“Today the old pedagogy has gone out,” H. L. Mencken once observed, “and a new and complicated science has taken its place. Unluckily, it is largely the confection of imbeciles.”
According to Dr. Tom Lindsay, distinguished senior fellow of higher education and constitutional studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mencken’s description also applies to what is broadly known today as “action civics,” which is gobbling up more and more classroom time in American schools.
Here in Oklahoma, action civics is promoted by an organization called Generation Citizen and by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
What it really is, Lindsay said in a recent Heritage Foundation webinar (“How Action Civics Teaches Our Kids to Protest”), is a calculated effort to transform young people into left-wing activists.
“Action civics,” promoted by Generation Citizen and the Oklahoma State Department of Education, is a calculated effort to transform young people into left-wing activists.
“This is ground zero in the culture wars,” Lindsay said. He noted that young Americans are increasingly civically illiterate primarily because what the action-civics advocates derisively call “your grandmother’s civics” is no longer being taught in K-12 schools. Instead, action civics tells them to protest, even if they have little idea why.
Lindsay noted that the 10-question civics test given to immigrants applying for citizenship has a 91 percent pass rate. When Americans under 45 take the same exam, just 19 percent pass by getting six answers right. But senior citizens, who presumably took basic American government classes long ago, pass at a 74 percent rate.
“This is why we are in a crisis,” Lindsay said. The “grandmother’s civics” was content-based and focused on the country’s founding documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the Constitution. Instead, students in action-civics classes are told that the founders were too pessimistic, and to go out and take action instead of learning the basics.
That, Lindsay said, primes them for mobocracy.
“Take a look at Seattle, take a look at Portland,” he noted, suggesting that continuing unrest in those communities is the logical endpoint for action-civics education.
He said student activities like participation in student government are fine but “must remain a supplement” to the core civics curriculum, which should return to the founding documents and the principles they espoused.
What is to be done? Lindsay said parents need to get up from their television sets and go to their local school board and demand change.
“School choice is the ultimate answer,” he said. “Parents can vote with their feet.” He added that university graduates contacted for donations to their alma mater can ask if it has signed onto the University of Chicago’s campus free speech pledge, and if not, call again when they have.
At the national level, Lindsay said, Congress should “return to the states the complete power over education that the Constitution gave them.”