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U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton may find this harsh, but he seems no better than The New York Times.

The legendary newspaper dumped its editorial page editor for the sin of publishing a recent essay by Cotton on the op-ed page. It did so in part because new-generation "journalists" in its newsroom--who are supposed to be separated from the opinion section by the venerable newspaper model--were outraged that the junior senator from Arkansas was given his extreme right-wing say.

Cotton seemed to revel in having had a hand in advancing the revelation of The Times as intolerant of countering viewpoints.

Then, on Friday, ever gaining ground as the more deviously competent heir-apparent to Donald Trump, Cotton put in a bill that would cut federal education funding to any school that dared teach from new American history curriculum adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning project last year by the Sunday magazine of The Times.

The junior senator may lack a sense of irony.

The Times' work was called "The 1619 Project" and timed on the 400th anniversary of the date when 20 slaves first were delivered to our continent. It invested major research hours in reports about the vital and influential role that slaves played in the colonies' founding and economic success leading to independence.

Subsequently, The Times entered into a partnership with the nonprofit Pulitzer Center to develop a curriculum for teaching from the project in schools.

Cotton's bill would determine the cost of acquiring those materials and cut federal funds by that much to any school acquiring them--because, he said in a news release, this Times project is "garbage" in that it seeks to revise the real history that America was, from the beginning, all about independence and freedom.

The bill is less than meets the eye, as is usually the way of right-wing tactics and demagoguery. It's a few dollars. It's likely never to pass. It's mostly for show.

It's about the election-timed exploiting of fear and resentment of anything that disturbs the conventional white-dominance and white-virtue version of America.

That means it's red meat for MAGA folks, designed to rile the rile-prone right-wing base, which believes that The Times and other liberal-identified groups "hate" America, as President Trump put it to Chris Wallace the other day.

Challenged by Wallace to provide the basis for saying the left hates America, Trump said the left wants to de-emphasize Christopher Columbus and emphasize 1619.

Imagine that--trying to give the earliest American slaves their due and talking a bit less in American history about the soaring world history of brave European exploration of an unknown world.

On cue, Cotton came along five days later seeking to reinforce with supposed policy the president's uneven rhetorical performance.

There can be no doubt that slavery played a major role in American history. There can be little doubt that our conventional American history teaching has told a story mildly sanitized, at least, to extol the noble concepts of our nation, which are real, and underplay human bondage.

You will hear that historians have criticized this 1619 Project. The main substantive complaint is with The 1619 Project's conclusion that the American Revolutionary War was fought, at least in part, to protect slavery.

You can understand how some people might recoil at the notion that we'd teach our children that they live in a country renowned for freedom but actually established to engage in the sin of human bondage.

But one of the historians who advised the project and objects to that conclusion goes on to say the complaint on that single point in no way affects compelling accuracy otherwise. And the conclusion has been abandoned or downplayed in emerging instructional materials.

It is true that England was closer in 1776 to ending slavery than America was, and that some slaves fought for and otherwise helped England against the colonists and got rewarded with liberation.

But it's also true that the abolitionist movement was afoot in New England colonies at the time of the revolution.

These things are always nuanced. History instruction should encompass more depth than a 1940s newsreel.

History education is about saying what we know and what we disagree about and leaving the rest to classroom questioning, learned debate and further research and contemplation.

If Blacks were important to this nation's founding, as they were, then today's Black students should be told.

Education never should be about hiding anything under government threat. That would be propaganda.

The introspective pursuit of truth--and free and open debate in that process--is the very point and essence of a great and free country.

To be free in the greatest American sense, The Times ought to retain editors who run essays from the elected likes of Cotton, and Cotton ought to leave school curriculum to educators and find some other cynical and surely easy way to rile the rile-prone Trumpians.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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