President Reagan once said,
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
By this, he meant that unless we teach our children about the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American citizen, the next generation won’t be capable of halting—let alone recognizing—the inevitable encroachments of unlawful government power. Reagan’s statement merely expands upon Benjamin Franklin’s famous statement describing what the delegates had created at the Constitutional Convention:
“A republic . . . if you can keep it.”
We have relied upon our schools to create informed and engaged citizens since the earliest days following America’s birth. However, over the past few decades, a lack of emphasis on civics education, coupled with the progressive left’s takeover of many of our educational institutions, has fundamentally transformed what our students are learning. This has resulted in a generation that is ignorant of the basic facts about our government and the history of our nation. Even worse, it has created an anti-American bias in our young people, who have been fed a steady diet of leftist propaganda throughout their school careers.
According to a recent report titled Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics from the National Association of Scholars, when schools teach civics education at all, the subject merely serves as a vehicle to further progressive causes and provoke civil unrest. This new way of teaching civics, called “New Civics,” focuses on teaching young people to organize protests, stage demonstrations, and volunteer at (mostly) progressive organizations rather than instructing them on the American principles of self-government, law, and liberty. While this type of experience authentically qualifies a form of civic engagement, it cannot replace the knowledge gained in a traditional civics course.
Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, lamented:
“Now ‘civic learning’ doesn’t mean what you would expect—straightforward things such as understanding the Bill of Rights, the three branches of government, and the Electoral College. Instead, this New Civics is all about ‘diversity,’ environmentalism, the LGBT movement, ‘global’ citizenship, and other liberal causes.”
History of New Civics
New Civics got its start in the 1960s and expanded in the 1970s. One of its founders, Kenneth Reardon, openly admitted to the movement’s leftist nature:
“Yes, we have a particular point of view, which is fundamentally looking at redistribution of resources and power within our society, bringing educational programs forward that help support the efforts of local communities to have the chance to participate in decisions and in the economy. It is political.”
Two main influences on the New Civics movement were constructivists John Dewey and Paulo Freire, who both believed that students learned more when they performed meaningful tasks as opposed to absorbing non-contextual facts from a book or a lecture. For these pedagogical leaders, the real purpose of education was to bring about a progressive transformation of society. As such, they saw school as a way to create vast armies of community organizers.
In 1967, William Ramsey helped coin the term service learning to describe this mixture of education and activism. Other terms that refer to New Civics programs include civic engagement and civic learning.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities gave an enormous boost to New Civics programs in 2012, when it released A Crucible Moment. This document championed the objectives of New Civics, suggesting that service-learning courses be mandatory, demanding that all classes contain a “civic” aspect, and guaranteeing that all faculty members be “civically engaged.”
The State of Civics Education Today
Because the administrators at the majority of institutions of higher learning share a similar ideology with the New Civics movement, many have eagerly adopted the changes A Crucible Moment called for. Consequently, the “strategic plans” at numerous schools now extoll the benefits of “infusing civic engagement” across the curriculum. New Civics is thus well on its way to transforming the purpose of higher education from the quest for knowledge into a means of political indoctrination.
As of 2010, 50 percent of all college students had participated in service learning for school credit. Massachusetts made civic learning a requirement for all institutions of higher learning in 2012, and Illinois students must now engage in a service learning course to graduate.
According to the National Association of Scholars report, colleges and universities spend roughly $40 billion on New Civics programs each year. This is money that could be better used to teach kids the fundamentals of government. Because, as recent studies show, American college students are woefully under-educated about these basic facts, performing worse on US government tests than the general population.
Moreover, students are investing a significant amount of time in service-learning endeavors. At just 400 schools, young people “spent 155 million hours on service rather than studying just in 2013-14, and the losses to their lifetime knowledge and earning potential must be measured in further billions.”
The New Civics curriculum is not just affecting the world of higher education; it is also influencing K-12 education. This is due in part to the lack of a prominent US history and civics curricula. However, a burgeoning number of New Civics experts are actively promoting service learning. These professionals not only influence teacher training and curriculum development, but they also affect government mandates. Eventually, New Civics program advocates aim to reach all areas of curricula.
What Is the Solution?
To address the current problem with New Civics, we must define what an ideal civics education should look like. The National Association of Scholars proposes that we must teach our children the history of our nation, describing how and why our nation’s institutions developed as they did.
We must also teach classic civic virtues, including a love of country and a respect for our nation’s first principles. Civics courses shouldn’t encourage resentment or disillusionment among students. Most importantly, they shouldn’t attempt to get students to join a particular political cause or divide students along partisan lines.
Once we, as a nation, declare our support for traditional civics education, the next step is to defund the multitude of New Civics programs in academia. Only then can we rest assured that the following generations will be able to “keep” our republic.