The Civics Secures Democracy Act sounds like what we need. It’s bipartisan. It would spend $1 billion annually for six years to reemphasize the teaching of history and government in elementary and secondary education.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) said in explaining their support: “In today’s contentious civil environment, it is more important than ever that students are equipped with knowledge of our institutions and confronted with the enduring questions of civic life and political change.”
But Mark Bauerlein, an education scholar and emeritus professor at Emory University, fears that money will go to university education schools and departments “dedicated to filling the heads of aspiring teachers with identity politics and progressive dogma.”
He identified one nonprofit organization, IllinoisCivics.org, as a likely recipient of federal funds. It has strong ties to public education and universities in that state. It also supports one program, Bauerlein said in a piece for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, that promotes the view that “by the time they start kindergarten, children begin to show many of the same implicit racial attitudes that adults in our culture hold.”
IllinoisCivics.org programs, Bauerlein said, “call not for informed, patriotic appreciation of our country, but for ‘unlearning’ — that is, replacing traditional American principles with identity politics.”
Bauerlein has an exceptional ability to reveal what is actually happening in classrooms, as opposed to what we hope is going on there. But his attack on this latest congressional effort to improve our schools does not convince other scholars. They think Bauerlein is worrying too much because they, like me, think American teachers are unlikely to become left-wing ideologues, no matter what their ed school professors tell them.
For decades I have heard people fret that history teachers are down on America, but evidence for that is hard to find. Larry Cuban, a Stanford University researcher who likes to get inside schools, has visited many history classrooms. The notion “that teachers are turning politically progressive has little basis in what I have observed.”
Critics have asserted that socialist historian Howard Zinn’s textbook “A People’s History of the United States” has revolutionized the teaching of America’s story, but there is no data to support that. “There is far more rhetoric from a minority of teachers citing Zinn than actual lessons using his concepts in class,” Cuban said.