Why We Need a Civics Alliance

Peter Wood

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is proud to announce the creation of the Civics Alliance, a new coalition dedicated to defending and restoring true civics education across the United States. The Civics Alliance will unite education reformers, policymakers, and every citizen of the United States who wants to preserve civics education that teaches the founding principles and documents of the United States, the key events of American history, the structure of our self-governing federal republic, the functions of government at all levels, how our governing institutions work, and the spirit of liberty and tolerance that should animate our private interactions with our fellow citizens. Such civics education should teach students to take pride in what they share as Americans—an exceptional heritage of freedom, a republic that has succeeded in making liberty a fundamental principle of our government, and the joyful accomplishments of their common national culture.

By the time students leave high school, they should comprehend the rule of law, the Bill of Rights, elections, elected office, checks and balances, trial by jury, grand juries, civil rights, military service, and many other points in the traditional American civics curriculum. College undergraduates, and especially graduates of education schools, should also learn how these civic fundamentals emerged from Western Civilization, including through developments in Western political theory and American history.

This conception of civics education should not be controversial. The Civics Alliance is necessary because American civics education is under sustained assault by radical activists. Their New Civics uses the pedagogy of service-learning to teach action civics, also known by names such as civic engagement, civic learning, community engagement, global civics, and project-based civics. The New Civics threatens to replace traditional civics education with Neo-Marxist “social justice” propaganda, vocational training for left-wing activism, and Alinsky-style community organizing techniques adapted for use in the classroom.

Not every advocate of the New Civics consciously works for all these goals. The true radicals enlist many Americans who think these pedagogies and subject matters are more innocuous. Some New Civics advocates even consciously steer clear of entanglements with initiatives such as the 1619 Project Curriculum. But the radicals will provide the programmatic details that put the New Civics’ vague rhetoric into practice. The New Civics will have a revolutionary effect, regardless of the good intentions of some of its advocates.

The New Civics will obliterate from our children’s memory the America worth loving and defending and will create a cadre of trained activists dedicated to replacing the American republic with a Neo-Marxist “social justice” regime. The New Civics will impose this new curriculum with all the coercive power of government—and will do so at taxpayer expense. The Civics Alliance will rally opposition to the immediate danger posed by the New Civics and will work for constructive programs of traditional civics education at the different levels of American government—the localities, the states, and the federal government.

The New Civics builds on radical activists’ steady extension of service-learning and civic engagement into America’s education system, dating back to the 1960s, mightily expanded in the 1980s, and becoming eligible for federal funding in 1990s. The New Civics received a federal imprimatur in 2012 when the U.S. Department of Education issued the report A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, which called for a “New Civics” that celebrates diversity, embraces of the “sustainability” movement, and teaches children how to be “citizens of the world”—to replace the traditional civics instruction that taught students the facts and principles necessary to assume the responsibilities of American citizenship.

The U.S. Department of Education’s simultaneous push for the nation’s schools to adopt “The Common Core State Standards,” which encouraged teachers to reduce history and civics to modules in English Language Arts, facilitated the removal of traditional civics instruction from America’s schools. New Civics, increasingly known as “action civics,” filled the resulting gap with a curriculum that denied students the chance to acquire knowledge of how our governing institutions work or why they were created, and instead taught partisan political commitment, protest, and activism, often with the guidance of overtly partisan teachers. This partisan commitment was almost exclusively toward radical ideological causes such as “sustainability” and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The last eighteen months have made painfully apparent the acid effects of the New Civics and its allied educational movements on America’s national cohesion and heritage of liberty. In August 2019, the New York Times launched The 1619 Project, which called for “reframing” all of American history (and civics) as the story of white supremacy and black subjection. The Times published this as a special issue of its Sunday Magazine, which concluded with the announcement that a 1619 Project Curriculum was already being sent out by the Pulitzer Center to teachers and schools as a supplementary curriculum.

Within months, the 1619 Project Curriculum became established in thousands of classrooms across the country. The 1619 Project Curriculum already promotes action civics lesson plans, such as political activism to soften criminal laws and/or amnesty criminals, on the grounds that America’s justice system is tainted by “systemic racism.” Generation Citizen now promotes action civics to promote the revolutionary Black Lives Matter movement.

The U.S. government’s 1776 Commission stated in its The 1776 Report (2021) what had now become apparent to every American willing to face facts. Radicals who espouse identity politics, and those who espouse such overlapping ideologies of critical race theory, multiculturalism, so-called “anti-racism,” and Neo-Marxist forms of “social justice,” seek to annihilate our liberty, our republic, and the national culture that underpins them both. Their favored educational tactic is to remove traditional civics from our schools and to replace them with New Civics, which inculcates the successor ideology of identity politics instead. These radicals seek to do so by packaging their radical agendas under labels such as “anti-racism”—although Americans already reject racism as part of their capacious and welcoming nationalism. The American creed is already e pluribus unum—America forges its citizens from all the nations of the earth.

