Published May 3, 2021
Leading members of the Civics Alliance, convened by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) to fight action civics and related dangers, have issued an open letter appealing to Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Congressman Tom Cole (R., Okla.) to abandon their support for the egregiously misnamed “Civics Secures Democracy Act.” This $6 billion bill (which should be named the Action Civics and Critical Race Theory Harm America Act) will impose these pernicious pedagogies on every school in the nation, just as Obama used massive federal grants to spread Common Core. Cornyn and Cole are Republican co-sponsors of this “bipartisan” bill, and their exit from that sponsorship could kill this legislative monstrosity before it manages to destroy American education.
Cornyn and Cole now have an excellent reason to abandon the bill. The new Biden rule giving priority to federal grants that push the 1619 Project and critical race theory confirms suspicions that this $6 billion appropriation will be used to impose Biden’s vision of America’s supposedly “systemic racism” on the next generation. On top of that, the priority criteria written into the bill itself will push politicized “action civics” on the schools, forcing children to engage in (invariably leftist) political protests after school as a requirement for their courses.
The open letter rightly gives Cornyn and Cole the benefit of the doubt. After all, few Americans had even heard of “action civics” until recent months, and the critical race theory craze has only taken over the Democratic Party since last summer. Given that, early Republican support for a seemingly traditional civics bill was understandable. Authentic civic education is a good thing, to say the least (although it is a matter best left to states and especially to local school districts, rather than the federal government).
Unfortunately, Biden and the Democrats have now fully embraced the anti-civic education being pushed by the radical Left under the misleading label of “civics,” and that is what the billions of dollars appropriated by this legislation will support.
Given the open embrace of the 1619 Project and critical race theory by the new Biden rule, it’s clear that the good intentions of Cornyn and Cole will be used to achieve the very opposite of what they are aiming for. That means it is urgently necessary for them to reverse course and abandon the so-called Civics Secures Democracy Act. The Biden rule has transformed the politics of this issue. Cornyn and Cole ought to respond accordingly by repudiating this badly misguided bill.
Some of the signatories of the open letter are of particular note. It will be of interest to Representative Cole of Oklahoma to see the names of Brandon Dutcher, senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and Sheryl Kaufman, an influential D.C. insider who served as communications director for former Oklahoma congressman Jim Bridenstine. Journalist Christopher Rufo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has taken a leading role in exposing the use and abuse of critical race theory in our schools. Ryan Williams, president of the Claremont Institute, heads one of the country’s leading centers of authentic civic education. Eunie Smith, Phyllis Schlafly’s successor as the head of Eagle Forum, remains a leading voice with grassroots activists across the country who care about education. (I am also a signatory.)
The open letter invites other members of the Civics Alliance and other interested citizens to sign the appeal to Senator Cornyn and Representative Cole, which you can do here.
The Civics Secures Democracy Act is a dagger pointed at the heart of American education. As the open letter stresses, that bill cannot be “fixed.” Whatever tweaks are made, so long as the billions of dollars the bill appropriates are administered by the Biden administration, they will go to fund radical anti-civics pedagogies instead of traditional civics. In the event that Biden tweaks his new rule in response to public outrage, the intentions of his Department of Education have been revealed by the language already floated. Any future tweaks will be nothing more than disguise.
The good news is that Cornyn and Cole might very well bring the Civics Secures Democracy Act down just by abandoning their co-sponsorship. John Cornyn, in particular, might single-handedly sink this bill. No one now is positioned to do more to block the spread of critical race theory and action civics throughout this country than John Cornyn. I very much hope that he seizes the moment and does the right thing.
Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.