Bill to Federalize CRT Must Be Stopped | National Review

Bill to Federalize CRT Must Be Stopped | National Review

Signs opposing Critical Race Theory line the entrance to the Loudoun County School Board headquarters in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

You might think the national parents’ rebellion against critical race theory (CRT), along with the resounding gubernatorial victory of CRT opponent Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, would be enough to protect us from federal legislation designed to impose CRT on America’s schools. You would be wrong. It looks like a federal CRT bill is around the corner.

A plan to introduce a revised version of the Civics Secures Democracy Act (CSDA), a bill that would turn CRT and “action civics” (leftist protests for course credit) into Common Core 2.0, is well underway. The coalition of leftist “civics” groups behind the new CSDA is desperate to rake in the $6 billion windfall the bill would hand them. This is their last chance to tap into the federal gravy train before the Democrats likely lose control of Congress. If passed this year, the revised CSDA would also set these pro-CRT leftists up as the arbiters of a de facto national curriculum, regardless of what happens in the midterms.

The revised version of CSDA only seems to eliminate its radical political elements. Once you understand the latest educational lingo, it’s obvious that this bill will allow the Biden administration to nationalize CRT. The danger is that naïve Republicans, unfamiliar with leftist education theories and eager to associate themselves with anything labeled “civics,” will be duped into cosponsoring this disastrous bill.

A year ago, I warned against the original version of the Civics Secures Democracy Act and noted that several other federal bills with essentially the same intent were being proposed as well. Around the same time, the Civics Alliance convened by the National Association of Scholars issued an appeal to Texas Republican senator John Cornyn and Oklahoma Republican representative Tom Cole to withdraw their cosponsorship of the Civics Secures Democracy Act. Although Cornyn and Cole did not back off — and in fact Cornyn issued bogus excuses — the original version of the Civics Secures Democracy Act appears to have languished since then. Now, however, the leftist civics community has designed a stealth version of CSDA in hopes of hoodwinking naïve Republicans into becoming cosponsors. That would rebuild momentum for the bill.

I’ll explain the language trick behind the revised CSDA momentarily. Keep in mind, however, that even without this clever trick, CSDA would force CRT on the states. If the bill did nothing other than appropriate $6 billion over six years for the support of history and civics, leaving decisions on who gets the grants to the Biden administration, with no further direction, the result would still be massive federal support for CRT.

We know this because in myriad ways the Biden administration has already expressed its support for CRT. From the executive order issued on day one infusing so-called equity principles into all administration policies, to deputy secretary of education Cindy Martin’s support for CRT prior to her appointment, to the Education Department’s pro-CRT criteria for history and civics grants, to the Education Department’s promotion of the CRT-infused Abolitionist Teaching Network, to the Justice Department’s outrageous attempt to intimidate parents fighting CRT, the Biden administration has shown itself to be a persistent backer of critical race theory in our schools. Every leftist state education bureaucrat (even in red states, they trend left), every nonprofit, and every university that applies for federal history and civics grants under CSDA will know perfectly well what this administration’s education priorities are. Whether by openly issuing its own pro-CRT guidelines for the grants, or by controlling the selection of the readers who rate the proposals, the Biden administration can easily direct $6 billion dollars to pro-CRT proposals, without further legislative guidance. Exactly these sorts of administrative preferences enabled Obama to impose Common Core on virtually every state, using the carrot of federal money. This is what will surely happen with CSDA.

But let’s have a look at the language trick behind the revised CSDA. The bill’s seemingly anodyne terminology is designed to lull Republicans into support for “bipartisan” civics education, while in fact allowing the Biden administration to direct the bill’s massive funding toward pro-CRT proposals.

The most important bit of misdirection in the revised CSDA (there are several) revolves around the term “underserved.” The bill directs the secretary of education to prioritize grant proposals from states, nonprofit organizations, and universities that meet the needs of the “traditionally underserved,” especially students in “rural and inner-city urban areas,” or “underrepresented minorities.” Similarly, the bill instructs the secretary of education to prioritize grants that will “close gaps in civic knowledge and achievement among traditionally underserved students.” By itself, this sounds fine. To the untutored ear, the revised CSDA simply directs federal grants in civics and history toward districts that have historically been underfunded. If poor and minority students score less well on standardized tests for knowledge of civics and history, why not give them money to bolster their access to this sort of education? Undoubtedly, this is what potential Republican cosponsors think when they read the priority criteria written into the bill.

