The Curricular Firing Squads

In October, a study released by the RAND Corporation revealed that just 23 percent of teachers maintain that one of the top three aims of civic education is “promoting knowledge of social, political, and civic institutions.” Instead, a majority of teachers feel that “promoting students’ critical and independent thinking” is much more important.

But—to state the obvious—one cannot think critically without having knowledge. And sadly, the lack of an educational foundation has sent the nation deeper and deeper into civic illiteracy. Just 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government.

In an effort to change course, the National Association of Scholars launched “American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards” in mid-2022. Its purpose is to educate students about their heritage and to inspire America’s state education departments “to provide social studies standards that teach American students their birthright of liberty.” It is NAS’ hope that schools across the country will make these standards a part of their curricula.

But this is several bridges too far for the American Left. Typical is the National Council for the Social Studies, which was founded in 1921 and “engages and supports educators in strengthening and advocating social studies.” The group has determined “that the suggested social studies standards developed by the Civics Alliance do not align with best practices related to the development of social studies standards. If implemented in schools, these suggested standards would have damaging and lasting effects on the civic knowledge of students and their capacity to engage in civic reasoning and deliberation. NCSS does not endorse nor support the use of these standards.”

It’s important to note that NCSS is just fine with the “1619 Project,” which is a fraud. The original document maintained, for example, that slavery was a primary motivation for the colonists’ revolt against England and the Pilgrim’s subsequent trek across the Atlantic to the New World in 1619. The fictitious document also claims that 1619, not 1776, was the year of “our true founding.” After receiving criticism from historians, some tweaks were made, but the document is still deceitful. Even Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the hoax, explains that she meant to say “some of” the colonists fought to preserve slavery, not all of them. Hence, the thrust behind the project has been eviscerated, but that change will not deter the zealots from forcing the bogus project on school kids all over the country.

One such true believer, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, claims that “vetted lesson plans—like those from the 1619 Project— . . . help educators tackle the hard conversations around our country’s history and its impact on today and tomorrow.”

Speaking of the teachers unions, what do they envision as a proper curriculum?

According to the Defense of Freedom Institute in a just-released report, teachers unions across the country “are using an anti-democratic process of negotiating collective bargaining agreements to embed their progressive goals in school policies. In woke-filled back rooms, these unions and their supportive allies in the school districts agree to impose curricula on schools to indoctrinate students in leftist ideas, replace traditional disciplinary measures with policies that focus on ‘understanding’ and ‘reconciliation,’ segregate teachers for special benefits based on the color of their skin, and treat students differently based on race to ensure ‘equity.’”

For example, in July 2021, the Detroit Federation of Teachers settled a contract with the school district that created a “School Equity Lead Supplemental Position” to support and facilitate “culturally responsive teaching strategies for teachers.” Candidates for the position are selected by the district’s office of equity, advocacy, and civil rights, and must complete anti-racism training at the “Summer Anti-Racist Institute.”

Then there’s the National Education Association. The union has just released a statement, in which it insists that climate change must be taught in every subject including “science, social studies, visual and performing arts, and world languages.”

The union’s goal is to “empower students” of all ages to take action. For instance, the NEA cites a high school art teacher in New Jersey who had students design posters “to advertise the start of New Jersey’s plastic bag ban and remind community members to bring reusable bags with them to the grocery store.”

Clearly, the NEA’s goal is for their local bargaining units to insist that climate change activism be inserted into the curriculum when contract renewal time comes up.

Needless to say, the students won’t learn that the eco-catastrophists have been wrong for decades. In the 1960s, professor Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, predicted widespread starvation for most of humanity. He was dead wrong. In the 1970s, the “experts” predicted a new “ice age.” Didn’t happen. Then “global cooling” morphed into “global warming,” and eco-zealot Al Gore predicted in 2009 that arctic ice would melt by 2013. Uh-uh.

So as states and school boards do battle about what children learn, what do parents do when stuck in a place with a curriculum that they find abhorrent? Short of moving to another school district or state, homeschooling, or shelling out money for a private school, they are out of luck in most cases.

Enter school choice. Aside from getting the government out of schools entirely, we must augment universal choice, whereby parents, using state education funding, can send their children to any school—public or private—that reflects a curriculum that is in line with their values. Most parents would much rather their kids learn about the true nature of their country than the urgency of recycling shopping bags.

In fact, due to pandemic hysteria, declining birthrates, bad schools, etc., people are fleeing their government-run schools. Whereas public schools had 50.8 million students enrolled in 2019, the number had shrunk to 49.4 million one year later. And, the federal government now projects that public school enrollment will fall even further—to 47.3 million—by 2030, an almost 7 percent drop in 11 years.

With a system of universal choice in place, the dropout number would grow considerably higher—something to ponder as we celebrate National School Choice Week.

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About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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