America Has An Existential Civics Education Crisis That More ‘Civics Education’ Will Only Make Worse

America Has An Existential Civics Education Crisis That More ‘Civics Education’ Will Only Make Worse

This entire fight is over whether Americans will live under the original Constitution or its bastardized enemy. The civics curriculum battle is key to who will win that war, and the left has the upper hand.
Joy Pullmann
By

As leftists push for greater control of what children learn about American history and how Americans define their civic responsibilities, a majority of Americans support more “civics education,” an interesting new Heritage Foundation survey finds.

“[T]wo-thirds of parents and nearly three-quarters of teachers share a strong desire to see greater emphasis on civics education. Indeed, interest in civics education among parents has increased substantially over the past five years. However, only around one-third of each group are satisfied with the type of content included in their schools’ civics education,” says the report, which Gabe Kaminsky exclusively reported here.

This datapoint might be taken by some Republicans and right-branded institutions to support an effort underway branded as a “bipartisan” push to “increase civics education.” Look, something about which most Americans can agree amid a time of bitter cultural divides!

The problem with this takeaway is that it is neither supported by the rest of the report, the context into which it is released, the history of American public education, nor the increasingly clarifying realities of America’s current cold civil war.

Stanley Kurtz and the National Association of Scholars have done yeoman’s work exposing the national “civics education” agitation as a leftist play for increased political power. In short, here’s the problem this report underscores about that political background: Most Americans may want more “civics.” But they do not at all agree what “civics” means.

‘Civics’ Means Two Completely Opposite Things

There are in fact two utterly incompatible major views of what Americans should learn and believe about their nation’s history and ideals. The first is the institutionally dominant view epitomized by critical race theory and CRT in action like The New York Times’s 1619 Project.

It is a twisted reading of the historical record to support a fundamentally anti-American stance opposed to individual natural rights and equality before the law. This version of “civics” teaches Americans to treat skin color (and sometimes other characteristics like sexual behavior) as determinative of one’s past, present, and future.

Some Americans want this. Some do not.

The opposing, and original, view of American civics aims to pass on the traditions, dispositions, habits, and beliefs that created the United States and have made it the best nation in world history. Notice I didn’t say “a perfect” nation, because it was never perfect and it still isn’t — not by a long shot. Everyone agrees the United States does many egregiously bad things.

But to be an American has historically meant a commitment to specific political principles and responsibilities, epitomized by those named in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Without these beliefs and practices governing the majority of Americans, the United States as it was founded ceases to exist.

Unlike the critical theory and “action civics” crowd, those who want the founders’ civics to continue controlling our nation believe there was great good in the United States as founded — perhaps the greatest good united in any government ever. So losing its peerless preservation of citizens’ natural rights is to us is a tragedy to fend off for as long as humanly possible, and at great personal cost.

These two views are fundamentally incompatible. As Christopher Caldwell has ably shown, the “rival constitution” of identity politics is a direct competitor to the U.S. Constitution. They have lived in uneasy coexistence since the identity politics constitution was instituted largely in the 1960s under Lyndon B. Johnson. Today it is clear this mess of pottage may have largely supplanted the original American Constitution.

Americans Versus the Anti-Americans

How does all this affect civics education today? It takes “bipartisanship” and nationalized approaches off the table, because such unities are only possible among those who share a commitment to the United States’ fundamental political ideals, such as support for free speech, freedom to worship, the fundamental political equality of all without penalties for any skin color or sex, and the rule of law.

Democrat leaders and vanguards today simply do not share these fundamental American ideals. They openly repudiate and work to erase them. In that sense, they are Americans in name, but not at heart. Today’s leftists openly profess anti-American philosophy and actions, as the entire critical race insanity indicates. Therefore, bipartisan approaches are impossible for all but the most surface of pursuits.

How to effectively pass on the American identity to each successive generation is not a surface pursuit. Aside from national and individual security, it is the most important national pursuit of all. It is an existential pursuit that requires existential politics: We win, you lose. Because if we don’t win, the nation we love quickly stops existing.