But this is not what the language around the “underserved” means to the leftist civics coalition pushing so intensely for passage of CSDA, nor to the Biden education bureaucrats who will disburse the $6 billion to those pro-CRT radicals. In the eyes of the leftist civics community (which now dominates the civics field), the “civic empowerment gap” between “traditionally underserved” students and others can only be redressed through a complete reinvention of American history and civics. According to the new orthodoxy, the only way to successfully teach civics and history to poor and minority students is to stress America’s “systemic racism,” rallying students to take part in protests on behalf of a leftist vision of “social justice.” In short, the dominant view among the civics education establishment is that “traditionally underserved” students will only engage with civics on one condition: that civics itself becomes CRT.

I have discussed the new, pro-CRT civics education establishment before. The Educating for American Democracy project and the overlapping CivXNow coalition, led by the group iCivics, are key parts of it. But to grasp the stunning radicalism of the new vision of civics and history — as redesigned for the “traditionally underserved” — we need to examine perhaps the most influential book on the new civics, Meira Levinson’s 2012 No Citizen Left Behind. Levinson is now a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She is also a co-author, along with other luminaries of the leftist civics community, of the controversial C3 framework of the National Council for the Social Studies. Levinson also serves, with Danielle Allen and Jane Kamensky, on the advisory board of Harvard’s Democratic Knowledge Project, a major force for action civics at the state and national levels. Although Levinson’s book is referenced by the Educating for American Democracy project and held up as exemplary by practitioners of the now-dominant leftist civics paradigm (like Danielle Allen and Peter Levine), conservatives know virtually nothing about it. That is a shame, since Levinson’s No Citizen Left Behind makes the true agenda of the new civics coalition (really an “anti-civics” coalition) frighteningly clear.

Levinson’s No Citizen Left Behind introduced the idea of a “civic empowerment gap” between poor, “ethnoracial minorities” and recent immigrants, on the one hand, and native-born, white, Asian, and middle-class Americans, on the other. The book’s title is a play on the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left behind initiative, which featured efforts to overcome achievement gaps in reading and math between traditionally underserved students and others. Levinson argues that an equally significant gap in civic knowledge exists, and needs to be overcome. To this day, the now-dominant leftist education establishment considers Levinson the preeminent expert on the civic empowerment gap and how to overcome it. And importantly, the revised Civics Secures Democracy Act says that proposals directed toward overcoming this gap will have the inside track for federal grants.

No Citizen Left Behind is based on Levinson’s experience teaching poor and minority students. There she encountered deep mistrust of America’s political system, typified by the idea that 9/11 was actually planned and carried out by President Bush. At first, Levinson worked to instill greater trust in America’s constitutional system in her students. Eventually, however, she came to believe that, especially among African Americans, mistrust of the American system would actually help to spur “civic action” (i.e., protests). Drawing on critical race theory, Levinson became convinced that the way to overcome the civic-empowerment gap is to draw poor and minority students into a crusade against America’s (supposedly) institutionally racist society. In Levinson’s view, then, “old-school civics” can never truly reach the underserved.

To close the civic-empowerment gap, Levinson believes we must abandon the traditional view of American history. In this traditional view, while as a society we have struggled to overcome the tragedies of slavery and racism, America has steadily made progress in realizing its great founding values of liberty and equality, all the while holding them out as inspirations to the world. For Levinson, however, because traditionally underserved minorities reject this account as “White people’s history,” it must be abandoned.

To prove her point, and to show the need for a new kind of American history that can appeal to poor minorities, Levinson quotes at length from the infamous sermon in which Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright says, “’God Bless America?’ No, no, no! Not ‘God Bless America.’ God damn America!” In Levinson’s view, the Reverend Wright shows that the message that will motivate minorities into civic participation is not “what a great country—wouldn’t you like to get involved?” No, the lesson that will close the “civic empowerment gap,” says Levinson, is — wouldn’t you like to join the struggle against America’s “intrinsic racism and injustice,” against a country “founded in a state of ‘original sin,’ committed to slavery from the founding of the first surviving colony of Jamestown, through slavery’s enshrinement in the Constitution and beyond?” In effect, then, before it even existed, Levinson was advocating for something like the 1619 Project as the way to overcome the “civic empowerment gap.” And Jeremiah Wright was her guide.

