Salvo 09.27.2022 10 minutes

Read This, Not That

Two Young Grandchildren Sitting With Grandpa Reading Book

Replace critical race theory with patriotic education.

Parents across America are fed up with schools replacing traditional education with identity-based programming and thinly disguised political indoctrination. Schools should be teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. But they aren’t, and the low proficiency rates only further expose the replacement of traditional education with activist ideology.  

The social justice ideologies that have infiltrated our K-12 schools teach children to look, first and foremost, at skin color, undermining the uniquely American idea that all of us share a common identity, regardless of where our ancestors came from. This is destructive to the fabric of our country. But perhaps that is the point.

School districts are not subtle that their goal is to replace individual liberty with collectivism and state control as the purpose of government. One of our cases at Southeastern Legal Foundation alleges that the district teaches that individualism is oppressive, that both “equality” and the nuclear family are racist, and that we should question “the very foundations of the liberal order,” and even constitutional law.

The suggestion is that that America’s stated commitment to liberty is a lie and a pretext for white supremacy that must be countered by an intentionally discriminatory government willing to set aside equality. This theme is utterly at war with an American identity based on a commitment to ideas that belong to no race. Indeed, this is of the most remarkable of all American ideals.

If a school curates its content to promote a political narrative, then it is not doing its job. A school should teach about segregation, but should first graders learn about that before and in greater depth than George Washington? How does a fifth-grade curriculum make the time to teach about the legacy of racism in American ballet but not Frederick Douglass? It is indefensible for child to know the names of Japanese internment camps but not the name “Dachau,” or of which country liberated it and at what cost. A grade school that teaches about redlining under the GI Bill but not the 54th Massachusetts is doing its job poorly and on purpose. Defenders of activist history portrays it as “real history,” but it is nothing of the sort. It is bad history designed to undermine and undo confidence in our American republic.

An agenda is unmistakably afoot in a curriculum carefully curated to emphasize the sins of America’s past. If Dred Scott exposes the hypocrisy of America’s Founding principles, then what is the lesson of the Amistad decision issued 16 years earlier? Surely a decision by the justice who wrote one of the leading early legal treatises about the Constitution is more instructive than the one who concluded that the Constitution was never intended to apply to black people. What public school even teaches the Amistad decision?

It is simple as this: if your child has not learned about Valley Forge, then your child has been miseducated.

Parents wanting to take their schools back must remember that the best way to oppose bad ideas is with good ideas. It is not unusual to see parents strenuously objecting to what is included, but we must not overlook what has been excluded. The best way to figure out how to get rid of what we want out of school curriculum is to figure out what we want in. Simply banning “Critical Race Theory” doesn’t fix the problem of what a child is not learning. It is essential we openly say what it is we want.

Curriculum is, after all, a choice, and we should choose intentionally. We should state that we have a goal and that it is to promote patriotism founded on a true understanding of our history.

Consider this a mission statement. Students should learn:

  • The value of individual liberty;
  • The price Americans have paid to secure it.

Teaching the value of individual liberty starts with the Declaration’s preamble, notably including the “self-evident truth” that all of us are created equally, irrespective of race—and works out from there. We should unabashedly and without hesitation expect our schools to teach that we are a nation founded to protect individual liberty, and not shy away from saying what it is: noble, precious, and, above all else, exceptional. We have a rich philosophical tradition founded on natural rights to draw from. We have neglected it for far too long.

Civics education is thought to have disappeared but make no mistake about it—schools are still teaching civics—it’s just based on a perverse reading of American civilization. As the Supreme Court wrote in 1943, schools serve an essential role of “educating the young for citizenship.” The real question is what kind of citizens do we want to produce? We are just choosing between competing sets of values. Let’s be champions for freedom.

If we don’t make a choice, then the choice will be made for us. The Educational Blob will push their version based on concepts of group identities and conflicting power structures that split the world into two categories: oppressor and oppressed. The only righteous actors in history are the ones who smashed the existing order in the name of combatting oppression. The only just purpose of government is to amass power, curtail individual liberty, and confiscate property so as to bend the arc of History further to achieve a radical reordering of America.

Teaching an America founded on individual liberty will necessarily crowd out any claim of identity-based politics. A government should wield power to defend individuals from assaults on their person and property. That is truly its primary purpose, which necessarily includes enforcement of civil rights, which are ultimately intended to deliver equal rights, not outcomes.

Once we set a foundation that America was organized around individual liberty, then we can build a history curriculum upon it. It starts with—and this may sound familiar—the founding of a country conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all Americans are created equal. Since the Revolution, Americans have consistently fought, and, in many, many cases, died defending liberty, both at home and abroad, often at tremendous cost.

This, of course, includes the times that Americans have had to confront the country’s own failures. But if we orient curriculum around the price we’ve paid for liberty, we can make sense of the worst impulses of our past without condemning the country.

It is fitting that the Civil War remains, far and away, the deadliest conflict in our history. The scale of the loss of life in a war to end slavery and preserve the Union ought to put to rest the notion that American commitment to equality is a fiction.

These are not difficult lessons to draw up. Antietam was the single bloodiest day in American military history. President Lincoln intentionally used the victory as political capital to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Similarly, he used the Gettysburg Address as an opportunity to weave the Declaration’s great promise into a purpose greater and more transcendent than preserving the Union. Only a Union dedicated to the eradication of slavery could justify the horrendous toll. The bloodshed could only be justified by the most noble of purposes—the eradication of the stain of slavery from our Constitution. These are things that should be taught.

Taught properly, the worst crimes of our Nation’s past should be taught because they are unworthy of our legacy as Americans, and we strove mightily to purge them. What makes America remarkable is not racism (the historical norm across cultures) but rather our extraordinary efforts to reject it, precisely because we were accountable to the vision first expressed in 1776. That vision is what defines us.

Which history are we going to teach? Teach it all. But parents have every right to expect that negative events are placed in proper context. It is far more common for America to have fought for freedom and equality and against racism, than the opposite. Our historical record proves it. The sad, simple morality lesson of America, the land of conquest and white supremacy, that divides us all and repels parents is truly bad history.

Perhaps because the concept of promoting values in schools makes us skittish, we’ve allowed this distorted version of history to become normalized. Public schools work for us. Let’s act like it. As parents, we have every right to demand our educational system cultivate a sense of gratitude for being an American. These are our children after all.

We never should have taken our eyes off the educational bureaucrats in the first place. Now we know. It’s a mistake we can correct. It’s time to tell the system how to do its job.

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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