Turning Government Schools into Left-Wing Advocacy Shops

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Some years ago, I happened to be watching a New England town’s school committee meeting while a high-school student sought permission for her senior project, which involved setting up a culturally radical and mature-subject-matter club at the middle school.  When one school committee member very gently expressed reservations about going down that road at a public school with children as young as 10, the student at the podium began to sob.  The project was approved.

That incident came to mind upon reading Stanley Kurtz’s warning on National Review about Congressional Democrats’ push for new legislation on “civics education”:

House Democrats are offering a bill ludicrously titled the “Civics Learning Act of 2021” to fund the likewise misnamed enterprise of “action civics.” The price tag is $30 million a year. Whether it’s called “action civics,” “civic engagement,” or “project-based civics,” the real goal of the new “civics” is to get students protesting and lobbying for leftist political goals on school time, and now on the federal dime.

What is meant by “action civics,” “civic engagement,” and “project-based civics”?  Helpfully, Rhode Island legislators have provided a description in their own state-level legislation (H5028 and S0354), which would mandate the practice in our public schools.  The bills would require the state department of education (which apparently has plenty of time on its hands, given the stellar performance of Rhode Island schools) to “adopt and promulgate rules and regulations” to:

Create a project-based civics learning assessment for district adoption, requiring students to conduct analytical research on a local community issue of his or her choice, engage an institution of government to influence the issue, and fulfill a summative assessment to demonstrate the process and outcomes.

The state government, in other words, would be siccing high school students on their local school committees and town councils to change the laws under which their communities live, creating a special-interest advocacy force within generally a left-wing system.  Students will have a grade incentive to demonstrate “outcomes,” and they’ll have peer incentive not to advocate against each others’ policies, even if they disagree with them.  Meanwhile, a disorganized public of residents who mostly just want to go about their lives won’t know what hit them.

To make matters worse, the state Senate has already passed legislation that would allow this sort of “civics education” to displace requirements to actually learn some history.

If you’re able to step back a bit, these trends are fascinating to watch, because it appears that progressives have truly found the formula to incrementally push radical change that nobody will have the ability or will to stop — all but automating the turns of the ratchet.  The only hope, as far as I can see, is for ordinary citizens to not step back a bit and to stop just going about their lives and organize and create their own institutions to advance and support adults who’ll be willing to stand up to the tears of their neighbors’ children striving to fulfill a graduation requirement.

Put that way, the legislators pushing these bills are guaranteeing one of three outcomes:

  • The effective loss of their constituents’ ability actually to be represented by their government
  • Persecution of citizens with minority viewpoints
  • Civic strife that sets neighbor against neighbor as every political issue becomes a personal feud

The shame of the effort in Rhode Island is that it’s bipartisan, with the House and Senate bills submitted by Republican Representative Brian Newberry and Senator Jessica de la Cruz (both of Burrillville).  The good news there, however, is that, being members of the minority party, they may be persuadable by residents who seek to explain consequences that the legislators may not foresee, and they can simply withdraw the bills.