Salvo 04.29.2022 10 minutes

Perverting “Civics”

Students standing for Pledge of Allegiance

The Left is laying the foundation for an insurmountable advantage in the battle of ideas on basic American values.

The Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress are infusing critical race theory (CRT), so-called anti-racist (in reality, profoundly racist) teachings, and other progressive ideologies into K-12 curricula. With forceful support from progressive states, there is a coordinated assault at all levels of our educational system to indoctrinate children and professionals in far-left anti-America rhetoric. If this effort succeeds—it is making spectacular progress—our country’s values and future are in jeopardy.

The advocates of CRT and related progressive principles have spent years planning and readying their takeover of our institutions. By dominating departments of education, accreditation agencies, university administrations, professional licensing organizations, and teacher unions, they have been able to mandate ideological training at each level of education, and then coerce compliance as a condition of employment, promotion, and appointment to governing boards.

Anyone who objects is shunned as a white supremacist, and suspended or terminated for insubordination or failure to comply with conditions of employment. The institution defends its suppression of academic freedom and free speech by pointing to its accreditation and licensing obligations, and the admission requirements of universities to which its students typically apply. While the Left may suffer an occasional setback in local elections or court, over time, this strategy will ensure the implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which is the immediate goal of CRT.

The success and prospects for this intricate strategy deserve respect, and fear. If conservatives and moderates do not use every lawful lever of power remaining to break the progressive chokehold, there soon will be no place to turn. Even in red states, the national accrediting and licensing requirements will do devastating damage and perpetuate a cultural civil war.

Last year, the Biden Department of Education (DOE) issued its Proposed Priorities – American History and Civics Education for a new grant program. The guidelines call for “the development of culturally responsive teaching and learning” that benefits “underserved populations” as part of “the ongoing national reckoning with systemic racism [that has] highlighted the urgency of improving racial equity throughout our society, including in our education system.”

The DOE quotes Biden’s executive order requiring “an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda,” and urges incorporation of the widely discredited, anti-white and anti-America 1619 Project and “anti-racist” practices. The DOE also expresses appreciation for Ibram X. Kendi, a leading “anti-racist” who advocates discrimination against whites as the remedy for past discrimination. Grant applicants are required to “take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”

Majority leader Mitch McConnell and 38 other Republican senators wrote to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona expressing “grave concern” about the proposed focus on “divisive, radical, and historically-dubious buzzwords and propaganda.” The DOE’s response was to re-affirm the importance of “acknowledging the legacy of systemic inequity in this country.” Despite extensive comments to its proposal, the DOE granted $1,700,000, without making any changes. Cardenas conceded only that DOE would not “dictate or recommend specific curriculum.”

Separately, the Biden administration allocated nearly $200 billion of Covid 19 relief funds to schools. Explaining how the funds should be used, the Biden Administration’s ED Covid 19 Handbook, vol. 2 links to the Abolitionist Teacher Network’s Guide for Racial Justice and urges that the precepts in that Guide be “anchor tenets in building a schoolwide system of educational opportunity.” The Guide “embod[ies] the spirit of Black Lives Mattering” and among other extreme ideas, advocates “free, antiracist therapy for White educators” and “disrupt[ing] whiteness.”

There are now at least four bills before Congress proposing to expand federal funding for “civics.”

