The Challenge from Action Civics
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.
In recent years, some educators saw an opportunity to replace the old civics. It was first called “new civics,” but gained other names as it grew, including “action civics.” The basic idea was to rush students into “doing” stuff rather than just learning. Civics could be a perpetual field trip spiced with exciting forms of “advocacy.” Students could learn about government by jumping right into lobbying legislators, protesting injustices, and volunteering their time for public projects. When the “new civics” first received federal endorsement in A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy's Future (2011), commissioned by the Obama administration, it called for “civics education” defined by a combination of diversity, multiculturalism, sustainability, and becoming “a citizen of the world.” New civics has become steadily more radical. By 2021, the U.S. Education Department defined civics education as The 1619 Project and Ibram X. Kendi’s “anti-racism”.
New civics or action civics puts the cart before the horse. Young children have no basis to judge the merits of the political causes to which action civics recruits them. They have no understanding of what our government is or how it works. What action civics gives them is the excitement of identity politics and the thrill of pleasing their teachers. This provides a foundation of the bigger thrill to come of expressing one’s identity through protest and alienation from all that came before. At bottom, new civics is an “I hate America” curriculum, though it is typically dressed up in a red-white-and blue costume. To judge by superficial appearances, new civics is a “I love America so much, I want to fix it” curriculum. Only when you look closely at the proposed repairs do you discover that it is really about destroying the basis of American self-government.
The new civics:
• Teaches students how to organize and take part in mob intimidation and calls it “civic engagement.”
• Treats America’s founders—Washington, Jefferson, Madison—as hypocrites and power-hungry oppressors.
• Treats the Declaration of Independence as a lie and the Constitution as pro-slavery.
• Looks on American history as mainly a story of rich white men exploiting the poor, women and minorities.
• Treats American prosperity as grounded in rapacious treatment of the environment, the dispossession of Native peoples, and the subordination of immigrants.
• Treats the free market as a tool of systematic abuse.
• Teaches students the American republic isn’t worth preserving and that civic virtue consists of tearing it down.
The New Civics threatens to replace all of America’s 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, which instills utopian visions grounded on national self-hatred, will have a revolutionary effect, regardless of the good intentions of some of its advocates.