CounterCurrent: Week of 4/4
In 2019, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni published a survey titled America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey of Civic Literacy. The results were disturbing, to say the least. Here’s a brief sample of the findings: when asked the name of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 26% of respondents, including 15% of college graduates, selected Brett Kavanaugh—14% selected Antonin Scalia, who had been dead for three years. 18% of respondents believed that Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez authored the New Deal (not the Green New Deal). 63% of respondents didn’t know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.
I could go on, but you get the picture: American civic literacy is abysmal.
This dearth of civics literacy has prompted many efforts to provide basic civics knowledge to the citizenry. But beware: not everything that calls itself “civics education” is actually civics education. Much of it, often hidden behind the misleading terms “action civics” or “new civics,” is actually progressive activist training in disguise. Here’s a case in point:
Last month, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and John Cornyn (R-TX) and Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Tom Cole (R-OK), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the “Civics Secures Democracy Act” (CSDA), a bill designed “to restore the importance placed on civics education in American classrooms with targeted federal investments to support and expand access to civics and history education,” according to the press release announcing the bill. You may be thinking: “A bipartisan investment in civics education introduced by members of both houses? Sign me up!” Not so fast.
As a new article from The Epoch Times illustrates, the CSDA does anything but secure democracy. Indeed, it is more an attempt to smuggle activist training into American K-12 classrooms than it is a good-faith effort to improve civic literacy. One primary way it does this is through its emphasis on “civic engagement.” The article quotes David Randall, director of research at the National Association of Scholars, who explains,
“Civic engagement is, one, a subsidy for people who are radical activists, who teach this, and two, a way to groom a new generation to be nothing but these radical activists … This civics education is part of a broader ideological assault on the American republic. There are a number of people who support it without realizing what it involves, and a number of people who are trying to make it be better than what it’d become, but they are, unfortunately, I think, far too weak as a portion of the coalition and cannot practically prevent it from becoming a tool of radical activism.”
NAS encourages all legislators, organizations, and concerned citizens who seek a restoration of civics education to withdraw their support from the Civics Secures Democracy Act immediately. Congress should work to draft a bill that not only emphasizes the importance of civics, as the CSDA does, but also acts where the CSDA fails and provide students with opportunities to study the American experiment and answer important questions like: Why are there three branches of government? What is the Electoral College? How did freedom of speech come to incorporate freedom of expression? What are the obligations of American citizenship?
A Congressionally mandated civics education that encourages learning, not activism, would bestow upon future generations of Americans the tools to maintain and defend our republic.
Now it’s easy to criticize without offering positive solutions. That’s why the NAS has formed our very own Civics Alliance, a new coalition dedicated to defending and restoring true civics education across the United States. To read more about why we chose to create the Alliance, click here. For some tools to effect immediate change in the realm of civics education click here.
CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.