Accommodation Is Capitulation

Paul Carrese and James Stoner have responded to my essay “No to Conservative Accommodationism” in American Greatness at Law and Liberty  (“What’s Un-American About Accommodation?” May 8). 

Carrese and Stoner are major participants in the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) project, serving on the executive committee. EAD tells us that, unfortunately, American “students can make it into their teens without knowing, for instance, that George Washington, was not only a foundational leader but also enslaved people.” 

For two years, I have asked why conservatives, Carrese and Stoner, have endorsed this blatant lie. As co-leaders of EAD, they have still not explained why they labeled Washington an “enslaver.” George Washington, of course, did not “enslave” anyone. He did not seize individuals who were free and make them slaves. Progressive educators vigorously promote the false and weaponized rhetoric that many of America’s founders (Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison) were active “enslavers” rather than simply slave owners. Their goal is to denigrate and delegitimize the founders and, with them, historic America in full.

One can recognize the Left’s motives, but why are conservative academics going along with this attempt to disparage and defame our founders?  

“Accommodation is not a dirty word,” declare Carrese and Stoner as they insist that their collaboration with progressive educators will improve civic education and advance conservative goals. Well, let us examine the fruits of this accommodation in the EAD project. 

Besides slandering the Founders as “enslavers,” EAD undermines the clear and historic boundaries between American citizens and noncitizens. The project declares all residents of the United States, citizens and noncitizens, legal residents and illegal aliens, are in a sense “civic participants,” who, therefore, should be involved in decision-making in our constitutional democracy. Indeed, EAD refers to “fellow citizens and civic participants with whom we must govern the country and our communities together.” In this vein, EAD cheapens and degrades the essential significance and meaning at the heart of American citizenship. Do Carrese and Stoner accept this diminution of our citizenship?

EAD embraces the left-progressive doctrine of “equity.”  Hence, we are informed, “EAD teachers focus on inclusion and equity.” We are told, over and over, “diversity is our strength” and that we need a “deeper and more transformative inclusion.” The leading investigator for the project, Harvard’s Danielle Allen, declared at a seminar on April 13 that EAD had a “commitment to equity.” As veteran academics, Carrese and Stoner surely are aware of the real meaning of concepts like “equity,” and “inclusion.” They are code words that are invariably interpreted by educators to prescribe equality of outcomes for so-called “marginalized” racial, ethnic, and gender groups in opposition to the historic American principle of equality of individual citizenship. 

EAD cites Illinois as a model of civic education. Teachers in Illinois are called upon to “mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism.”) They must incorporate the concept of “systems of oppression” by “understand[ing] that there are systems in our society that create and reinforce inequities, thereby creating oppressive conditions.” As a co-author, why did Carrese concur that Illinois is a model of civic education? 

Carrese and Stoner have suggested that I have not read EAD carefully enough, although, if anything, I have put entirely too much time into it. I wonder if they have examined the EAD website to see what type of history and civics lessons EAD is promoting to American children. Are they surprised to learn that the EAD website links to a lesson plan by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on “anti-racism,” specifically aimed at white children in the third, fourth, and fifth grades? It is revealing that the EAD website would link to the SPLC, a group that for decades has smeared mainstream conservative organizations as “hate groups” while they themselves actively promote hatred of conservatives that, in one case, led to an assassination attempt at the Family Research Council. 

Carrese and Stoner point to the inclusion in Educating for American Democracy of material on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist, and the speeches of Lincoln as proof that they are on the right track. Nevertheless, the EAD project, as a whole, endorses the revisionist academic approach of the last several decades that has downgraded and diminished standard American political, constitutional, military, and intellectual history−“the perspective of white, Protestant, propertied men”−as the EAD report puts it.

Further, EAD tells us: “Both the push for diversity and the new scholarship have been major achievements.” For most of our history, EAD reports the presentation of “the American past [was] blinkered if not fundamentally false.” EAD holds America’s historic legacy in low esteem. The project tells America’s students,  “What we have inherited is painfully imperfect.”

Today, the heart of American historical scholarship (embraced by EAD) is adversarial towards historic America. This hostility is best represented by the following statement from the Organization of American Historians (OAH):

The best historical inquiry acknowledges and interrogates systems of oppression—racial, ethnic, gender, class—and openly address the myriad injustices that these systems have perpetuated through the past and into the present. . . .  Critical race theory provides a lens through which we can examine and understand systemic racism and its many consequences.

How do conservatives “accommodate” the “major achievements” of the “new scholarship” and remain defenders of the American way of life? 

When I suggested that we should promote the outstanding work of various civic education initiatives from Hillsdale College, the 1776 Commission, Robert Woodson’s mostly African American 1776 Unites, and the National Association of Scholars’ American Birthright as an alternative to progressive projects−Carrese and Stoner were dismissive. They labeled these projects as “purely conservative arguments and curricula” that were “likely to fail.” 

Instead of “supporting only purest conservative approaches,” Carrese and Stoner declared: “We co-led the EAD effort, in contrast, to be part of the broader American saga of seeking constructive paths towards reaching and swaying our fellow citizens to seek a higher equality of, and priority for, civics.” Is EAD of higher quality than the civic education material produced by Hillsdale College and the National Association of Scholars? 

These remarks reveal that Carrese and Stoner have internalized the progressive narrative that posits “purely conservative arguments” (which are, in reality, the viewpoints of the majority of Americans) as inferior and somehow beyond the pale of professional respectability in the academy. In order to make sure “that conservatives can be seen as something other than cranks,” it is better to accept subordinate status within the civic education establishment. Better to be clubbable and have “a seat at the table” even if it’s one with lower status.    

Their ”seats at the table,” as seen in the Educating for American Democracy project, have not “moved the consensus toward the reasonable center” as they promised. No, they’ve managed only to push the envelope further leftward. At the same time, the Americanist alternative to progressive civic education promoted by Hillsdale, the National Association of Scholars, the Claremont Institute, the Heritage Foundation, 1776 Unites, and the 1776 Commission is successfully advancing in state after state. 

Nowhere is this success more apparent than in Florida. Instead of accommodation with the education establishment and the woke progressive left, Governor Ron DeSantis has offered an alternative, gained popular support, and succeeded in implementing curricular reforms in K-12 and higher education that affirm instead of problematize historic America. 

What does accommodation mean, given the circumstances of the third decade of the 21st century?  In 2023, we would not be compromising with traditional patriotic liberals like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., or Albert Shanker. Indeed, Randi Weingarten is no Al Shanker. Unfortunately, given the state of the contemporary Left, we are facing woke revolutionaries who see the American nation itself as the problem, who envision our history and culture as something to be “interrogated” and brought down a peg, not as an inheritance to which we are profoundly grateful.  

Pace Carrese and Stoner, in our present circumstances, “accommodation” means capitulation to the woke revolution.

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About John Fonte

John Fonte is a senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at Hudson Institute. He is the author of Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others? and co-editor of Education for America's Role in World Affairs, a book on civic and world affairs education used in universities and teacher training institutes. He has been a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute where he directed the Committee to Review National Standards, and also served as a senior researcher at the US Department of Education, and as program administrator at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). He has served as a consultant for the Texas Education Agency, the Virginia Department of Education, the California Academic Standards Commission, and the American Federation of Teachers. He was a member of the steering committee for the congressionally-mandated National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) which issued the "nation's report card" on civics and government. He served as principal advisor for CIVITAS: A Framework for Civic Education funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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