Republicans ask Biden to withdraw 'divisive' proposal to teach more Black history

FILE PHOTO: People take part in events to mark Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, in Washington
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By David Morgan and Merdie Nzanga

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dozens of Senate Republicans called on the Biden administration on Friday to withdraw what they say is a "divisive" education proposal that would place greater emphasis on slavery and the contributions of Black Americans in history and civics lessons taught in U.S. schools.

In the latest salvo of a burgeoning culture war over race in America, 39 Republican lawmakers led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the 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. They need to understand both our successes and our failures," the Republican senators wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona dated April 29. The letter was released on Friday.

"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."

A spokesman for the U.S. Education Department said that institutions are acknowledging America's "legacy of systemic inequities" and noted that the department welcomes comments on the proposal until May 19.

The lawmakers zeroed in on the proposal's mention of the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project. The initiative, which traces U.S. history from the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in colonial Virginia, was a frequent target for former President Donald Trump, who sought instead to promote "patriotic" education.

Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas, introduced legislation last June to prohibit the use of federal funds to teach a curriculum linked to the 1619 Project in schools. Since then, Republican state lawmakers in Iowa, Mississippi and several other states have introduced similar bills proposing schools lose state funding for teaching the curriculum.

"No one is pushing laws mandating the teaching of the #1619Project, but Republicans across the U.S. are pushing laws to mandate 'patriotic' education & to prohibit the teaching of the #1619Project" and about the United State's "racist past," Niklole Hannah-Jones, the journalist who created the project, said on Twitter on Friday.

The letter released on Friday came two days after Senator Tim Scott, the Senate's sole Black Republican, declared that "America is not a racist country" in the Republican response to President Joe Biden's address to Congress. Scott also defended a new Republican voting law in Georgia that Democrats have denounced as a return to Jim Crow segregation.

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."

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

(Reporting by David Morgan and Merdie Nzanga; Editing by Heather Timmons, Louise Heavens and Daniel Wallis)