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What’s So Un-American about a Shared American Civics?

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(Thinkstock) A defense of the Educating for American Democracy proposal

Why are our conservative friends deriding and denouncing the Educating for American Democracy proposal for the enhancement of civics teaching in K–12 schools? They claim it is a Trojan horse for the leftist ideology of the 1619 Project and for “action civics,” both of which all people of conservative temperament — and probably many non-“woke” liberals — see as misguided, the first for its distorted account of American history, the second for its eagerness to politicize the classroom and enlist young students as advocates of left-wing causes. To assess whether these critics of the national initiative are right requires understanding (1) the crisis that precipitated the proposal, (2) what precisely is proposed, (3) how it would be implemented, and (4) the costs of repudiating any such efforts to create a common American civics. But first, let us clarify what we are talking about.

Educating for American Democracy: Excellence in History and Civics for All Learners is both a narrative report and a “roadmap” outlining seven themes for teaching history and civics in K–12 schools. It originated from a 2019 call for proposals from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Trump administration’s Department of Education; the grant was won by a consortium committed to seeking national-consensus approaches to civics education that included Danielle Allen of Harvard, two leaders of Tufts’s Civic Learning and Civic Life programs, one of the authors of this piece (Paul Carrese of Arizona State’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership), and the educational organization iCivics, founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her retirement and now the nation’s largest provider of civics-education resources. Did the team skew left? Sure, but it is hardly obvious that it skewed further left than the public-school administrators and teachers who would be the ones to implement its recommendations. The grant was awarded by President Trump’s NEH chairman, Jon Parrish Peede. And in a recent letter, the EAD executive committee voiced its objection in public comment to the Biden Administration’s proposed prioritization of diversity

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