Other parts of the Heritage report underscore this context. It finds “38.1 percent of parents and 31.5 percent of teachers are satisfied with the type of content included in their schools’ civics education,” and that their dissatisfaction is split. Many parents and even more teachers are dissatisfied with current civics instruction because it’s not leftist enough.

This surfaces throughout the survey findings. One reflection appears to be in the finding that more Democrats than Republicans think more “civic” education is needed. From other polls and social science showing what Democrats think of Republican voters — that we are essentially heartless ignoramuses — one can suspect why Democrats think more “civic education” is needed.

Here’s another example. The report oddly makes no mention of “action civics,” a term frequently used by the left for using publicly funded classrooms as recruiting centers for leftist activism. This is the version of “civics” the left is working to impose nationwide, to put the nail in the coffin enclosing their control of America’s future through its education institutions. The Heritage report surfaces clear hallmarks of “action civics” already taking effect, such as the shocking finding that 58 percent of parents support “high school students participating in advocacy efforts for social causes.”

The report finds other reflections that significant percentages of parents, and even greater percentages of teachers, support teaching leftist “civics” using public resources. Fifty-one percent of parents and 60 percent of teachers said “gender roles” are relevant to “civics” curriculum. By a large margin, teachers thought it was much more important to “expose students to varying viewpoints about America” than that civics classes “ensure we are a united America.”

One of the few bright spots in the report was its finding that approximately 6 in 10 of both teachers and parents believe the Founding era and Constitution are highly relevant to civics curricula. Yet again, it’s unclear what’s inside that agreement, as leftists have for more than a century claimed to support the Constitution, by which they mean the “living Constitution” that effectively means a nullified Constitution.

That particular bait and switch is breaking down, however, as increasingly those on the left feel freer to flip off the Constitution and propose amendments to disembowel it. Using words with different meanings than most people impute to them is a timeless trick of power mongers, and it’s been employed throughout this entire fight over whether Americans will live under the original Constitution or its bastardized enemy. The civics curriculum battle is key to who will win that ultimate war, and the left clearly has the upper hand.

Fifty percent of parents and 58 percent of teachers said critical race theory should be included in civics curricula, and one-third of parents and 4 in 10 teachers said CRT should be the focus of civics curricula (see graph below). Given that critical race theory equals institutionalized anti-white racism and anti-American animus, these numbers are alarming. Virtually zero Americans should support anti-American animus or racism of any kind, not one-third of Americans and even more teachers of our youngest generation.

Given all this, it’s no surprise that “Democrats are 15.6 percentage points more satisfied than Republicans” with civics curriculum in schools, and teachers consistently reflected much more leftist views than parents in the Heritage survey. More extreme teacher leftism is a consistent survey finding going back decades, and its reoccurrence in this survey on an existential issue should accent how deeply important it is for Republican officeholders to immediately address the teaching pipeline.

So “allowing alternative teacher certification” and banning CRT may be the best recommendations in the report. But we need a heck of a lot more. Republicans have been appointed watchmen against these kinds of threats by their voters for decades, only to sleep while anti-American barbarians have taken over the country.

It is completely unacceptable if Republicans don’t have their pants on fire over addressing this existential national crisis. I don’t want to live in a casino that political factions attempt to loot at the expense of everyone else. I want to live in the United States of America, which was founded to guarantee my God-given rights to self-defense, free speech, freedom of worship, freedom from government surveillance, and the people’s political sovereignty.

That may no longer be a possible future for the country I love. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to do my utmost to make it more possible within my lifetime, and any person with any iota of political power had better join me in that patriotic pursuit or resign this minute for his cowardice.

That requires teaching Americans the many reasons to love and respect their own country, and exhibit gratitude for all she gives us. A nation that hates itself is not a nation for long.

Joy Pullmann is executive editor of The Federalist, a happy wife, and the mother of six children. Check out her recommended classic Christmas picture books, "The Read-Aloud Advent Calendar," and her bestselling ebook, "Classic Books for Young Children." Sign up here to get early access to her next full-length book, "How To Control The Internet So It Doesn’t Control You." A Hillsdale College honors graduate, @JoyPullmann is also the author of "The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids," from Encounter Books.

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