The teaching of American civics in our schools faces a grave new risk. Proponents of programs such as action civics seek to turn the traditional subject of civics into a recruitment tool of the progressive left.
We write to express our objection to this subornation of civics education and to dedicate ourselves to joint work to restore true civics instruction, which teaches American students to comprehend aspects of American government such as the rule of law, the Bill of Rights, elections, elected office, checks and balances, equality under the law, trial by jury, grand juries, civil rights, and military service. American students should learn from these lessons the founding principles of the United States, the structure of our self-governing republic, the functions of government at all levels, and how our key institutions work.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education issued A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future (2012), a report which called for a “New Civics” to replace the traditional approach. This new form of civics sidelines instruction on the responsibilities of American citizenship, and instead emphasizes identity politics, highly contestable forms of environmental activism, and a commitment to global citizenship. The New Civics, or “action civics,” replaces classroom civics instruction with political commitment, protest, and vocational training in progressive activism. It does so with the support of the Federal Government and through a host of private organizations such as Generation Citizen and iCivics.
Since 2019 the New Civics advocates have become much bolder. In August 2019, the New York Times launched “The 1619 Project,” which called for “reframing” all of American history (and civics) as the story of white supremacy and black subjection. The 1619 Project’s advocates brag that tens of thousands of students in all 50 states have used its curriculum resources and that “five school systems adopted the project at broad scale.” Not every advocate of action civics supports the 1619 Project, but the 1619 Project Curriculum already promotes action civics lesson plans. Action civics is taking over our K-12 civics and history classrooms. Activists in states such as Massachusetts and Illinois now seek to impose action civics on teachers and students by state law and through mandates by state departments of education.
We oppose all racism and support traditional American pluralism, e pluribus unum—out of many, one. These beliefs are not those of the radical New Civics activists, which espouse identity politics with overlapping ideologies of critical race theory, multiculturalism, and so-called “antiracism.” Unfortunately, these dogmas would ruin our country by destroying our unity, our liberty, and the national culture that sustains them. They have replaced traditional civics, where historical dates and documents are taught, with a New Civics based on the new tribalism of identity politics. Their favored pedagogy is service-learning, alternately called action civics, civic engagement, civic learning, community engagement, project-based civics, and global civics. These all replace civics literacy with a form of left-wing activism that adapts techniques from Alinsky-style community organizing for use in the classroom.
The New Civics has already advanced in America’s education system to a far greater extent than most people realize. It has succeeded partly because it has received unwitting support from those who fail to see the many wolves in sheep’s clothing. Well-intentioned reformers must not collaborate with those promoting an ideology that would destroy America. They should not endorse supposedly nonpartisan New Civics education that is really left-wing activism in disguise. They must instead work for true civics education that explicitly excludes the imposter New Civics and its favored pedagogies.
We endorse the general principles of the Civics Curriculum Statement below and we ask our fellow citizens to join us in working to restore American civics education according to its principles. Some of the signatories prefer different programmatic specifics, such as curriculum standards and testing controlled at the local level rather than the state level. Independent commissions are favored by some but not others. We endorse the Civics Curriculum Statement as a series of exploratory options designed to inspire initiatives by states, local communities, schools, and patriotic citizens, rather than as a binding legislative program. The concern that unites us is the need for legislation that prevents New Civics from retaining any power within America’s schools.