  • The Civics Secures Democracy Act (”Civics Act”) was introduced by three Democrats and two Republicans “to restore the importance placed on civics education in American classrooms with targeted federal investments to support and expand access to civics and history education” that meet the needs of the “traditionally underserved,” especially students in “rural and inner-city urban areas” and “underrepresented minorities.” The Civics Act appropriates nearly $600 billion over six years for DOE grants to schools and non-profit organizations for subjects, including “civics,” and “political thought,” and to “engage in American democratic practices as citizens and residents of the United States.” The bill defines “civics” to include the “acquisition of civic dispositions, values such as . . .tolerance and inclusion, and understanding perspectives that differ from one’s own as well as a disposition to be civically engaged.”
  • The Civics Learning Act of 2021, sponsored by 51 House Democrats, appropriates $30 million to expand education about how our government operates, and the “current state of affairs,” and to foster “participat[ion] in the political process.”
  • The Inspire to Serve Act, sponsored by eight Democrats and two Republicans, establishes a Council on Military, National, and Public Service, and appropriates not less than $100 billion to fund K-12 programs on “civic education and applied civics.”
  • The Promoting Programming, Research, Education and Preservation in Civics and Government Act, sponsored by 17 Democrats and five Republicans authorizes the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanity to make grants for civics education.

There should be no misunderstanding that in these bills, “civics” means progressive ideology, or that “participation” and “engagement” means protests. It is pathetic that any Republican would sponsor these bills, and that 12 Republicans did not sign Leader McConnell’s letter.

The National Association of Scholars formed a Civics Alliance to oppose CRT, the bills described above, and particularly the Civics Act. Last year, an NAS open letter asked Senator Cornyn and Representative Cole to withdraw their support for the Civics Act. Instead, Cornyn fell into the trap of accepting that the words in these bills are used with their traditional meanings. He misinterpreted a Civics Act provision that the DOE is not “required” to create any particular curriculum as a prohibition against doing so, and confused the bill’s formulas for allocating the size of grants with the discretion accorded to the DOE to select the programs and institutions to be supported. For a former Texas attorney general and Texas Supreme Court justice, these errors are unfathomable.

The Civics Act sponsors responded to the pressure by making its bias less overt. NAS described the deception in a further open letter that explained the bill’s “innocuous” title and words “conceal a bait-and-switch.” NAS explained that the jargon selected for the Civics Act is “a pretext for Critical Race Theory and Action Civics—“civics education” by way of leftist activism.”

An administration with a “whole of government” equity agenda, and a DOE that venerates the 1619 Project, Ibram Kendi, and the Abolitionist Teacher Network, will certainly direct these grants to anti-white, anti-merit, anti-American, extreme progressive ideologies.

The federal government’s ability to allocate grants is just one thread of the enveloping web of progressive control of government services, as well as the funding, messaging, and execution of public and private sector recruitment, hiring, promotion, contracting, and education.

Other threads include state and local school boards that require public K-12 schools teach “anti-racist” theories, and the National Association of Independent Schools, which requires private K-12 schools to incorporate DEI and mandates that each school board trustee pledge fealty to “equity and justice” as a condition of serving on the board. Some state curricula even embed social justice in math courses in place of math. Given the strong support of both national teachers’ unions for CRT and “anti-racist” content (see here and here), any bias in the classroom only strengthens the leftist stranglehold.

California became the first state to require ethnic studies for all high school students, and the University of California (UC), the state’s most prestigious public university system, is considering requiring all high school students to pass a controversial ethnic-studies curriculum, seen by many as antisemitic, to qualify for admission. Nationwide, more than 200 bills have been introduced that would incorporate progressive civics education in K-12 schooling. CRT content is widespread in higher education.

Most college accreditation agencies require DEI in admissions and faculty recruitment, and many universities rank candidates for hiring, promotion and tenure on the vigor of their commitment to DEI. Both the American Bar Association and American Medical Association demand “anti-racist” content in professional school and continuing education, and DEI in the recruitment of graduates. Some bar associations require indoctrination in “anti-racist” doctrines for license renewals, though Florida’s Supreme Court prevented adoption of a nationwide ABA mandate.

Any American who believes that “this too shall pass” is not paying attention. My mother, who passed away a decade ago, was a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City. Never would she, or any of her colleagues, have foreseen how teacher unions, educational systems, and professional organizations have been corrupted to despise America and advance a radical agenda of hate.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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Jefferson Memorial in gray brick circular room

Real Civics

A new program at the University of Virginia centers the values of the Founding.

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