Conservatives Wary of Bill to Increase Civics and History Lessons in US Schools

Critics Worry Bipartisan Civics Secures Democracy Act will Promote Leftist Agenda
By Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas: Beth.brelje@epochtimes.us
August 5, 2022 Updated: August 5, 2022

The lessons taught to children today are the values we will live in our future when they run the world. That is why there is an intense battle in U.S. schools over who gets to determine the curriculum.

Schools have veered beyond the classic core subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic and moved into teaching values; topics that, until recently, were reserved for parents. There are countless examples of schools teaching critical race theory, gender and sexual identity, myopic politics, and religion.

Using civic engagement—attending school board meetings and organizing with others—parents have demanded that schools remove teachings that are outside their values.

Now a bipartisan congressional bill says it aims to teach students more about U.S. civics, the Civics Secures Democracy Act, but it has some concerned that it will enable the government to guide curriculum in a direction that parents don’t support, and ultimately indoctrinate students into leftist causes.

The bill spends $1 billion a year and authorizes the Department of Education to award grants to states, nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, and qualified researchers to support and expand access to civics and history education. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

The measure will “help states close key gaps in students’ history and civics educations,” a statement from Cassidy explained. “Only nine states and the District of Columbia require a full year of civics or government studies, and 10 states have no requirement at all. At the same time, American trust in public institutions is near all-time lows.”

Defining Civics

Civics Secures Democracy was initially introduced last, but it has been rewritten.

“The trouble is, when education professionals say civics, what they actually mean is ‘action civics’ with vocational training in progressive activism, in the classroom. You know, action civics—protest civics,” David Randall told The Epoch Times. Randall is director of research at of the National Association of Scholars and Education Director at the Civics Alliance, which seeks to reform education by supporting intellectual freedom, truth, and virtuous citizenship. These groups oppose the act.

“Also, when they say history, what they frequently mean is something like the 1619 Project or other things which are sort of radically opposed to America history, to justify radical activism, not to present an open, pluralistic view of the American interpretation of American history.”

Randall says the bill failed to fly last year because it was obvious what was going to happen.

“It was re-introduced this year with cosmetic changes … and they’re trying to claim [it] doesn’t form curriculum,” Randall said, adding that every bureaucrat competing for funds knows what is wanted from Washington, and will include those agenda items in their applications. “Even the people who want the best (curriculum) will act in worse ways. The other part of it is this bit about not forming curriculum … because these standards are then shaping the curriculum at the local level. The precise precedent is the Common Core because the Common Core likewise disclaimed to be shaping curriculum. The incentive had an enormous power to shape curriculum. This is in effect. The radical, anti-civic, Common Core.”

He calls it anti-civic because a civic education ought to teach students to cherish liberty, to cherish their republic, to love their fellow Americans, and to treat every one of their fellow Americans as equal individuals who mean well by one another. Randall says the 1619 Project and critical race theory teach the opposite of civics.

California
Students walk to their classrooms at a public middle school in Los Angeles, California, on Sept. 10, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Using Non-Profits

Part of the measure funds non-profits to develop curriculum. Some non-profits, such as Black Lives Matter, have already written curriculum that has been used in schools.

The Civics Alliance is specifically opposed to this, Randall said.

“The public schools ought to be accountable to the parents, the citizens, the state supervisory authorities. When you allow this sort of public-private partnership, you lose accountability,” Randall said. “Parents are unhappy. [Schools] say, ‘It just so happens to be from the from the person we contracted with, we’re not responsible.’” A frequent maneuver is to deny the public access to the materials being taught, saying it is copyrighted by the private organization.

“So, not only does it have a radicalizing effect, it gets rid of accountability, and it disables transparency.”

Who Guides Curriculum?

Federal law prohibits federal or state involvement in developing curriculum. Decisions on what to teach students are to be made at the local level.

A spokesman at Cornyn’s office pointed to this text in the bill, “Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize the secretary of education to prescribe a civics and history curriculum,” as proof that the government will not influence curriculum.

But Adam Waldeck, 1776 Action president believes the act will federalize the school system. An education advocacy group, 1776 Action seeks to end anti-American indoctrination in schools. It opposes the Civics Secures Democracy Act.

“My opposition is based on a common-sense, real-world appreciation that $1 billion dollars a year, for six years, doled out by the Biden administration for the teaching of American history and
civics, will absolutely dictate the substance, content, and direction of civics education in this country,” Waldeck told The Epoch Times in an email.

“Currently, the federal government spends about $5 million a year on American history and civics grants. Under the proposed legislation,
that amount will increase to over $1 billion a year, a 19,999 percent increase. Make no mistake, when it comes to civics education, if the federal government starts throwing around that kind of money in front of state and local authorities, the federal government, namely the Biden administration, will get exactly what it wants in civics education.”

Epoch Times Photo
A classroom at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in New York City on Sept. 2, 2021. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

And it is no secret, Waldeck says, what the Biden administration prioritizes in civics education: the equity agenda that teaches CRT; that America is a systemically racist country; and the 1619 Project. He predicts students will learn how to become leftwing activists for school credit.

“The Biden administration will control the guidance given to grant applicants and it will control naming the individuals who will make the decisions on awarding grants,” Waldeck said. “We don’t have to be naïve about how the money will flow in practice, and the impact such money will have on the content of civics education in the years to come.”

Not a Democracy

The word “republic” does not appear in the bill notes Kathy Barnette, and that is troubling because the United States is not a democracy; it is a representative republic. Barnette recently ran for Congress in Pennsylvania, but Mehmet Oz won the Republican primary. Barnette is now the spokesperson for 1776 Action.

“Most people will probably say, ‘Yeah, we need to be teaching our kids more civics.’ But which version of civics? Which version of American history are they going to teach? It matters,” Barnette told The Epoch Times.

Democracy can look like mob rule, Barnette says. For example, mobs standing in front of Supreme Court justices’ homes; rioting; or when a mob took over several city blocks in Seattle, Washington in 2020.

“That is a democracy rule,” Barnette said. “Everybody’s voice is heard, and everybody gets to say something. All you need is 51 percent of the mob to say, ‘That’s what I want.’ That’s what we’re watching on the streets all across our nation, when mobs show up and say ‘If you don’t give us what we want, we’re going to make ourselves ungovernable, and we are going to bring this whole thing down.’ That’s a democracy. That’s the mob ruling. And that’s not what we have. We have a representative government. We elect people to represent our interests. We have three co-equal branches of government.”

The act’s name indicates that the goal is to teach democracy.

“The written bill strikes out the words ‘traditional American history’ and replaces them with ‘American Political Thought’, which of course, is a whole discipline in and of itself,” Barnette said.

Randall says there is bipartisan agreement that we’re not teaching civics properly in the United States and haven’t for generations. But there are opposing views on how to replace the current system.

“The radicals wish to have lots and lots of anti-civics education and action civics,” Randall said. “Other brands of reformers say that we need a far better, traditional civics, American government class, which teaches you in the classroom, the mechanics of government, the history, intellectual history behind the founding, the evolution of constitutional liberty within America, and the nuts and bolts you need to be a self-reliant citizen.”

Opponents of the bill are not convinced that it requires $1 billion a year and the involvement of non-profits to make that happen.

Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas: Beth.brelje@epochtimes.us