The activists who champion New Civics now use every level of government to assault all components of civics education. The federal government, as noted above, has supported New Civics since the Education Department published A Crucible Moment in 2012. Stanley Kurtz has summarized how action civics is taking over our K-12 schools, by way of state laws such as in Massachusetts and Illinois, and via nonprofit organizations such as Generation Citizen. The NAS’s own report Making Citizens details how the New Civics works at the undergraduate level, and particularly how education departments combine the New Civics with teacher training. The College Board’s AP United States Government and Politics Advanced Placement Examination now requires students to complete a Project Requirement of action civics. The New Civics has already infiltrated America’s education system and is on the verge of taking it over.

The New Civics has also received unwitting support from education reformers who do not realize that radicals who invoke “civics” are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics, but iCivics now endorses action civics and so-called “antiracism.” Education reformers must not enter into coalitions that endorse fatal compromises with radicals who would hollow out the civics education our citizens need to sustain our constitutional republic. They must not endorse supposedly nonpartisan New Civics education that provides a fig-leaf for anti-American identity politics and vocational training for left-wing activism. Education reformers must instead form their own coalition that endorses rigorous civics education that explicitly excludes the New Civics and prohibits its favored pedagogy of service-learning.

The Civics Alliance is the birth of this coalition. The members of the Civic Alliance endorse the Civics Education Open Letter and Civics Curriculum Statement. These provide a coherent vision of the principles that should guide civics education, from kindergarten to education school. They also provide enough programmatic detail to guide education reformers and policymakers as they work constructively to renovate traditional civics education and to ensure that civics education reform will preclude both the New Civics and myopic attempts to compromise with the advocates of the New Civics. These documents emphasize what can be done at the state and local levels, both because New Civics advocates currently guide federal policy and because the state governments and the localities still control the bulk of public education. Yet the Civics Alliance will work at whatever level of government offers the opportunity for constructive civics education reform.

The Civics Education Open Letter and Civics Curriculum Statement emphasize the following principles:

  • Civics education should consist of large amounts of required factual knowledge and the study of primary sources.
  • Civics education should ban “service-learning,” the essential component of New Civics pedagogy. This ban should be expanded into an explicit ban of “action civics” if necessary.
  • Civics education should be subject to external tests, to ensure that teachers actually teach what they are supposed to teach and that students actually learn what they ought to learn in their classes.
  • Civics legislation should aim to remove all education bottlenecks where radicals can force New Civics on students, such as curriculum standards, general education requirements, and teacher licensure requirements.
  • Civics legislation should seek to use special commissions to create and enforce proper civics standards, so as to bypass predictable sabotage from radical activists within education department bureaucracies.
  • Civics legislation should focus on dual-courses, core transfer curriculums, general education requirements, and the mutual recognition of civics courses among states, because they are the essential administrative means to convey civics education.
  • Civics education should emphasize the principles of federalism and localism, both to fit civics education to local preferences and so as to avoid creating coercive education systems that New Civics advocates can capture.

These two documents emphasize principles. The Civics Curriculum Statement provides programmatic details, but some of the signatories prefer different programmatic specifics, such as curriculum standards and testing controlled at the local level rather than the state level. Independent commissions are favored by some but not others. The signatories endorse the Civics Curriculum Statement as a series of exploratory options designed to inspire initiatives by states, local communities, schools, and patriotic citizens, rather than as a binding legislative program. The concern that unites them is the need for legislation that prevents New Civics from retaining any power within America’s schools.

These documents prepare the ground for more detailed political campaigns to come. NAS in particular will build upon this initial statement with several model bills, which will address different aspects of the policies supported in this statement. We expect other members of the Civics Alliance to spearhead their own campaigns. We also expect that policymakers in different states will follow their own paths as they translate the principles of these documents into legal language. The members of the Civics Alliance will support different efforts to restore civics education, confident that they will all lead to roughly the same destination—the preservation of civics education that sustains our republic and our nation.

The members of the Civics Alliance also recognize that civics education isn’t the only political priority in the world. For example, Americans should also work to prevent radical Ethnic Studies courses from entering into our public schools, and to counter the various campaigns by Neo-Marxist “social justice” activists, who are trying to transform every discipline, including the sciences and mathematics. For another example, Americans should also work to cap the number of General Education Requirements at public universities, since they can impose a serious financial burden on college students and their families—and this goal may sometimes come into tension with our aspiration to increase the number of civics General Education Requirements. The members of the Civics Alliance will work to restore civics education with a due sense of proportion, and of the need to work in harmony with other political goals.

I invite every American to sign up as a member of the Civics Alliance, and to pass on word of it to other Americans. We must act together now to restore America’s civics education—and this Open Letter and Curriculum Statement will be only the beginning of a long campaign. The work of the Civics Alliance will be essential for the salvation of our republic.

Join The Civics Alliance

Editor's Note: The National Association of Scholars is proud to announce The Civics Alliance, a new coalition of education reformers, policymakers, and concerned citizens dedicated to preserving traditional civics education against the threat of New Civics. What follows is an explanatory article detailing the motiviations and principles of The Civics Alliance. To read The Civics Alliance Open Letter and Civics Curriculum Statement, click here. To join The Civics Alliance as a signatory, click here. To take immediate action to support traditional civics education, click here to view our toolkit.

Signatories of the Civics Alliance Open Letter and Curriculum Statement sign as individuals. Organizational affiliations and positions are listed for identification purposes only.

Image: Sharefaith, Public Domain

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