While many opposed to critical race theory (CRT) took a victory lap upon Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announcing Friday the Department of Education (DOE) “will not dictate or recommend specific curriculum be introduced or taught in classrooms,” conservatives would be prudent to see through the smoke-and-mirrors. There is no substantive indication the Biden administration is not intent on supporting an identity-politics transformation of American schools.
DOE fielded the responses of Americans to determine whether the federal government would craft new grants Republicans argued would result in funding being withheld from institutions that do not adhere to CRT. A DOE regulatory proposal had stated America ought to be “supporting teaching and learning that reflects the breadth and depth of our Nation’s diverse history and the vital role of diversity in our Nation’s democracy,” such as in “the [ahistorical] New York Times’ landmark ‘1619 Project.'”
Grant applicants would thus have needed to clarify how their institution is working “[to] reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students [to] create inclusive, supportive, and identity-safe learning environments” in order to proceed. More specifically, applications were required to describe how federally funded learning practices will align with implicit “biases,” “systemic racism,” and “exacerbated inequities,” among other CRT tenets.
After more than 35,000 public comments objected to such ideology, Cardona released a statement clarifying that decisions about specific curricula “will continue to be made at the local level,” resulting in some right-leaning outlets taking this to mean the administration is pumping the brakes on CRT.
Far from it. Cardona’s Friday blog post should still worry Americans interested in preserving an education system that honors American values. DOE still stated it will be “encourag[ing] projects that incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives” in relation to federal American history and civics education grants.
In other words, don’t be fooled. The Biden administration is still very much on board with CRT, and there is no justifiable indication DOE initiatives will stop pushing such extreme leftism with every mechanism at its disposal. To say “education is local” and then to micromanage schools from the top is essentially the entire function of the U.S. Department of Education.
It is critical to consider the language play here. Cardona writes that DOE will seek to disburse grants to “improve [the] teaching and learning of American History, government and civics for teachers and students.” There are two deceptions in this statement.
First, the Biden administration already clarified how it determines what will “improve” classroom education in the United States. The initial proposal put forth by DOE was entirely straightforward.
It said the government supports instruction that “take[s] into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history; incorporate[s] racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives and perspectives on the experience of individuals with disabilities; [and] encourage[s] students to critically analyze the diverse perspectives of historical and contemporary media and its impacts.”
“I don’t think they have backed one inch away from their original agenda,” Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, told The Federalist. “They have done what they usually do, which is elaborate wordplay. This is one more attempted hoodwink in public. They will continue to push the DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], ‘1619 Project,’ critical race theory agenda every possible way they can.”
Second, pay special attention to the word “civics.” Not only does the left have a differing view of what constitutes American history instruction, but it also deceptively uses the word “civics” to obscure the reality that what leftists consider “civics” is leftist political activism.
“Action civics” is a term the left has used to deploy “culturally responsive” lessons aimed at centralizing identity through activism. For instance, the state of Illinois proceeded with mandated action civics, which punishes educators who do not engage in politics and indoctrinate students with partisan ideas.
DOE has been on the action civics train for years. Through the nonprofit group iCivics founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, DOE partnered with The National Endowment for the Humanities in 2019 to award a $650,000 contract that went toward an emerging coalition called “Educating for American Democracy.”
Federal funding was later increased to $1.1 million, according to an aide for Educating for American Democracy. In 2020, Connecticut Democrat Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro introduced a bill to push action civics called the “Educating for Democracy Act of 2020.” While this bill failed, it was revived by a 36-page Educating for American Democracy report and a 39-page “road map” to push action civics in 2020, as noted by The Washington Post.
Wood said the reason the Trump administration’s DOE originally supported this coalition was that individuals in the agency at the time were largely holdovers from the Obama administration. Trump had not yet taken on CRT, as he would after meeting with investigative journalist Christopher Rufo.
“For a lot of Republicans sitting on the sidelines of this and never taking very much interest in education, which they regard as a Democratic issue, as soon as you started talking about civics, that sounded like ‘Oh, what a patriotic nice thing.’ They were getting gamed,” Wood said.
The current White House is seeking to sustain action civics. One need only recall how Biden rolled back Trump’s “1776 Commission” on day one of his presidency and just last month signed an executive order mandating diversity training as a “whole-of-government initiative” to see the administration remains CRT-hungry.
Idealistic conservatives can act as if Cardona has promised a shift in policy, but it would be naive to join the celebration conga line. In alignment with precisely what CRT is built around—cultural Marxism—DOE is working to shift public opinion based on language manipulation.
Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who frequently writes on action civics, told The Federalist Cardona’s announcement is trivial when looking at the broader picture.
“The preference for proposals built around ‘diversity’ is still clearly there,” Kurtz said. “Cardona and the folks who run Biden’s education department are fully committed to CRT. Biden himself has instructed every department to fight ‘systemic racism,’ making CRT the basis of administration policy. So this is nothing more than a shallow attempt to parry public criticism.”
Erica Sanzi, director of outreach for the group Parents Defending Education, similarly indicated to The Federalist that Cardona’s statement is “a small win for sure” but that “the changes aren’t substantial enough to declare victory.”
“On the contrary, we must keep our foot on the gas and be unwavering in our vigilance,” Sanzi said.
At this point, you are probably wondering why Cardona would partially give in to the petition signers and Republican backlash. It’s more simple than it seems. Public polling finds that critical race theory is wildly unpopular. So what’s a true believer to do?
The education secretary knows, like any ambitious and smart government official, to tell the public what they want to hear while continuing to do whatever he wants.