Excruciating crucible

by Carol Iannone

A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, a report from the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, was commissioned by the Department of Education and announced at a White House event in January. The report aims to push colleges officially to incorporate left-wing ideas and activism throughout the curriculum and for this to inform the K–12 grades as well. (Everyone should keep in mind that the White House mandate to include free contraception in all insurance plans arose from a report something like this one, commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services.)   

Perhaps the most alarming thing about the Crucible Moment report is its undefined terms. What is meant by “equality,” for example? Or “justice”? For that matter, what is meant by “democracy”? “Access” to college seems to mean not just the widespread availability of different kinds and levels of colleges and universities, but a guaranteed place for every student and the means to pay for it. The failure of a percentage of students to graduate from high school is seen as “unequal access” to higher education.

Of course, with the repeated emphasis on the disparate outcomes of different groups throughout the report, one concludes that what is meant is group equality, contrary to America’s historic understanding of equality of the individual before the law. No society that wants to remain free can guarantee that all its groups, however defined, will come out equal on every measure in proportion to their share of the population. But as long as there are disparities, which, barring Communist-style social engineering, will be for an indefinite time, supporters can always cite different group outcomes as itself a sign of discrimination. No matter how much progress is made, it will always fall short of that standard of proportionality, and so in this scenario the country will labor under the continuing indictment of inequality and injustice and made to grant special compensatory benefits to certain groups.  

It’s also clear that civic education as presented in the report won’t entail a clear, detailed, focused understanding of the American system and its history, which is presented almost as an afterthought. Instead there is a kind of comparative approach, with the desired “knowledge” segment of the proposed “framework” for civic education remaining vague, but including “key democratic texts” from the U.S. and other countries together with “selected debates concerning their applications” and study of democratic movements here and abroad. One also sees in this framework emphasis on diversity, identity, multiple perspectives, alternative views, collaborative decision-making, and, elsewhere in the report, global citizenship and what Martha Nussbaum calls “narrative imagination”—the capacity to enter into worldviews and experiences different from one’s own.

Well, how about entering into the conservative worldview and experience? Can you imagine that?