Published March 8, 2021
House Democrats are offering a bill ludicrously titled the “Civics Learning Act of 2021” to fund the likewise misnamed enterprise of “action civics.” The price tag is $30 million a year. Whether it’s called “action civics,” “civic engagement,” or “project-based civics,” the real goal of the new “civics” is to get students protesting and lobbying for leftist political goals on school time, and now on the federal dime.
The Civics Learning Act has 49 co-sponsors to date, all Democrats. That tells you a lot. Just last week I slammed three former Republican secretaries of Education for endorsing the “Educating for American Democracy” initiative, a supposedly bipartisan project in fact controlled by the country’s leading leftist proponents of action civics. Too many Republicans are lulled by bogus calls for national unity via “civics” into endorsing a movement that sponsors one-sided political protests in our schools. Meanwhile the same action-civics advocates who send students out to protest and lobby for policies they’ve never studied from both sides are busy pushing divisive Critical Race Theory at America’s teachers.
If you read the various components of the “Educating for American Democracy” (EAD) report, you’ll see that action civics (where students protest and lobby for things like gun control and the Green New Deal) and “service learning” (where students intern with leftist community organizations) are mentioned, but downplayed. You find these practices endorsed but relegated to appendices, or buried in the studies the report relies on but keeps to end-notes. The authors of EAD are the leading advocates of action civics in the country. They know it’s controversial, however, so they play it down.
The Civics Learning Act gives away the game, although even here you have to read through the euphemisms. The bill begins with the usual appealing distractions, statistics about students who know next to nothing about our constitutional system, along with some moaning about partisan polarization. Then come the proposals, which throttle actual civic education and fund ideologically partisan advocacy instead.
In the crucial section [(B)(2) on page 4], the bill lists the activities to be funded. They include, “hands-on civic engagement activities for teachers and students.” Most readers won’t even notice that “hands-on civic engagement” means teachers leading students on protest and lobbying expeditions outside of school. Then there’s, “before-school, during school, after-school, and extracurricular activities.” That provision officially redefines “civics” to include after-school protests for course credit. Next comes, “activities that include service learning and community service projects that are linked to school curriculum.” This is a practice in which students intern for (invariably leftist) advocacy groups then retroactively make it part of the “curriculum” by writing an essay for class about their out-of-school lobbying and protest activities. The bill also funds civic learning by video-games, which means millions of dollars for the supposedly non-partisan but in fact sharply left-leaning group, iCivics, and its highly political partners. (The iCivics group makes civics video games, but its real focus is leading the national coalition for action civics.)
Then comes the cleverest trick of all. The bill specifies that preference for grants will be given to programs that carry out the various listed activities. An annual report must also detail the extent to which each grantee was able to fulfill each of the listed activities, almost all of which are practiced only by the leftist groups that promote action civics. So, it’s a cinch that this proposed annual $30 million appropriation will go overwhelmingly to leftist action-civics groups rather than to purveyors of traditional civics. The bill purports to be a bipartisan effort to teach kids about the three branches of government and such, when in fact it’s about indoctrinating school-children by pushing them into leftist protest and lobbying.
Curiously, the bill’s main sponsor is Representative Alcee Hastings, who was impeached by the House, convicted by a Democrat-controlled Senate, and removed as a federal judge after being charged with perjury, evidence tampering, and accepting bribes. This is the Democrats’ champion of “civics.” Prominent Democrats like Jerrold Nadler, Jamie Raskin, Sheila Jackson-Lee, and Ilhan Omar are signed on to Hastings’ bill as co-sponsors. Conceivably, the Dems may find a Republican co-sponsor or two to join in down the road, but this will likely be because most Republicans have no idea what action civics actually is.
It gets worse. Last session, Republican senator John Cornyn co-sponsored a “bipartisan” bill that would have put $1 billion in funding toward civic education. Republican representative Tom Cole sponsored companion legislation in the House. (Yes, $1 billion, with a “b”.) The lion’s share of that money would have gone to the same leftist action-civics groups slated for funding under the Hastings bill. The Cornyn bill would also have subsidized the creation of teacher certification programs in history and civics at the same leftist schools of education now churning out woke curricula in Critical Race Theory. Let us hope that Senator Cornyn wakes up to the reality of action civics and has the good sense not to reintroduce this bill in the current Congress.
The action-civics community is actively working to dupe naïve conservatives, with their love for traditional civics, into subsidizing partisan leftist political protest and lobbying that have no proper place in America’s schools. Sadly, a few establishment conservatives go along knowingly and willingly as well, for the sake of creating a “bipartisan” civics and history version of Common Core.
Conservatives need to derail the leftist civics scam before it’s too late. In the absence of strong opposition, the Dems will likely succeed in sending tens of millions of dollars, at least, to the advocates of action civics. That will make it all the more essential for red-state legislatures to oppose maneuvers to write action civics into state standards. (Model state-level legislation to block action civics can be found here and here.) School-districts will also need to remain vigilant against the hijacking of their curriculum by the increasingly well-funded action-civics community. But first let’s try to block this ill-conceived appropriation.
The thoroughgoing politicization of our colleges and universities is now well more than halfway through the door of K-12 education. The alarm is sounding. It’s time to push back.
Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.