Painting by Henry Arthur McArdle, Dawn at the Alamo, interprets the battle at the Alamo as heroic. This painting hangs in the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol.

BY LAURA ONYENEHO

Critics are growing concerned after Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 2497, the establishment of the 1836 Project, making it difficult for educators to teach a more inclusive and truthful account of U.S History.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott. AP

According to the outline of the bill, the 1836 Project will be led by an “advisory committee to promote patriotic education and increase awareness of Texas values. Patriotic education would include the presentation of the history of the state’s founding and foundational principles, examination of how Texas has grown closer to those principles throughout its history, and explanation of why commitment to those principles is beneficial and justified.”

In a video posted on Twitter, Abbott says that the 1836 Project will ensure future generations understand Texas values and its exceptionalism. The project was named after the year Texas declared independence from Mexico. The bill models itself after former President Donald Trump’s unpromising “1776 Project,” to form a commission to refute the teachings on critical race theory, systemic racism, and the examination of how slavery has impacted American society.

This cover image released by One World shows “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” which expands upon the New York Times Magazine publication from 2019 that centers the country’s history around slavery and led to a Pulitzer for commentary for the project’s creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones. (One World via AP)

This was a clear rebuke of the “1619 Project,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning report by the New York Times led by reporter Nikole Hanna-Jones, which examines American history from the date when enslaved people first arrived on U.S soil.

Although public schools already teach history, many are concerned that the bill will obscure the state’s deep-rooted history of slavery and racism.

“This is problematic. I don’t think we can funnel the stories through one particular lens. This isn’t going to prepare our kids for the future they are going to face. There is such a rich history and there is a lot of pain from that history. We want our children to learn from our past to empower them to create a better future,” said Dr. Kwabena Mensah, Assistant Superintendent at Fort Bend ISD.

Mensah, who also serves as president of the Houston Area Alliance of Black School Educators (HAABSE), says that the project will pose a challenge for educators preparing for the return of students in the Fall.

“Education and politics place us (HAABSE) in a very delicate position. As a non-profit organization, there are external factors that limit us from speaking out on certain issues,” he says. “We are encouraging our educators and membership on how to navigate through this when it (the bill) gets implemented because they will feel pressure to communicate in a different way and not share information in the way they’ve done before. 

“So, we will have to figure out strategies to support them. These educators still have to be at the table to be the face for our kids, and we don’t want to lose teachers because they’re being sanctioned or being written up for going against the grain. We have to still be in a space where we aren’t compromising our beliefs.”

House Bill 2497 will go into effect on Sept 1, 2021.

Laura Onyeneho covers the city’s education system as it relates to Black children for the Defender Network as a Report For America Corps member. Email her at laura@defendernetwork.com