Published June 20, 2022
The misleadingly named “Civics Secures Democracy Act” (CSDA) — just now reintroduced in Congress — will allow the Biden administration to push Critical Race Theory (CRT) on every public school in the country. Over a six-year period, this $6 billion pot of competitive grant money will create a de facto national curriculum — just like Common Core. States desperate to tap into the federal gravy train will have to tailor their civics and history grant proposals to the Biden administration’s liking. And abundant evidence shows that Biden’s Education Department is pushing CRT. So why are some Republican senators eager to help Biden spread CRT? I can’t think of a quicker way to devastate Republican enthusiasm just before the midterms.
It doesn’t matter that federal law and the bill itself disclaim the authority to formally impose a curriculum on the states. The strings that Biden’s bureaucrats will attach to these massive federal grants will suffice to lure states into adopting CRT. The left-leaning bureaucrats who staff education departments even in red states already favor CRT (those bureaucrats will write the grant applications and divvy up the money). And Biden long ago signaled his intention to prioritize applications that promise CRT.
If CSDA passes this summer, as its sponsors hope, a Republican victory in the midterms will come too late to prevent the federal imposition of CRT. But what will happen when voters discover just months before the midterms that Republicans have betrayed them by using federal power to push CRT on the states? The Civics Secures Democracy Act is education madness and political suicide all wrapped up in one.
Sadly, while this is largely a leftist-backed plan, we have Republican senator John Cornyn to thank for giving CSDA “bipartisan” political cover. Last year, in an open letter to Cornyn and Representative Tom Cole, the Civics Alliance convened by the National Association of Scholars appealed to both legislators to abandon CSDA. When Cornyn responded with misleading and mistaken claims about the bill, I rebutted. Yet now, the leftist-dominated coalition backing CSDA has added Republican senators Bill Cassidy and James Inhofe as co-sponsors of the newly reintroduced bill. Unless America’s parents wake up and make themselves heard now, there is a very real chance that CRT could be the new Common Core by summer.
The new version of CSDA is the same in substance as the original, although the language this time is stealthier. Obvious references to “action civics” (mandatory — and invariably leftist — political protests for course credit) have been removed. Yet there’s enough coded language to allow Biden’s grant readers to favor “action civics” anyway. In the ultimate stealth move, at every turn the bill prioritizes civics programs directed toward “traditionally underserved students.” This sounds like a benign instruction to direct federal civics and history funding to districts with limited monies of their own. Unfortunately, something more disturbing is meant.
In the new leftist vision of history and civics, both of these school subjects must be radically reinvented in order to appeal to the “traditionally underserved.” The Biden executive order directing his entire administration to push CRT is actually called “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government.” The idea is that recent immigrants and impoverished ethnic and racial minorities cannot embrace or excel at old-fashioned lessons on federalism or checks and balances. To truly excite and empower the underserved, you must supposedly teach about “systemic racism” and recruit students into Black Lives Matter–style protests for course credit. Instead of motivating civic participation with a message such as “what a great country — wouldn’t you like to get involved?” the new leftist civics aims to lure in “underserved” students with a new approach: “Wouldn’t you like to join the struggle against America’s intrinsic racism and injustice?” (For more on the CRT-themed civics behind the Civics Secures Democracy Act, go here.)
Fat federal grants will suffice to impose CRT and politicized “action civics” on the states. Yet CSDA’s coercive strategy goes further. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the nation’s report card, has long served as an effective national test of basic knowledge and skills. Yet for decades, NAEP has intentionally avoided collecting data in civics and history that would allow for detailed comparisons between states. Doing so would allow Congress or the administration to tie federal aid to differential state performance on the NAEP test, which would allow the content of the test itself to force a de facto national curriculum on the states.
CSDA would change all that. The leftist civics community wants to align the NAEP test to its new vision of history and civics, then tie state grants to performance on NAEP. That would effectively override state and local control over standards and curriculum, handing the leftist civics community power to craft what amounts to a national curriculum. (For more on this plan, go here.) Again, if CSDA passes before the midterms, it won’t matter if Republicans take Congress or not. Biden and his leftist education allies will have control of the nation’s curriculum for the remainder of his term — or far longer.
The bill would also funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to the overwhelmingly leftist nonprofits that push action civics and CRT on schools, and it would incentivize local school districts to work with them. On top of that, the same woke schools of education that churn out CRT-based curricula would get their own pot of hundreds of millions of dollars to devise teacher-training programs based on the new, woke vision of history and civics. States and local school districts would then be pressed to work with these leftist ed schools as a condition of their own grants. There is no more certain way to infuse CRT into the classroom.
The Civics Secures Democracy Act is the most pernicious federal education legislation I’ve ever seen. Now that it has been reintroduced with token yet still noticeably increased Republican support, there is a very real danger that it could become law. Via the Civics Alliance, many prominent conservatives have already announced their opposition to this bill (including Mark Bauerlein, John Hinderaker, Roger Kimball, Christopher Rufo, and Eagle Forum president emerita, Eunie Smith). Always quick on the uptake on cultural issues, former president Trump slammed the bill and its misguided Republican supporters in his Faith and Freedom address (see 1:26–1:33) last week. So far, however, Republicans in Congress have been silent, as have Republican governors, who stand to have their state’s education systems effectively commandeered by a quiet alliance of leftist state and federal bureaucrats. It’s Common Core 2.0, but this time with CRT, not fuzzy math, at stake. Let’s hope more Republican officeholders speak out against CSDA in the coming days. Nothing could tear the party apart faster than federalizing CRT by culpable neglect.
Supporters of the just-reintroduced Civics Secures Democracy Act hope to sneak it by this summer, just before the August recess, while the public is occupied with the first big post-pandemic vacation. After a year-long nation-wide rebellion against Critical Race Theory, let’s be sure not to drop the ball by allowing this noxious doctrine to take charge of our schools via the misnamed “Civics Secures Democracy Act.”
Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. On a wide range of issues, from K-12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left’s agenda, Mr. Kurtz is a key contributor to American public debates. Mr. Kurtz has written on these and other issues for various journals, particularly National Review Online (where he is a contributing editor).
Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Beyond his work with Education and American Ideals, Mr. Kurtz is a key contributor to American public debates on a wide range of issues from K–12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left’s agenda. Mr. Kurtz has written on these and other issues for various journals, particularly National Review Online (where he is a contributing editor).