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.,speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, on global challenges and U.S. national security strategy. The witnesses were former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) wants to withhold federal funding from school systems that the New York Times’ acclaimed project on the history of slavery in America. This comes despite Cotton’s longstanding position that the federal government should not micromanage state and local decisions when it comes to education.

On Thursday, he introduced the Saving American History Act of 2020, a bill aimed at stripping funding from schools that use the Times’ “1619 Project” in their curriculum.

In a press release, Cotton said his bill would bar any use of federal funds to teach about the project in “K-12 schools or school districts” and punish them by making them “ineligible for federal professional-development grants.”

Like many conservatives, Cotton is unhappy with the Times’ project, which is an ongoing multimedia look at the role slavery has played in the history of what is now the United States. The project, conceived as a wide-ranging examination of the 400 years since the arrival of the first enslaved African people in Virginia, was created mostly by Black contributors.

While some historians have disputed parts of the project, its creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for the project. The board praised her “sweeping, provocative and personal essay for the ground-breaking 1619 Project, which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.”

At least five school systems have adopted the project for use in their curriculum, including those in Chicago; Buffalo, New York; and Washington, D.C.

“The New York Times’s 1619 Project is a racially divisive, revisionist account of history that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded,” Cotton wrote Thursday. “Not a single cent of federal funding should go to indoctrinate young Americans with this left-wing garbage.”

It is not the first time Cotton has criticized the project. Last month, in a speech, he derided it as “the New York Times’s revisionist anti-American history project” and called it “execrable,” without specifying what aspects of it he disputes.

But he has previously argued against the federal government meddling in school curricula.

In January 2017, Cotton praised then-Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos as “rightly skeptical of any attempt by Washington to impose social-engineering fads on Arkansas’s parents and teachers.”

The following month, he backed her speedy confirmation, writing, “I have every expectation she’ll return power to Arkansas parents, as I’ve long advocated for.”

In March 2017, he and 10 Senate Republican colleagues introduced a resolution to overturn an Obama-era education accountability regulation.

“Congress has said the states should hold schools accountable for their performance-without Washington bureaucrats looking over their shoulder,” he said in a press release. “And by passing this resolution, we will continue to put power back in the hands of parents and teachers, where it belongs.”

After the resolution passed the GOP-controlled Congress, Cotton cheered, “I’m glad to see Congress push back against this federal overreach. Now states and local communities can decide how best to educate their children.”

Cotton’s own views on race have been repeatedly called into question.

Earlier this week, Cotton told Fox News that anti-racism protesters in Portland, Oregon were “little different from the insurrectionists who seceded from the Union in 1861 in South Carolina and tried to take over Fort Sumter.”

In June, he authored a controversial and error-filled op-ed arguing that U.S. troops should be sent to American cities to “restore order” as protesters marched against systemic racism and police violence.

He also made a racist speech on the Senate floor in June, opposing statehood for the District of Columbia. Noting two Black mayors of the city, Cotton asked “Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry?”

Cotton’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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