But Levinson’s radicalism goes further. A founder of “action civics” (what I like to call “protest civics”), Levinson wants to substitute the idea of political struggle against America’s (alleged) oppression for the unifying power of a shared American identity. This is particularly so, she says, because many recent immigrants may not even want to identify with their new country:

Many transnational and migrant youth and adults . . . may not feel [a] strong sense of identification with the United States. They may have multiple national affiliations, harboring ambivalent feelings about a country that has oppressed as well as embraced them, or feel that their cultural, religious, or other identities are more significant in their identity as American citizens. [Embracing civics as political protest] is obviously also a benefit for other young people who may not consider U.S. citizenship as a salient or even desirable part of their identities.

Levinson explicitly rejects “I’m proud to be an American” as a route to civic engagement for the underserved. In its place she embraces a civics that can appeal to individuals who say, “I don’t think of myself as American.”

It’s tough to see what distinguishes Levinson’s understanding of civics from national suicide. Yet these are the views of today’s premier “expert” on the “civic empowerment gap,” a concept that may soon be written into federal law.

Levinson knows that legislators are unlikely to accept her program, at least if plainly expressed. Yet she is confident that lawmakers may be persuaded to support her approach after “some rhetorical tweaking.” Levinson and the now-dominant leftist civics movement she intellectually presides over have been engaged in that “rhetorical tweaking” for a decade.

A “study” from the action civics nonprofit, Generation Citizen, purports to show how to increase “civic engagement” among the “underserved.” The study draws heavily on Levinson’s work and closely follows her framing, while papering over her more controversial points. Generation Citizen — a leader of the coalition of leftist civics groups backing the revised Civics Secures Democracy Act — has been justly criticized for promoting “progressive activism masquerading as civics,” even in red states such as Oklahoma. Precisely this sort of leftist protest for schoolchildren is what will be funded nationwide by the revised CSDA.

The big money from CSDA (about $600 million a year) is earmarked for competitive grants to the states. That is how Common Core was imposed — through federal strings on competitive state grants. True, CSDA contains a “rule of construction” that forbids the secretary of education from “prescribing” a civics or history curriculum. But as with Common Core, official prescription won’t be necessary for the Biden administration to get around this fig leaf. The criteria for receiving the grants, in conjunction with the Biden administration’s preferences, will be enough to entice states and local school districts to conform their standards and curricula to federal demands.

Much of the rest of the money ($200 million a year) will go to leftist nonprofits such as Generation Citizen. These are the groups champing at the bit to get CSDA passed before the midterms. Along with that, $150 million a year is earmarked for institutions of higher education (i.e., woke schools of education that train their graduates in CRT) to design new civics curricula geared toward overcoming the “civic empowerment gap.” This means that states and local school districts hoping to receive federal money will be incentivized to collaborate with the leftist nonprofits pushing protest civics. Schools will equally be incentivized to adopt civics curricula developed by the very same ed schools that graduate the most passionate believers in CRT. The result will be a reworked American civics and history curriculum pervaded by the assumptions of CRT.

Of course, this precisely is what Biden’s controversial priority criteria for history and civics grants dictated when they appeared last year. That pro-CRT document was also framed as a way to meet the needs of the underserved. In fact, Biden’s CRT-friendly executive order issued on day one was called “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” So, between the Biden administration’s established view that CRT is the solution for the underserved, and the strong embrace of the same stance by today’s leftist civics establishment, it’s a certainty that the revised Civics Secures Democracy Act will turn the carrot of massive federal funding into a pro-CRT national curriculum.

This is to say nothing of how CSDA will use the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, “the nation’s report card”) to force a leftist national curriculum on the states. (I cover this point here.)

Needless to say, support for a CRT-infused, federally controlled curriculum would be political suicide for Republicans. Yet the education Left is hoping that Republican naïveté, combined with some clever “rhetorical tweaks,” will dupe at least a few GOP senators and representatives into cosponsoring the revised CSDA — the new federal CRT bill. Let us hope that Republicans on the Hill are savvy enough to avoid this disastrous error.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.