Published February 3, 2021
Louise Dube, executive director of iCivics and the CivXNow coalition, takes issue with my two recent pieces, “Beware: New Civics Mandates Will Be Woke,” and “Ultra-Woke Illinois Mandates Are Top Threat to U.S. Education.” In calling on Americans to “seek common ground, and abandon the culture war,” Dube follows President Biden, who appeals for unity even as he signs a slew of radical left-wing executive orders and calls America systemically racist.
Dube herself says iCivics is committed to “pointing out institutional systemic racism in teaching about our institutions,” even though this “will alienate some.” That doesn’t sound like abandoning the culture war to me.
Dube is eager to distance herself from the civics nightmare now playing out in Illinois, but she can’t. Her organization and her coalition have held Illinois up as a model for the nation, as I showed in my most recent piece. Dube doesn’t deny any of the points I made there about support for the Illinois model from iCivics or the CivXNow coalition. (Check out the links, and you’ll see why.) Instead, she denies what I never asserted.
In my first piece I said, “iCivics was closely involved in the development of that Illinois Civics campaign to bring so-called anti-racism and Critical Race Theory into the classroom.” As we’ll see in a moment, that is correct, and the details say a lot about iCivics and its actual stance toward the culture war. Dube says, “We had no involvement in this [Illinois civics] legislation whatsoever,” but that doesn’t rebut me. I never argued that iCivics pushed for passage of the original Illinois civics law, but rather that iCivics has been closely involved in the recent campaign by the Illinois Civics website to bring so-called anti-racism and Critical Race Theory into classrooms in Illinois.
You can see the collaboration between iCivics and the key leaders of the Illinois civics experiment for yourself on video. Amber Coleman-Mortley is the director of Social Engagement for iCivics. After the mass demonstrations and riots of this past summer, Coleman-Mortley joined with Shawn Healy, the leading figure behind the enactment and implementation of the Illinois civics law, to present two hour-long webinars, one on “How to Raise a Socially-Conscious Anti-Racist Kid” (webinar No. 1). and another on “Culturally Responsive Teaching to Promote Anti-Racist Classrooms” (webinar No. 2). Those webinars are filled with endorsements of Critical Race Theory and its outgrowth, the practice of “Culturally Responsive Teaching.” When advocates refer to “anti-racism” nowadays, they mean much more than not being biased. The new “anti-racism” calls any policy stance not aimed at fundamentally transforming American society in a “progressive” direction, a tool of “systemic racism.”
Culturally Responsive Teaching is the guiding source for the outrageous new Illinois education standards I wrote about in my recent piece. Those standards force teachers to call America systemically racist, force teachers to affirm multiple and “fluid” gender identities, and force teachers to advocate and even organize student demonstrations on behalf of progressive political positions. If teachers refuse, they just might lose their licenses, or be forced into therapy designed to move them beyond their “whiteness.”
It’s also apparent from the webinars that Coleman-Mortley of iCivics had a leading role in designing the Critical Race Theory–permeated Illinois civics web pages I focused on in my initial piece (webinar No. 1, 57:19–59:05). Again, you can literally watch two hours’ worth of praise for Critical Race Theory–based materials as iCivics and Illinoiscivics.org collaborate on screen in the persons of Amber Coleman-Mortley and Shawn Healy. (You can then read the material they were endorsing and promoting here and here.)
In the webinars, Coleman-Mortley of iCivics endorses the #DisruptTexts movement (where “Even Homer Gets Mobbed”) (webinar No. 2 27–27:20), attacks colorblindness as an “erasure” that defines students from a “white normative stance” (webinar No. 2 44:30–44:50), praises Gloria Ladson-Billings, who first brought neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory into education and who invented “Culturally Responsive Teaching” (webinar No. 2 36:15–37:15), and draws on the concept of systemic racism and the consequent need to dismantle our allegedly racism system.
By the way, Coleman-Mortley does all of this engagingly and with grace. She has mastered the art of presenting highly contentious cultural issues in the smoothest and most sympathetic possible manner. It’s easy to see why Coleman-Mortley is an asset to iCivics. Nonetheless, this collaboration between iCivics and Illinoiscivics.org is pure culture war, and plenty of it.
One of the most (unintentionally) entertaining webinar segments (webinar No. 1 36–41:30) comes when Shawn Healy addresses the problem of parents who don’t want their children studying Critical Race Theory. Healy’s solution to these problematic parents is for teachers to show parents that they’re using “highly reputable sources.” The example Healy gives of a highly reputable source is . . . the 1619 Project of the oh-so-reputable New York Times. In fact, Healy credits Coleman-Mortley of iCivics with first alerting him to just how important and educationally useful the 1619 Project is.
In response, Coleman-Mortley tells the story of the time her daughter brought home some “questionable content” on Christopher Columbus from school. Apparently, this school neglected to purvey a Howard Zinn–like version of Columbus. That prompted Coleman-Mortley to fill in the gaps for her daughter. Coleman-Mortley then reflects on the need for “healthy skepticism” when looking at textbooks brought from school. Healthy skepticism for Columbus, embarrassing credulity for the 1619 Project. And this was long after truly reputable historians had exposed the project’s feet of clay.
Another striking webinar moment comes when Healy responds to yet another question on how to deal with parental opposition to controversial approaches like “Culturally Responsive Teaching” (webinar No. 2 50:40–52:14). Healy’s revealing reply is that the Illinois State Board of Education is about to mandate Culturally Responsive Teaching, so in addition to trying to persuade parents, tell them they have no choice. Precisely. That’s why I’ve been sounding the alarm about leftist educators like Healy trying to impose these perniciously politicized standards on teachers, students, and parents.
Dube says iCivics and its partners aren’t looking to impose a national civics curriculum on America. I say iCivics is eager to push the Illinois model on us all. Healy actually makes my point for me during one of the webinars (webinar No. 1 49:30–50:10). He says, “I think there really is a policy window that’s open for us to do something more. We’ve made some big strides [on action civics and “anti-racism”] in Illinois. Now we need to do this everywhere. Check out the work of the CivXNow coalition. Amber’s parent organization, iCivics, leads that. And we’re making both a state-based push but also a national push to strengthen civic education.” Not only a state-based but a national push. Healy is on the inside, part of the big coalition under iCivics’ leadership that’s about to make public recommendations on civic education. He ought to know.
Here’s my challenge to Louise Dube and iCivics. I have personally been told by one of iCivics’ leaders that iCivics has been in discussions about a civics bill for some time in Texas. Publish the text of the civics proposal that iCivics has been backing in Texas. Then tell me that iCivics doesn’t want to impose the Illinois action civics model on the rest of the country.
Dube concludes by citing a poll that says that civic education is the most popular solution to what ails our country. I don’t doubt those results for a moment. On the contrary, that’s what worries me. iCivics is cloaking progressive political activism and Critical Race Theory under the soothing and popular heading of “civics.” Exploiting public respect for traditional civics is iCivics’ strategy for pressing the entirely untraditional Illinois civics model on America. My plan is to remove the cloak and reveal what is actually going on in Illinois, and in Massachusetts, the other center of politicized “action civics.” Dube and iCivics were leading advocates of the changes that politicized and dumbed down the Massachusetts history standards and ushered in “action civics.” (I’ll have much more to say on Massachusetts down the road.) What “civics” has become in Illinois and Massachusetts — Critical Race Theory and progressive activism disguised as education — will mean irresolvable culture war in this country for the indefinite future.
Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.