New Civics Mandates Will Be Woke

Dec 28, 2020 by

State legislators are in for a surprise. Why the capture of new education standards by the Left is a near certainty.

The Complex Relationship between Marxism and Wokeness - New Discourses

Americans dismayed by the mendacity and distortions of the 1619 Project are headed for a fall. A commendable desire to counter both civic illiteracy and the excesses of woke ideology has produced a new national movement to mandate history and civics standards. Unfortunately, that strategy will produce the very opposite of its intended effect. Far from restoring traditional understandings of American citizenship, the proposed history and civics mandates will entrench woke ideology nationally, imposing it on the reddest of red-state school-districts, and ultimately on private and religious schools as well.

The conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is considering a model bill that would have state legislatures mandate history and civics standards. Bipartisan federal legislation to fund curriculum development and teacher training in civics has also been introduced. Comprehensive proposals to create de facto national history and civics standards on the model of Common Core are in the works as well, and likely to be adopted by a Biden administration. Every one of these initiatives will undermine the very ends they appear to promote. Conservative legislators who support them will one day find themselves facing an army of angry constituents. The blowback against these ill-considered civics mandates will make the battle over Common Core look like patty-cake. By then, unfortunately, the damage will have been done.

Sound implausible? It shouldn’t, because it’s happened before. The National History Standards fiasco of the early 1990s chillingly prefigures the trap into which traditionalists are about to tumble. Back then, America was in the early stages of our education culture war. The overthrow of Stanford’s Western Civilization requirement in 1988 had launched the newly dubbed movement for “multiculturalism,” which in turn provoked a counter-attack on what would soon be called “political correctness.”

In 1991, a New York state report demanding K-12 curricula focused on racial and ethnic oppression drew a stinging rebuke from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the esteemed liberal historian and Kennedy administration veteran. In his book, The Disuniting of America, Schlesinger affirmed our shared tradition of individual freedom and political democracy as the keys to American identity, adding that alienating young minorities from the Western democratic tradition would irreparably divide the country. Schlesinger’s searing indictment of multiculturalism was lauded by liberals and conservatives alike, with The New York Times leading the way.

Bipartisan agreement on the need to revitalize commitment to common American ideals was reinforced by survey data showing that high-schoolers had a feeble grasp of even the most basic elements of history and civics. The response from the George H.W. Bush administration, working in close collaboration with the nation’s governors, was to call for national history standards. Although this effort circumvented the traditional American emphasis on local control of curriculum content, it was felt that the tattered state of civic knowledge, emerging national divisions over multiculturalism, and the need to remain educationally competitive with rising powers like Japan justified a national approach.

As leader of the drive to craft national history standards, National Endowment for the Humanities Chair Lynne Cheney commissioned and funded a consortium of scholars and educators to complete the work. That’s when it all went south. With bipartisan buy-in at the highest levels, consensus-based standards looked like a sure thing. What the big guns hadn’t figured on was that the professors and teachers they needed to fill in the details of the standards had already bought into the very same multicultural project that the politicos (and the voters they represented) were hoping to combat. The standards that emerged highlighted oppression, emphasized group differences, and added a heaping helping of globalism to boot.

Source: New Civics Mandates Will Be Woke | National Review

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