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Beware The New Civics

July 7, 2003

Independence Day is a fitting time to consider the interest in Civics studies coming from just about every corner of late -- federal law, the White House, education reformers, former U.S. Secretaries of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Education Association and so on and on. What is it? Has everyone suddenly become very patriotic?

We've been treated to numerous news stories about how little students know about America's founding -- for example, the Declaration of Independence. That riles up the public in a big way these days, and, sure enough, the fix is right there, ready to go. The federal government swoops onto the stage as the white knight to save the day.

Can we be just a little cautious here?

When the NEA, Hillary Clinton, Bill Bennett, and Chester Finn, and Lamar Alexander are all singing the same tune, maybe it's good to take a closer look!

Here's an example of what's being pushed in the new Civics. Teaching Democracy Globally, Internationally, and Comparatively: The 21 st -Century Civic Mission of School

"Looking forward, we can envision the 21st century as an age of global democracy in which there will be coexistence and tension between international and national or state-centered conceptions of democracy. And we can imagine the slow but steady rise to prominence of transnational conceptions and institutions of democracy.

"If so, then there will be a new civic mission of schools in the United States of America and elsewhere: teaching democracy globally, internationally, and comparatively will become the most important goal of civic education."

"In the past century, the civic mission of schools, at its best, was an enlightened, open-ended, and thought-provoking education for democracy in a sovereign state, such as the United States of America, France, Japan, or India. The purpose was induction of each new generation into the democratic culture of a particular society and country in order to maintain the political and civic order or to improve it on its own terms. At its worst, the civic mission involved heavy-handed and mind-numbing inculcation of uncontested political loyalty to the state and society, democratic or otherwise."

"In this century, by contrast with the past, we may reasonably speculate that education for citizenship in a democracy will, with each decade, become everywhere more global, international, and comparative in curricular content and processes of teaching and learning. And we ought to think now about how to improve our current curricular frameworks and standards for a world transformed by globally accepted and internationally transcendent principles and processes of democracy." (pp. 1-2)

You might wonder what "transnational conceptions" and "globally accepted and internationally transcendent principles and processes of democracy" are. You might notice from the above quote that the new Civics is NOT a promotion of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, as the public thinks it is.

Well, what is it, then? And who gets to decide?

What the New Civics Is
The new Civics, translated, is about getting to one-world government. It is a GLOBALIST view of democracy. While the U.S. bases its view of human rights, for example, on self evident truths that all people are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, and that government, first and foremost, exists to protect them, other democracies, such as Latvia, claim that government alone grants human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, states that none of the enumerated (and numerous) rights may be exercised contrary to the purposes of the United Nations.

Those are two radically different views of human rights. One might expect in an American Civics class, that students would be taught that rights which are granted by governments are subject to whatever the state may determine is a greater good. Or that "declaring" endowed, inalienable human rights is the very justification for the right to life, liberty and property. That sort of teaching, however, is what new Civics advocates would call "heavy-handed and mind-numbing inculcation of uncontested political loyalty." Tell that to the Chinese students at Tiananmen Square who carried copies of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in their hands as they faced the tanks.

While the new Civics gives a superficial pretence of neutrality on which approach to human rights is more accurate, it's not difficult to recognize the higher value it places on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The U.S. model of democracy is referred to as "a long-standing tradition" of inalienable rights, thus undermining the very meaning of the Declaration. The Latvian model is simply a Latvian tradition. The new Civics teaches that both ideas are equivalent models of democracy, and that we would be doing students a disservice by suggesting that America's recognition of inalienable rights deserves any superior place in the spectrum of world politics.

Clearly, this is NOT what most moms and dads across America have in mind for teaching our founding documents.

While the public is sold on the idea that it's past time to make a new commitment to teaching American principles of freedom here and abroad, we're actually being sold a bill of goods. For example, our Bill of Rights is now taught as "negative rights." In Estonia, Lithuania, and the United Nations they have "positive constitutionalism in regard to human rights." That means that the government is required to provide a broad array of social and economic entitlements. Human rights is defined as an expansive social welfare state. This is now the definition of "democracy," in the new Civics. Yet "inalienable" human rights are nonexistent in Estonia and Lithuania.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that sort of document -- enumerated rights that put world government in charge of providing for and overseeing every segment of public, family and personal living. The Universal Declaration is taught with reverence in the new Civics.

In Minnesota, the 2003 legislature set up a process for replacing the state standards that had been in place since 1998. The public found them to be non-academic and radical. Legislators who supported the discredited Profile of Learning standards got their way to have Civics as one of the new state standards. This was a big deal for them and they fought hard for it.

In setting parameters for the new standards, however, they most vehemently opposed including a requirement that these standards would "promote and preserve" certain of our founding principles, such as national sovereignty and natural law as found in our Declaration of Independence. The mandate for Minnesota standards to promote and preserve the Declaration was entirely deleted from the parameters, because the Declaration "doesn't have any legal standing." (See that legislative debate)

That tells us quite clearly that the promoters of the new Civics are not promoting the patriotism so many good American citizens think it is. Quite the opposite.

