The Corner


We Don’t Need Common Core Civics

Now that I’ve answered their defense of the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) civics initiative, Paul Carrese and James Stoner have come back with a response. Unfortunately, the premise of their piece is mistaken. They say that when it comes to history and civics, my strategy is “Just say no.” Well, no. That is wrong.

I do have a positive strategy. It’s just that it’s entirely different from EAD’s attempted re-run of the failed Common Core. Rather than try to force a national consensus that does not exist, I favor choice and competition through the creation of a genuine alternative to the left-dominated curricula and textbooks currently available to school districts across the country.

I have touted American Achievement Testing (AAT), now actively building a U.S. history curriculum around Wilfred McClay’s superb Land of Hope (with a civics curriculum to follow). This is the way to go. Build a history and civics curriculum that breaks with the dominant leftist textbooks on the market, then offer it for adoption at the local level. Some districts will take it. Others won’t. And that is all to the good.

The mistake Stoner and Carrese make is presuming that a “positive” solution has to be national. That was the error of Common Core, whose key supporters are, not coincidentally, part of the Educating for American Democracy Project. They are the folks who’ve failed to learn from the failures of the past (like the National History Standards debacle). The “bipartisan education reform movement” has miscarried repeatedly, for decades. Why keep digging when you’re already in a hole?

Like the proponents of Common Core, Stoner and Carrese deny that EAD is trying to impose a national solution. That is no more believable than it was with the original Common Core. Simply “aligning” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to EAD, as its backers want, will suffice to impose a single approach to history and civics on the nation. Hair-splitting arguments about what constitutes “curriculum,” “standards,” “guidance,” or “suggestions” are irrelevant. As with Common Core, the national “guidance” in question will be sufficient to take control of the education system in every state. Once it’s publicly declared that NAEP has been aligned to EAD, EAD will be able to endorse or even issue curricula that every teacher in the country will rush to adopt. In fact, EAD is already endorsing curricula. No single group, much less one totally dominated by the left, ought to have the kind of power that would come with “alignment” to NAEP.

Somehow the United States has managed to achieve sufficient agreement on the core ideas of civic education for the greater part of its history, without a national set of guidelines. Federalism works, and it’s needed now more than ever. Imposing a false consensus on a country that hasn’t got a real one is a recipe for still more division. Breaking the leftist monopoly on textbooks and curricula in order to give local school districts a genuine choice is the real route to a solution. Competition will work to pull divergent curricula toward a middle ground more authentically and effectively than an effort to craft false agreement within a totally unbalanced coalition.

The history and civics lesson we most need now is that America has never had nor profited from a national civic education initiative. That is the last thing we ought to seek today. It is an error to believe that the only “positive” approach is national. It has never been, and never will be, so long as our Constitution and our most fundamental civic traditions are in play.


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