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Here’s What Your Child’s School Should Be Teaching About American History And Government

George Washington
Image CreditVincent Desjardins / Flickr / CC by 2.0, cropped

‘Too many Americans have emerged from our schools ignorant of America’s history, indifferent to liberty, filled with animus against their ancestors and their fellow Americans, and estranged from their country.’

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The United States’s education institutions were almost entirely formed for the major purposes of developing good citizens and, usually, faithful Christians. It is no secret that today most of America’s education institutions do the opposite. The result is an existential threat to the nation as its enemies work to destroy the most prosperous, most equal, and most free civilization in world history.

In a refreshingly positive, intellectually sound, and action-minded response to this national crisis, a group of top-notch scholars releases today a recommended curriculum blueprint for the K-12 study of American history and government. “American Birthright” is at once a redress of curricular grievances and a plan of action for the millions of American patriots who see the moral and intellectual injuries most American schools inflict on the rising generation and therefore the nation as a whole.

As the document’s introduction notes, “Too many Americans have emerged from our schools ignorant of America’s history, indifferent to liberty, filled with animus against their ancestors and their fellow Americans, and estranged from their country.” This course of study seeks to address these major problems that result partly from a lack of accurate and patriotic American history instruction.

The document offers a set of academically robust guidelines for K-12 social studies curriculum that parents can ask their local and state school boards to adopt in the place of what now is largely anti-American curriculum standards. This is not just a K-12 curriculum outline, it is a bold American educational philosophy. The recommendations are a product of the Civics Alliance, coordinated by the apolitical and highly respected National Association of Scholars.

The alliance is a truly bipartisan coalition that includes highly respected scholars such as Glenn Loury of Brown University; Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas; Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Harvey Mansfield of Harvard University; and Paul Rahe and Wilfred McClay of Hillsdale College (I am a more humble coalition supporter). You can also become a signatory here.

What’s inside this document? “American Birthright provides the content knowledge in history, geography, civics, and economics that American citizens need to know so that they can preserve their liberty,” the introduction states. The standards give recommended primary source documents, as well as biographies, American folk songs, literature, and other materials.

For example, the document recommends that fifth graders learn how town meetings and the common law affected the early development of American colonial governments. It recommends second graders learn the national anthem and other patriotic songs such as “America, the Beautiful,” as well as learning about the lives of significant Americans such as Whittaker Chambers, Rosa Parks, Sacagawea, Clarence Thomas, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“American Birthright” would have eighth-graders trace the development of Western Civilization back to the days of Hammurabi, to ancient Egypt, ancient Israel, and ancient Greece. It would have ninth graders read William Blackstone, the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Magna Carta, and Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Indeed, this curriculum blueprint aims at excellence, not just box-checking, and its recommended primary sources could be profitably studied by Americans of all ages and stations in life as an exercise in civic fidelity and growth.

I have read thousands of pages of what are called curriculum standards since the days of Common Core, and reading this set was a refreshing surprise. Its learning goals and plan for achieving those goals are clear and comprehensible to any literate person, which is in fact one aim of the enterprise.

Usually what pass for curriculum “standards” is essentially subliterate — so full of meaning-lite education jargon as to be almost incomprehensible. Go read your own state’s so-called curriculum standards to see this yourself. Jargon is one way the education bureaucracy resists accountability to parents and voters. If principals, parents, and the like can’t understand what teachers are supposed to do, they can’t hold them accountable for it.

“American Birthright,” on the other hand, is readable, clear, and informative. Any parent could use the document to plan out his or her own course of after-school or homeschool study, as could any teacher or school district. And if a parent or school did so, they would graduate students far more civically minded and responsible than almost all American schools do today.

That’s why parents need to approach their schools, legislatures, and state boards of education and ask that start using “American Birthright” as their guide to U.S. history and government curricula immediately. It is also a useful document to use to measure the quality of civics and other instruction in a given school district.

Many school districts are considered to be “good” when they in fact add very little, if anything, to children’s natural gifts received from productive and intact homes. They coast on reputations that others’ work and virtues have earned. Measuring their curriculum and reading materials against this high-quality benchmark will give parents an accurate assessment of the actual quality of their children’s schools or potential schools.

Many will likely find that their schools do not measure up. Then it’s time to work to improve that situation, either by internal advocacy or leaving to find a truly good school, or both.

State lawmakers have zero legitimate excuses for failing to require this level of American history education in government-run schools immediately. Those who do not are failing to uphold their oaths to the U.S. Constitution and the people of their states by presiding over rampant anti-American instruction in American schools. These scholars have done a public service by carrying out all the substantive work needed; all policymakers need to do now is just say yes, thank you.