The groundwork is being laid for what will essentially be Common Core civics. The last attempt to nationalize K-12 school standards occurred with Common Core English and math. This failed spectacularly in terms of student achievement but staggers on as a vehicle for imposing progressive education and generating cash for the myriad grifter organizations that sprang up to profit from it.
From the perspective of leftist bureaucracies and their affiliated opportunists, Common Core has been a smashing success. So let’s do it again, they say. This time, let’s go for the grand prize: leftist civics instruction which, compared to English and math, will give maximum bang for buck in the cause of promoting political indoctrination in schools.
The Fordham Institute’s Role in Common Core
One of the Common Core profiteers now making the transition to nationalized civics is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an Ohio-based think tank that corporate media insist on calling “conservative” or “right-leaning.” But it’s been a long time since Fordham actually pushed conservative policies in education.
According to Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute, former Fordham president Chester Finn once criticized the “outsized influence” of D.C. education insider groups. But now, Gass notes, “Fordham is working closely with [such] groups to shift policymaking power from state and local taxpayers … to the federal government and the D.C. blob.” “Maybe the educational establishment is only a bad thing if you’re not part of the club,” Gass adds.
In any event, fueled by millions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (also a major financier of Common Core), Fordham threw itself with fervor into the effort to impose the national English and math standards. Fordham’s participation provided conservative cover for the statists behind the centralization initiative. Now it’s playing the same role in civics, which activist educators can use to generate millions of little left-wing community activists.
‘Consensus by Surrender’
That will happen through the imposition of “action civics” (more accurately called “protest civics”). This scheme would encourage or even require students to engage in political advocacy – which means left-wing political advocacy – as part of their civics course.
Leftists are pushing this on a national level via initiatives like Educating for American Democracy (EAD). As Stanley Kurtz has explained, EAD’s self-description as a bipartisan attempt to improve students’ civic knowledge actually conceals a stealth attempt to impose nationalized standards that encourage protest civics. Dominated by leftist individuals and organizations, the EAD coalition has produced a “roadmap” and associated reports that “are thoroughly progressive in both their underlying assumptions and their details.”
Certain professed conservatives have endorsed the EAD initiative as a model of “consensus” on teaching civics, but Kurtz calls this “consensus by surrender.” Fordham is one of these “conservative” groups. Endorsing EAD, Fordham is now replicating its Common Core strategy to install progressive civics instruction in K-12 schools.
Fordham’s schtick is analyzing state curriculum standards and using its analysis to nudge states where it wants them. In the case of English and math, that meant issuing a report mendaciously declaring the merits of the Common Core standards, awarding high grades to the few states that had similar standards, and downgrading states that dared to differ. At that point, the rest of the D.C.-centric education blob took over to shame the low-graded states into adopting the curriculum mandates – Common Core – that had the Fordham seal of approval.
That was in 2010, and it worked beautifully. So here we are in 2021, treated to Fordham’s new review of state standards in civics and U.S. history, “The State of State Standards for Civics and U.S. History in 2021.”
Open Approval of Leftist Civics and History
Once again, Fordham declares itself the arbiter of good standards, this time in civics and history. Once again, a few states are highly graded for meeting that standard. And once again, states that don’t follow Fordham’s template are downgraded and criticized.
What is the approved template for civics study? Although Fordham includes a vague, noncommittal statement about the term “action civics,” it’s clear from a broader review of the report that standards pushing political advocacy get a gold star, while standards focusing on academic content rather than protest receive a wag of the disapproving finger.
“Some civic dispositions are habitual, meaning they should be practiced as well as preached,” Fordham lectures, “which is why the strongest civics standards insist on students’ active participation.” The report evaluated schools based partially on the “essential dispositions” they imparted to students. One such “disposition” demanded: “Students should be motivated to educate themselves on major social and political issues [and] to make a difference in those that are important to them.”
State standards earning kudos from Fordham include Utah’s requirement that students engage in political advocacy, a requirement Fordham praises as “exactly right.” South Dakota wins plaudits for its “explicit call to ‘organize actions for social justice.’” Listed among the strengths of the New Jersey standards is the “active citizenship” strand, which Fordham approvingly describes as “an unapologetic call to arms.”
Since when should schools be in the business of calling students to arms over political issues? Proponents of such a concept can be described as many things, but not conservative. Fordham is once again hiding behind its undeserved “right-leaning” reputation to help impose leftist education policies.
While the EAD coalition and other proponents of protest civics will cite Fordham’s support as proof of bipartisan consensus, Fordham sold out long ago to the leftist education establishment and has profited handsomely from doing so. Parents and policymakers should not be fooled.