Congress has been busy introducing bills supposedly to improve American civics education but really to stoke anti-American neo-racism.
In classic top-down fashion and with titles such as The Civics Learning Act, these federal initiatives would impose identity politics on all American schools with things like Critical Race Theory (“CRT”), a pseudo-pedagogy obsessed with skin color and perfect for fomenting racial discord. CRT teaches that America was founded on racial bigotry, that slavery and racial oppression are the nation’s leading characteristics and that all so-called white people are to blame while all so-called “people of color” are their victims.
Civics or the grievance industry? To ask is to answer.
As is their wont, Congress uses money to try to impose its will by offering millions in grants to schools that will use CRT and focus on current “political controversies” sure to criticize America rather than study it. Worse, these grants allow schools to give course credit for political protests, putting left-wing activism on par with factual knowledge.
These programs are also popping up at the state level — alternately called “activist” or “engagement” civics and “service” or “‘performative” learning — in case the federal bills fail.
In response, the National Association of Scholars has launched a new Civics Alliance to fight for real civics education, focused on dates and documents, not racialist anti-Americanism. Everyone knows that Americans lack basic knowledge of their own government and history. Most cannot name the three branches of government, cannot identify foundational documents such as the Declaration of Independence and cannot date the Revolutionary War, much less the Civil War. This is also true of highly credentialed individuals such as college graduates and Ph.D. candidates. (Unfortunately, many students actually lose knowledge during college, not just in history but also in math and writing.)
Every level of American education bears some responsibility for this state of affairs. But obviously the answer to such ignorance is not activism, by whatever name, but a focus on events, dates, documents and basic historical figures.
The NAS Civics Alliance opposes all politicking and partisanship in the classroom, which should remain a place to transmit knowledge and encourage thought, not activism. And every educational level should instill the constitutional values of our Bill of Rights, especially that we have natural rights and liberties that any legitimate government must respect.
For the darker chapters of American history including the commercial slave trade, the Trail of Tears and the eugenics of forced sterilization for the disabled, real civics education should introduce them when appropriate (when they can be understood) and in historical context: Did most nations and peoples engage in these behaviors at the time? When and why were these practices eventually denounced and abandoned? Do they exist anywhere today?
The natural result of real civics education is love of country and appreciation for one’s heritage, notwithstanding real historical sins. Like individuals, nations are never perfect and should be judged by their ideals, efforts and complete record, not just their crimes. Most Americans sense that their country is a good and decent place. They can see that millions are literally dying to live here. A real civics education would give them the understanding of why this is so.
NAS also urges caution for any civics initiative that wades away from dates and documents, or partners with groups responsible for the current mess. A decade ago, radical educrats included conservatives in their development of the “Common Core,” another so-called educational initiative that promoted politics instead of learning. That partnership gave rise to today’s ignorance.
Those who choose to see America as “irredeemably racist” and work to change almost everything about it — its form of government, its moral heritage, its language and its people — obviously dislike America. And just as obviously, they’re not on the same team as those who love it. Pretending otherwise is not only a fool’s errand but a death sentence for real civics education.
Teresa R. Manning is the Policy Director at the National Association of Scholars and a former law professor at Scalia Law School, George Mason University. Those supporting the NAS effort can find out more at www.nas.org