SC professor says banning 1619 project amounts to censorship
It’s a truism that teenagers will do the opposite of what they’re told.
Imagine, then, teachers across the state telling high school students “the legislature thinks The 1619 Project is too dangerous for you.
Students will fall over themselves to grab it.
In fact, book bans consistently – and dramatically – fail to suppress books, turning them into major cultural events instead.
The same thing happens with The 1619 Projectand supporters of H. 4343 (a bill before the South Carolina legislature ironically dubbed the “South Carolina Academic Integrity Act”) undermine their own efforts by drawing many of public attention to what they hope to bury.
There are good reasons to oppose H. 4343: it seeks to solve a non-existent problem, it relies on an outdated race policy, and it politicizes our state’s schools, which are already struggling to retain talented educators.
Many qualified people have made these arguments, but there is another good reason to oppose the bill: it is censorship.
No matter what you think of the underlying issues, freethinkers of all political stripes should reject the bill, because banning books and hiding uncomfortable truths is detrimental to a thriving republic.
In 1957, the Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment was intended to protect “all ideas of the least redemptive social importance – unorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas odious to the prevailing climate of opinion”.
Thomas Jefferson explained almost 170 years earlier that “whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government”. The free exchange of ideas is necessary because the people in charge of public affairs — in a democracy it’s you and me — must be able to consider all points of view.
The reasons are clear: the best ideas and the brightest ideas emerge when truths are tested and lies are exposed in the light of reason.
Moreover, as John Stuart Mill wrote in on freedom“Any silence in discussion is a presumption of infallibility.”
In other words, censorship reflects the arrogant assumption that our opinions are always right.
For these reasons, it has become a guiding American ideal that government cannot dictate what a free people should read and consider. Limiting the free exchange of ideas would produce ignorance on the part of the governed while reflecting arrogance on the part of the government.
Either way, keeping content like this away from students is short-sighted.
Yes The 1619 Project and critical race theory are really threats to children (they’re not) or if they’re just difficult (they are), then we need to help students confront them thoughtfully alongside informed adults, not to pretend they don’t exist.
This is true because one day these students will be the citizen-leaders of our democracy. If we stunt their intellectual growth because we fear entrusting them with difficult ideas, then we lose the legacy of independent thinking that we owe to the next generation.
In 1783, George Washington addressed his officers about an incipient mutiny among the base.
Washington supported the right of soldiers to air their grievances, stating “if men should be restrained from expressing their feelings on any matter… freedom of speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent, we may be brought, like sheep, to The slaughter.”
I don’t want to exaggerate. I just remind readers that the founders valued informed discussion as an essential part of self-government.
We don’t hide from difficult ideas, but rather seek to understand them, modify them, or reject them – and even, at times, embrace them.
That’s what free people do; that’s what a free country does; that is what the legislature and all South Carolinians should do.
Patrick Lawrence is an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster and author of Obscene Gestures: Counter-Narratives of Sex and Race in the Twentieth Century.