James R. Stoner Jr. and Paul Carrese ask why so many conservatives — such as Mark Bauerlein, John Fonte, Scott Yenor, and me (they forgot to add Joy Pullmann) — are “deriding and denouncing” the supposedly bipartisan Educating for American Democracy (EAD) initiative for K–12 civics. Well, maybe it’s because we’ve read it.
Stoner and Carrese were among the handful of conservatives who contributed to EAD. Unfortunately, the broader EAD coalition is overwhelmingly dominated by the Left. The pudding proves it. The EAD “roadmap” and its associated reports are thoroughly progressive in both their underlying assumptions and their details. Sure, there’s a bit of conventional civics in this mix, and the tiniest smidgen of conservatism, for the sake of claiming bipartisanship. In the end, however, the conservative contribution to EAD adds all the weight of a few flakes of parmesan sprinkled on a heaping plate of chops.
That’s not the worst of it. The EAD report and roadmap are but one move in a sophisticated political game by which the Left means to force protest civics (leftist political protest and lobbying as a “civics” requirement) onto every school in the country — with a generous helping of critical race theory to boot. Although Stoner and Carrese have little to say about this larger political strategy, they’ve been drafted into it whether they like it or not. In this reply to their defense of EAD, I’m going to concentrate on the issue of action civics. There will be opportunities to address the broader EAD roadmap and report — and the misguided and dangerous education strategy they embody — down the road.
Stoner and Carrese make quite a concession up front. They allow that “all people of conservative temperament — and probably many non-‘woke’ liberals” as well — see action civics as “misguided.” Okay, then why did you sign onto a report that endorses action civics? Stoner and Carrese continually emphasize the need to work toward a “national consensus” on civic education. But if, as they rightly note, neither conservatives nor even many moderate liberals are inclined to support protest civics, why confer legitimacy on the practice by participating in a process designed to validate and promote it? Why buy into a consensus that, by your own account, does not exist?
Stoner and Carrese point to the shaky cultural position of conservatives as a justification for collaborating with the Left. If we don’t join hands with the Left, we’ll only end up talking to ourselves, they say. (I couldn’t disagree more.) Yet, by their own admission, on the matter of protest civics, conservatives are not an embattled minority. On the contrary, here the Left is isolated and eager for cover from conservatives. Why help them sell their politicized version of civics to the country as a whole? Why give them cover at a time when opposition has every chance of success? This is not honest agreement on a minimum set of values shared across the political spectrum. On the contrary, it is a phony consensus — a consensus by surrender.
But, say Stoner and Carrese, “action civics” isn’t actually mentioned in the crucial EAD “roadmap” of civics “themes” and associated questions. The term only appears in an appendix to the EAD report, an explanatory document released in tandem with the featured EAD roadmap. Stoner and Carrese imply that since the term “action civics” is relegated to an appendix in a companion document to the all-important EAD roadmap, they’ve barely, scarcely, hardly endorsed action civics at all. Yet Stoner and Carrese brag about the fact that Wilfred McClay’s superb Land of Hope is “favorably cited” in the EAD report — not the roadmap — although it’s but one of several books in a tiny footnote that few are likely to notice. Somehow an extended appendix in the same report isn’t supposed matter. In fact, the EAD report is notable for burying the most politically charged and significant issues in its various appendices. They are by far the most interesting and revealing parts of the report. So, let us look at what “Appendix C” of the EAD report has to say about action civics.
The EAD report endorses action civics, along with companion practices such as “service learning” (required internships with political advocacy groups), and teacher-led discussions of current political and social controversies, calling them all “proven practices.” According to the report, these concepts are “woven into” and “reflected in the EAD Roadmap and its Pedagogy Companion.” So, rather than being some parenthetical point of little relevance to the roadmap (or other EAD documents), the appendix is telling us that action civics and its companion practices pervade the vaunted roadmap, and other EAD products as well.
This is hardly surprising, since every leader of the EAD initiative other than Carrese is a premiere national advocate of action civics. In fact, the EAD report lauds one of the charter documents of the action-civics movement, written in 2017 by two of the five sponsoring leaders of EAD, Peter Levine and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg. The message of the EAD report appendix on action civics is in fact that the EAD initiative now supersedes that earlier document and itself functions as the most up-to-date charter for the action civics movement. So, in fact, the roadmap itself is designed to promote and facilitate action civics and its supposedly “proven” companion practices.
Stoner and Carrese reluctantly concede this, acknowledging that “the emphasis on fostering participation in the roadmap could be bent in a progressive direction.” Could be? Their partners in the EAD initiative are virtually the founding fathers (and mothers) of action civics, and remain its greatest proponents. It would be sheer (self) delusion not to see the influence of protest civics woven throughout this project.
Consider the final two questions in Theme 5 of the roadmap: (1) What is the relationship between protest and social change? (2) How is “power analysis” relevant to the project of bringing change? Here we have protest civics in the roadmap. If you’re wondering about “power analysis,” it’s a technique imported into protest civics from Alinsky-style community organizing (figuring out who to target with pressure and how to bring them to heel). The practice of “power analysis” as an essential component of protest civics is favored by the Mikva Challenge, a leading action-civics advocacy group whose leaders helped develop the EAD initiative. Power analysis is also discussed at some length by Meira Levinson, whose writings on action civics are cited favorably in the EAD report. The average reader won’t recognize that the EAD roadmap is promoting action civics when it touts “power analysis.” Yet by carefully dropping a core component of protest civics into the roadmap, the authors of EAD — the leading national advocates of the practice — allow themselves to tell unsuspecting teachers, administrators, education bureaucrats, and, above all, legislators, that action civics is just another part of “consensus” civics. “Look here in our report and roadmap,” they can say. “Action civics is right in there, and it’s all endorsed by our bipartisan coalition. Stoner and Carrese are on board with this, so why aren’t you?”
This is no game or academic debate. I have personally been lobbied by iCivics, perhaps the leading national advocate of protest civics — and the lead sponsor of the EAD initiative — to lay off my criticisms of the group, of the (then) forthcoming EAD report, and of legislation that would mandate action civics. Here was their argument: Stoner and Carrese are with us! Your conservative friends say there’s nothing to fear, so stand down, Stanley. All is well. You can bet that when iCivics and its allies go to Republican legislators in Congress and across the states, they make exactly this pitch. “No worries, Representative Smith. Conservatives on board.”
Stoner and Carrese now claim to oppose “the outrage of teachers giving students credit for progressive activism.” They should understand, however, that their participation in the EAD initiative is being used to push for legislation that would compel our schools to practice what they decry as outrageous. How could it be otherwise? EAD’s leaders are the chief backers of state and federal legislation to mandate protest civics. There are literally billions of dollars at stake, the lion’s share of which will go to the leftist groups that control EAD, and their allies. Worse, the money will be laced with strings that force action civics even on red states and school districts. Such is the fruit of consensus by surrender.
Stoner and Carrese appeal to their conservative critics to join their coalition. I make the contrary appeal to them both. Step down from the EAD initiative now. Step down before more state bills force protest civics on our schools. Step down before federal legislation presses protest civics on the states, as easily as Obama imposed Common Core. Your participation in this ill-conceived initiative is being used even now to support projects and policies you say you abhor. Step down, or bear responsibility for policies and practices that you do in fact endorse through your participation in this misguided initiative.