Texas’ 1836 Project aims to promote “patriotic education,” but critics worry it will gloss over state’s history of racism

The Tejano Monument, commemorating the contributions that Tejanos made to Texas history and culture, sits on the southern lawn of the Texas Capitol on June 8, 2021.
The Tejano Monument, commemorating the contributions that Tejanos made to Texas history and culture, sits on the southern lawn of the Texas Capitol on June 8, 2021.

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When Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill this week creating what’s called the “1836 Project,” he touted it as a way to promote the state’s exceptionalism. The name mirrors the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which examines U.S. history from the date when enslaved people first arrived on American soil.

But House Bill 2497 centers on the year Texas won independence from Mexico and is meant to promote a “patriotic education” to the state’s residents.

“To keep Texas the best state in the United States of America, we must never forget why Texas became so exceptional in the first place,” Abbott said in a video on Twitter before passing the law.

Under HB 2497, the 1836 Project is essentially just the name of an advisory committee designed to promote the state’s history to Texas residents, largely through pamphlets given to people receiving driver’s licenses. It will also award students on their knowledge of the state’s history and values.

But critics are concerned the new project is a part of Republicans’ nationwide push to limit the discussion of critical race theory in schools. House Bill 3979, now awaiting Abbott’s approval, will limit how Texas educators can discuss current events and racism in the U.S. The 1836 Project also requires the promotion of “the Christian heritage of this state.” Another piece of legislation awaiting Abbott’s signature, Senate Bill 797, requires Texas schools to display the term “In God We Trust” across campus buildings if such signage is donated to them.

One controversial aspect of the 1836 Project is its name. Some critics have pointed out that Texas’ independence didn’t apply to all of those living in the state at the time, such as slaves and indigenous groups. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas, passed in 1836, legalized slavery and excluded indigenous groups from gaining independence.

“1836 marked independence for some, but for others marks a period of slavery and pain and exploitation for many, many people who live there,” said Maggie Stern, a youth civic education and engagement coordinator at the Children’s Defense Fund in Texas.