Civics Education Reform

Dana Milbank: The War Over Civics Education

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Dana Milbank believes that Republicans are terrified of restoring civics education for fear that the younger generation will learn how our government is supposed to work.

He wrote in the Washington Post:

Pretty much everything the Trump-occupied Republican Party has been doing these days violates the basic tenets of democracy that American schoolchildren are taught.

But the Trumpy right has come up with an elegant remedy to relieve the cognitive dissonance: They want to cancel civics education. If the voters don’t know how the government is supposed to function, they’ll be none the wiser when it malfunctions — which has been pretty much all the time.

First, Republican officials indulged President Donald Trump’s four years of sabotaging the rule of law and democratic norms.

Then, a majority of Republican lawmakers voted to overturn the election results and President Biden’s victory.

Then, they voted to excuse Trump’s role in fomenting a violent insurrection against Congress.
Then, some moved to whitewash the insurrection itself, pretending the deadly attack was just a “normal tourist visit.”

And, finally, they purged the No. 3 House Republican, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, for refusing to embrace Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election.

How do they get away with such fundamental violations of America’s democratic traditions? Well, maybe it’s because only a quarter of U.S. students are proficient in civics, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And apparently, the right wants to keep it that way.

A bipartisan bill in Congress sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma (Disclosure: My wife’s stepmother, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, is one of the bill’s Democratic sponsors), would authorize $1 billion a year in grants to pay for more civics and history programs that teach children “to understand American Government and engage in American democratic practices as citizens and residents of the United States.” It’s as American — and as anodyne — as apple pie.

But, as The Post’s Laura Meckler reported over the weekend, “Conservative media and activists are pelting the Republicans who support the bill to abandon it. They call the grant program a ‘Trojan horse’ that would allow the Biden administration to push a liberal agenda.”

Conservative writer Stanley Kurtz told Breitbart News that the bill would promote a “woke education” and a “Marxist-based philosophy” in which “teachers are forced to indoctrinate students with ideas like ‘systemic racism,’ ‘white privilege,’ and ‘gender fluidity.’ ” Kurtz wrote in National Review that the civics bill will promote a curriculum “built around radical Critical Race Theory.”

In reality, the civics bill does no such thing. The “Civics Secures Democracy Act” specifically states that it doesn’t “authorize the Secretary of Education to prescribe a civics and history curriculum.” That’s up to state and local leaders.

But the plain text of the bill didn’t stop Kurtz and his allies from spinning a conspiracy theory, based on their objections to another, unrelated grant program. (For that program, the Biden administration cited the New York Times’s “1619 Project” in touting the importance of teaching about the consequences of slavery.) So, now, it’s a safe bet that congressional Republicans will in large numbers oppose a bill promoting nothing more nefarious than civil discourse, voting, jury duty and volunteering.

Perhaps the Republicans would look more favorably on a civics bill if it mandated a curriculum that better reflects the way they’ve been governing. To assist them, I’ve combed through the civics questions for fourth-graders asked by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and substituted answers more consistent with recent events than the outdated, “correct” answers.

Which event is Rosa Parks associated with?
Strike “A boycott of the buses in Montgomery, Alabama,” and substitute: “An ANTIFA plot to destroy the suburbs.”

July 4 is a national holiday that celebrates the day when . . .
Strike “the American colonies declared their independence” and insert “the Continental Army took over the airports.”

The purpose of the United Nations is to . . .
Strike “promote international peace and security” and insert “lead a takeover of the U.S. government by globalist pedophiles.”

Usually United States citizens elect a President by . . .
Strike “secret ballot on Election Day” and insert “Storming the Capitol and bludgeoning police officers with flagpoles.”

Which of the following ideas is in the summary of the Declaration of Independence?
Strike “People in the United States should have some control over the government” and insert “People in the United States should not wear face masks.”

What are the two main political parties in the United States?
Strike “Democrats and Republicans” and insert “Republicans and Far-Left Radical Socialists who are Against God.”

Who decides whether a law follows the Constitution or not?
Strike “The Supreme Court” and insert “Rudy Giuliani.”

Who is currently the President of the United States?
Strike “Joseph Biden” and insert “Donald Trump.”

Two decades ago, George W. Bush spoke the immortal words, “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” The survival of Trump’s Republicans depends on the answer being a resounding “no.”

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