The federal government should play a limited role in civics education. The states and the localities should draft their own civics curricula, without federal interference. This would be true even if the federal government promoted a beneficial civics education. At present, unfortunately, the federal government’s policymakers and permanent bureaucrats are committed to transforming civics education into action civics and radical social justice education. The Civics Alliance’s first priority is to inform citizens of the danger posed by the federal government imposing radical action civics on the states or bribing them into compliance.
Proposed Federal Legislation
The Civics Secures Democracy Act (House Bill 1814 and Senate Bill 879) presents the acutest single danger to traditional civics education. This Act would open the floodgates of federal support for action civics—and, because it has bipartisan sponsorship, it may receive support from policymakers who do not realize how radical the bill is. The details of the bill would steer virtually all support to radical civic engagement rather than in-class civics instruction. Moreover, the bill would reshape civics instruction in every state, since state education bureaucracies would gladly import action civics to secure federal grants.
The Civics Learning Act of 2021 (House Bill 400), more radical than The Civics Secures Democracy Act, authorizes federal support for and gives grant preference to action civics. The Civics Learning Act of 2021 may well be a stalking horse, a radical alternative deliberately introduced to make The Civics Secures Democracy Act seem moderate by comparison, and therefore easier to support. Yet The Civics Learning Act of 2021 could also be rammed through by a party-line vote, and it would reshape civics instruction even more dramatically than The Civics Secures Democracy Act.
Proposed U.S. Education Department Rule
The U.S. Education Department’s “Proposed Priorities” would cement radically racist instruction into the nation’s schools. The document, which cites The New York Times’ 1619 Project and Ibram X. Kendi’s so-called “antiracism” as exemplars, would require applicants for grants in American Civics and History programs to “take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.” Proposed Priorities ensures that the Civics Secures Democracy Act would subsidize programs that forward a radical, identity politics version of action civics.
U.S. Civics Test
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires candidates for naturalization to pass a Civics Test. The 100-question 2008 Civics Test was briefly replaced in 2020 and 2021 by the more rigorous 128-question 2020 Civics Test, before the Biden administration reverted to the 2008 Civics Test. There is a movement to ‘reinvigorate’—degrade—the quality of the Civics Test. Civics reformers should inform policymakers about this movement, both because it will weaken the civics component of naturalization and because 22 states have linked their high school civics curriculum to the Civics Test. Civics reformers who want to preserve the rigor of high school civics education should inform federal policymakers about the need to preserve the rigor of the naturalization Civics Test.
We offer the following model bill as a way to direct the USCIS to use the 2020 Civics Test and to stipulate that in the future a revised Civics Test will only be implemented if it receives the approval of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President.
Strategic Goal: Defund Service-Learning
The federal government has authorized expenditures for service-learning for thirty years (42 U.S.C. §12511(40, 41, 42) (Definitions: Service-learning, Service-learning Coordinator, Service Sponsor). The federal government will not be able to fund action civics if this provision is rescinded. Civics reformers should inform federal policymakers that defending civics education ultimately requires defunding service-learning. [Model Legislation: The Classroom Teaching Act]
Federal Policy Toolkit
Civics reformers should use the Federal Policy Toolkit to learn how to inform policymakers about action civics and proper civics education.