Who Will Decide What the New Civics Means?
If the new Civics isn't about promoting the foundations of freedom, and if it is about moving to one-world government, who defines that? Who has that incredible authority to redefine for all what will be taught in Civics, and thus change the direction of our nation?

The article quoted above ("Teaching Democracy Globally") is from the Center For Civic Education (CCE), the federally funded group that has held the sole contract for creating the National Standards for Civics and Government since Goals 2000 was passed in 1994. The CCE creates the content of the National Civics Standards, and they create the framework for the NAEP Civics questions. (Under No Child Left Behind, for the first time, all states are required by federal law to participate in the national NAEP test.)

Here's what the federal law put into place in the Education funding bill (HR6) of 1994:

Title X, Section 10601 (a)
(1)(A) The Secretary is authorized to carry out a program to enhance the third and sixth National Education Goals by educating students about the history and principles of the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights, and to foster civic competence and responsibility. (B) Such programs shall be known as 'We the People...The Citizen and the Constitution'.

(2) The programs shall (A) continue and expand the educational activities of the 'We the People...The Citizen and the Constitution' program administered by the Center for Civic Education; and (B) enhance student attainment of challenging content standards in civics and government.

Title X, Section 10601
(b) The education program authorized by this section shall provide (1) a course of instruction on the basic principles of our Nation's constitutional democracy and the history of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights;

Title X, Section 10601 (c) The education program authorized by this section shall be made available to public and private elementary and secondary schools...

Title X, Section 10601 (d)...funds provided under this section may be used for (1) advanced training of teachers about the United States Constitution and the political system the United States creates; or (2) a course of instruction at the middle school level on the roles of state and local governments in the federal system established by the Constitution.

All of this was re-authorized under No Child Left Behind.

The CCE creates the standards by federal law, creates a curriculum and distributes it to schools and the public across the country -- by federal law and with federal money.

The CCE also receives our tax money to train teachers. At their training session this summer in St. Paul, one speaker wrote off the meaning of the Declaration of Independence as simply a political declaration to justify a violent revolution. That was typical of the tenor of the entire week's training.

With this in mind, we shudder to hear that the U.S. Senate has recently voted to establish academies to teach American history and civics. Up to a dozen academies would be funded with federal tax dollars to teach more of what the CCE is spewing out.

Tapping right into the new spirit of patriotism, No Child Left Behind finances nearly $100 million to "help schools improve U.S. history teaching." -- TRADITIONAL American History. There's a federal website just to promote it, and it sure sounds wonderful.

Unfortunately, much of the history these grants are funding is NOT "traditional" at all. They, too, are based entirely on the national standards. Many of the organizations referenced on the U.S. Department of Education's Traditional History website elevate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to at least an equivalent position to our Declaration , if they reference the Declaration at all.

"Facing History and Ourselves" is one resource used for "traditional" American History grants.

This website features a detailed curriculum called, "A Critical Look at Sept. 11, 2001."

On this page is an article called, "The Power of Hatred," which asks the question, "What Causes Violence?" It answers with the words of philosopher Isaiah Berlin:

"Few things have done more harm than the belief on the part of individuals or groups (or tribes or states or nations or churches) that he or she or they are in sole possession of the truth: especially about how to live, what to be & do -- & those who differ from them are not merely mistaken but wicked or mad & need restraining or suppressing. It is a terrible and dangerous arrogance to believe that you alone are right, have a magical eye which sees the truth & that others cannot be right if they disagree."

"Nationalism ... is the strongest and most dangerous force at large today. It is usually the product of a wound inflicted by one nation on the pride or territory of another.."

The article then goes on to describe religion itself as the equivalent of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, there are those in this country who share that opinion. But is this what the public thinks their getting with "traditional" American history? Religion is accused of intolerance, dangerous nationalism and teaching hate. "Religious fundamentalist parents in the United States" are equated with religious extremism of the Taliban, noting home schooling as an example.

That same curriculum concludes with a cry for a new world order that know no boundaries. Students are asked to envision an analogy of a "global mirror." Nowhere is there a hint that the foundation of our constitution and our Declaration of Independence has anything to offer a world that does not know the self evident truth that all are created equal, endowed by their Creator with INALIENABLE rights, -- life, liberty the pursuit of happiness. Is this "traditional" American history? This is the new Civics.

A radical restructuring of our free system of government is being propagated in our schools under the guise of the new Civics. It isn't patriotism, it isn't traditional history and it isn't freedom. The federal government has invested heavily in teaching that which is undermining our heritage of freedom to the world, whether they know it or not. Pay close attention. Don't fall for the nice- sounding propaganda.

For a review of the curriculum, "We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution," see "Inside the Federal Curriculum," at: www.edwatch.org

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