Grassroots activists will need to take part in a long campaign to ensure both that American Birthright is adopted by states and school district, and to ensure that it is actually used properly in the classroom by teachers. We cannot plan out what precisely grassroots activists should do in each part of the United States–and we should not try, because we can only make an educated guess about their local situations, while grassroots activists will know. But we can provide a rough Action Guide, to help orient grassroots activists in their work.
The Situation in Each State
Each state has its own K-12 Social Studies Standards and its own Statutes governing social studies education. Most importantly, each state delegates a different amount of authority to the states and the school districts. State standards have great informal influence in any case, but it is important to determine precisely how much formal power they have to determine local standards and curricula. The Civics Alliance is working on producing an information packet for each state, but grassroots activists should research the situation in their own state, so they can know precisely how to press for reform.
Standards Are Not Curricula
State content standards are not curricula, which are determined by school districts and individual teachers. It is important to make that distinction—not least because fixing standards is only the beginning of education reform. Standards allow citizens to hold school districts and teachers accountable, but they still need to be held accountable. Moreover, they need to be provided proper curricula—individual lesson plans.
Curricula that align with American Birthright include Hillsdale College’s The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum; Great Hearts Academies’ and Basis Curriculum Schools’ general approach to social studies instruction; 1776 Unites’ focused lesson plans on African-American history; and AAT Education’s forthcoming American history curriculum, designed around Wilfred M. McClay’s U.S. history textbook Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (2019). Grassroots activists also should call for local school districts to adopt complementary curricula.
Most Americans don’t understand how important state content standards are in shaping K-12 education. Grassroots activists must tell them that it matters, by every means at their disposal. We have provided a Condensed Activists’ Brief:
- State academic content standards are the most influential documents in American education because they shape what public school districts teach, what textbook authors write, the content of teacher training, and state and local assessment.
- American Birthright will inspire America’s state education departments to provide social studies standards that teach American students their birthright of liberty.
- American Birthright appeals to a broad majority of Americans because it does not pursue a narrow, partisan agenda.
- American Birthright teaches students to identify the ideals, institutions, and individual examples of human liberty, individualism, religious freedom, and republican self-government; assess the extent to which civilizations have fulfilled these ideals; and describe how the evolution of these ideals in different times and places has contributed to the formation of modern American ideals.
- American Birthright provides comprehensive content knowledge in History, Geography, Civics, and Economics, by means of sustained coverage of Western Civilization, World History, United States History, and Civics, integrated with an extensive series of primary source documents.
- American Birthright increases teacher accountability, by focusing on factual content.
- American Birthright’s intensive content standards facilitate reliable assessment.
- American Birthright’s intensive content standards fulfill America’s promise of equal educational opportunities for everyone because disadvantaged students benefit from intensive content instruction even more than better-off students, who receive large amounts of content knowledge from their families and peers.
- American Birthright prepare students for college and career, because good colleges and good jobs require competitive and ambitious students and workers with broad background knowledge and the talent to absorb, synthesize and make use of large numbers of facts
- American Birthright makes the campaign to remove Critical Race Theory (CRT) from K-12 social studies instruction work because it replaces CRT with something better—social studies standards that teach students America’s true history of liberty.
State policymakers play a crucial role in pressing state Education Departments to revise their standards, both in the normal course of revision and by special intervention—among other things, by holding legislative hearings on social studies standards. Grassroots activists should work to inform state policymakers of the trouble with existing social studies standards, and why American Birthright provides a good model for an alternative. They should urge state policymakers to endorse American Birthright publicly and to make clear to state Education Departments that their standards, and all accompanying teacher training, written resources, etc., should follow the American Birthright model. State policymakers should also make sure that the revision process for state standards includes education reformers, and not just be delegated to the permanent education bureaucracy.
States haven’t passed academic content standards as laws until now, because they are long and complex. That probably will continue to be the case. But states can pass simpler legislation to shape content standards, in ways that will ensure that state Education Departments have to craft their social studies standards in ways that align with American Birthright. We particularly recommend pushing for state policymakers to pass legislation to provide proper social studies instruction. These laws should prohibit the use of discriminatory pedagogies and action civics in public K-12 classes; require primary-source based high-school instruction in Western Civilization, United States History, and Civics; require academic standards be approved by state policymakers; and increase the number of required history and civics courses for social studies teachers.
School districts also possess considerable power to set standards—although often severely constrained by state standards. Grassroots activists should work to get their school boards and school district administrators to adopt standards based on American Birthright. (Work on state legislation to make school boards more accountable would also be useful, notably to shift the school board elections to Election Day, and to make it easier to recall school board members.)
School Districts: Follow-Through
Grassroots activists also need to make sure that school district administrators and teachers follow through and teach according to the American Birthright standards. School Board members should exercise their oversight powers and make sure that teachers use curriculum that aligns with these standards. Grassroots activists should also work for curriculum transparency and financial transparency in the public schools (both as state law and as school district rule), so as to ensure that administrators and teachers actually comply with the American Birthright standards and with citizen intent.
State and Local Assessment
Reliable state and local assessments, crafted outside the classroom, would be a wonderful way to assess whether teachers are teaching American Birthright properly. The problem is that assessments also can become tools by the education establishment to smuggle in radical education standards by the backdoor. Grassroots activists should consider whether to call for external state and local assessments, as a way to increase school accountability, but only if they are sure they cannot be misused by the education establishment.
American Birthright isn’t meant to be a one-size-fits-all model. Grassroots activists ought to modify it to fit their states and their school districts. But grassroots activists also should be aware that the education establishment can use the argument of local modification to sabotage American Birthright—to water it down, to include mandated and counter-productive skills instruction, to include elements of radical identity-politics, Critical Race Theory, or action civics. Activists should make sure that the personnel of whatever committee decides on local modification includes education reformers who will preserve the core of American Birthright, and keep out poison-pill modifications.